“As Tears Go By” is a song written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham. It was released as a single by Marianne Faithfull in 1964 and peaked at number 9 in the United Kingdom. The Rolling Stones recorded their own version later, releasing the track in late 1965 on the album December’s Children (And Everybody’s) and subsequently as a single in North America.
“As Tears Go By” was one of the first original compositions by Jagger and Richards, as until that point The Rolling Stones had chiefly been performing blues standards. A story surrounding the song’s genesis has it that Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Jagger and Richards in a kitchen in order to force them to write a song together, even suggesting what type of song he wanted: “I want a song with brick walls all around it, high windows and no sex.” The result was initially named “As Time Goes By”, the title of the song Dooley Wilson sings in the film Casablanca. It was Oldham who replaced “Time” with “Tears”.
“We thought, what a terrible piece of tripe. We came out and played it to Andrew [Oldham], and he said ‘It’s a hit.’ We actually sold this stuff, and it actually made money. Mick and I were thinking, this is money for old rope!”
According to Jagger biographer Philip Norman, the song was mainly created by Jagger, in co-operation with session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan.
Oldham subsequently gave the ballad (a format that the Stones were not yet known for) to Faithfull, then 17, for her to record as a B-side. The success of the recording caused the record company, Decca, to switch the song to an A-side, where it became a very popular single. The melody features a distinctive oboe line. The demo had Mick Jagger singing and Big Jim Sullivan playing 12-string guitar. It reached no. 9 in the British charts and launched Faithfull’s career as a major singer. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 in America the week ending 28 November 1964, where it stayed for nine weeks peaking at no. 22. Faithfull also performed the song on the television show Hullabaloo, in the segment presented by Beatles manager Brian Epstein from London.
It is sometimes said that the song was written as an answer to the Beatles’ “Yesterday”, a strings-driven ballad that became one of the band’s biggest hits in 1965. However, this is false: “As Tears Go By” was written at least one year before “Yesterday”‘s parent album, Help!, was even released. However, the Rolling Stones may have been influenced by “Yesterday'”s particular arrangement. The Rolling Stones changed the arrangement from Faithful’s 1964 version to one that more closely resembled the arrangement of “Yesterday”, which may have been intentional given that the new arrangement was recorded while the Beatles’ song was topping charts all over the world, including the US Billboard Hot 100. Marianne Faithful’s 1964 version of “As Tears Go By” features percussion and strings throughout; the Rolling Stones’ version completely lacks percussion and opens with acoustic guitar followed by strings entering in the second verse, just as in “Yesterday”.
The Rolling Stones recorded their own version of “As Tears Go By” in 1965. This recording is notable for its heavy string arrangement by Mike Leander. It was one of the three songs (including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “19th Nervous Breakdown”) that the band performed live during their third appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was released as a single in December 1965 by their North American record label, London Records, due to popular demand after radio DJs across the country started playing it from the band’s recently released album, December’s Children (And Everybody’s). It peaked at no. 6 on the American Billboard Charts, and also had great success on the Billboard Easy Listening chart (no. 10 peak) years before the seemingly more wholesome Beatles would see their first entry. The song was later released in the UK in 1966 as the B-side to the single, “19th Nervous Breakdown”.
The Stones released a version with Italian lyrics as a single in Italy, under the title “Con Le Mie Lacrime”.
Mick Jagger – lead vocals
Keith Richards – 12-string acoustic guitar
Mike Leander – string arrangement