On early ’70s cuts like “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers,” The Rolling Stones showed their affinity for American country music. Now, some of top country artists are returning the love — with the 14-track set Stoned Cold Country, out March 17 on BMG.
Featuring Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, Little Big Town, Zac Brown Band, Brooks & Dunn and Ashley McBride, among others, the set is an often-raucous salute to what many consider the world’s greatest rock band on the group’s 60th anniversary. Lainey Wilson’s slow-burning “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” drops tomorrow (Feb. 17), following last month’s release of Elvie Shane’s ominous “Sympathy for the Devil.”
The concept for the album was born over “three bottles of white wine at Angelini [Osteria] in Los Angeles,” says BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch, as his dining companion, producer Robert Deaton, put forth the concept. (It helped that BMG is also the publishing company for Rolling Stones’ main songwriters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.)
As publisher, “obviously one of your main mandates is to say, ‘Okay, here’s a great catalog of songs’ — and, we all know, there is already one great version,” Masuch says. “’So, what do we do to extend the relevance of those songs in a couple of a dimensions? Here’s an audience, a different genre and a different generation.’ I think that’s a core task of a publisher.”
Even so, Masuch says, the quality of the project was more of a defining factor than the dollars. “A music company should be committed to the cultural DNA it’s based on, not just always looking at things and saying, ‘How much can I make my money back?’ — because that’s a little bit too cynical,” he says. “Of course, we all have to make money and it’s important this will be successful, but I think what drove our discussion was more so the chemistry of the whole thing than having a calculator out [and getting] the publishing royalties on  songs.”
Deaton adds that the next step, even though they didn’t need it, was getting Jagger and Richards to sign off on the project. “I feel like we have such reverence for them and their song writing,” he says. “They’re the soundtrack of our lives. I don’t think anybody would want to go as deep on something as we put towards the project without have the blessing and permission from Mick and Keith.”
With the duo’s deep love of country music, it wasn’t a tough sell. “From the early days country music made a real impression on us. There’s an authenticity about country that’s always appealed to me, whether it be Hank Williams, Merle Haggard or a Willie Nelson record,” Richards tells Billboard in a statement. “Also, of course, Gram Parsons was a major player and influence,” he adds of his close friend, the pioneering country rock singer/songwriter.
Deaton, who dubbed the album “a Nashville love letter to the Stones,” says many of the artists, like Church, have long histories with the music: “[Church] said that when he was nobody and just playing guitar in front of 10 people, he got more tips when he played ‘Honky Tonk Women.’ The Stones have been so important to him for so long that it’s been an honor just to be able to say ‘thank you’ on this record.”
Masuch says BMG’s position is to look at such projects in a comprehensive way. Though there is no official word on a documentary, Deaton says, “there were six or seven cameras on every session that we did,” and Masuch brings up the idea of “maybe turning [the album] into a live event, if possible, at a certain point. It would be [amazing] to have those artists in a big venue, performing their favorite songs, and maybe getting one or two members of [the Rolling Stones] to be around.”
But all ancillary projects were secondary to making the album that served the music, Deaton says. Starting in January 2022, he listened to Stones’ songs “over and over, 100 times, so that I could get the right artists with the right songs … And then I thought about, how do I make it different? How do I make this a tribute to them and also still unique?”
To do so, Deaton had to ensure he had unfettered freedom to make the project he wanted. “Hartwig is one of my dearest friends, and I told him, ‘Listen, I’m getting ready to go deep on this and I need to ask you one question from a business standpoint before I go under here: how many BMG artists do I have to have on the record?’” Deaton recalls. “And he said, ‘Go make the best record you can make. There’s no minimum, there’s no maximum.’” The album ended up with three BMG artists: Wilson, Jimmie Allen and Shane.
As Deaton began casting the album, he says 95% of his attempts to match artists with songs ended up working out. “The only song that I left open was for Zac Brown Band, because they can do so many different things and so many different styles,” Deaton says. On their first conversation, Brown picked “Paint It Black.” Deaton and Wilson also went back and forth on four or five songs and had a false start, cutting “Get Off of My Cloud” before switching to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
“I went to BMG and said, ‘You know what, I think we got the wrong song’ because it wasn’t country enough,” Deaton says. “When I was trying to put together the record, I found that anything of that era was really hard to fit into our album because we’re being unapologetically country and we’re making a country record. It was very hard. ‘Get Off of My Cloud’ just didn’t fit in the overall arc of the record.”
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” resonated strongly with Wilson. “The Rolling Stones are global music icons, from the musicianship to the swagger to the relatable perspective with songs like ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’” she tells Billboard. “Man, if I haven’t had to learn that lesson time and time again. I know that feeling of resisting your fate, that struggle, but I also know that sense of pride and peace when you understand the tough times made way for something better. I try not to take myself too seriously — I’ve heard you can’t be great if you do — so I love the way the production builds into a light-hearted cathartic jam at the end. This song leaves me shaking my head, smiling at myself, and feeling grateful. And that’s what The Stones always did. They made you feel something, and they made you feel good.”
Understandably, Deaton had to occasionally contend with artists’ nerves when tackling the classic rock songs. “Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town said, ‘The only thing I’m concerned about is that Mick is going to hear all this, and I hope he doesn’t go, ‘Well, that sucks,’” he recalls. “Every artist wanted to put all their love into it, which was incredibly refreshing.”
The sessions were recorded without click tracks and with all the musicians playing live together, including the backing vocalists. To increase the authenticity, long-time Rolling Stones touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell played on “Shine A Light,” recorded by Koe Wetzel.
“I wanted everybody in the same room together so that they all could feed off of each other and [have] it be as organic and as real as possible,” Deaton says. “Whatever that Stones thing is that they have [whenever] they’re in a room, I wanted to be able to create that and get as close to it as we possibly could.”
Throughout the album, there are nods to great musicianship, even beyond the Stones. For example, Mickey Raphael, who has played harmonica with Willie Nelson for more than 50 years, opens “Miss You,” covered by Allen. “It ended being a tribute to what I feel are the best musicians in the world,” Deaton says.
A number of tribute albums by country artists have become best sellers, including 1994’s Common Threads: Songs of the Eagles, which the RIAA has certified triple platinum, and Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee, a 2012 platinum set that paired him with top country artists remaking his biggest hits.
Masuch sees Stoned Cold Country having a similar, if not wider, appeal, given the Rolling Stones’ global fandom and “the fascination in nearly all European countries for country music,” he says. Access can be lacking to country acts outside the US, so Masuch says it’s important that the project “will get onto [people’s] iPhones and can create much more excitement for some of the musicians outside of North America than ever before.”
Extending country’s reach has been one of Germany-based BMG’s goals ever since it bought Broken Bow Records in 2017, giving the company an instant foothold in Nashville. “I think it’s imminent that some of these artists will have big international careers,” Masuch says, “and hopefully this project can be one of the triggers in achieving that.”
Stoned Cold CountryTrack list
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Ashley McBryde
“Honky Tonk Women” – Brooks & Dunn
“Dead Flowers” – Maren Morris
“It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)” – Brothers Osborne & The War And Treaty
“Miss You” – Jimmie Allen
“Tumbling Dice” – Elle King
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – Marcus King
“Wild Horses” – Little Big Town
“Paint It Black” – Zac Brown Band
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Lainey Wilson
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