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This was inspired by a 1955 Gospel song called "This May Be The Last Time" by The Staple Singers. The Stones changed the meaning of the song, making it into a stern message to a girl. The Staples version had a more uplifting message and was much more spiritual.
Many Gospel fans felt The Stones ripped it off, since The Staple Singers never got any royalties from it. Since it is a traditional song (meaning no one owns the rights to it), many artists have recorded it, but The Stones were a very high-profile band that had success reworking songs by black artists into hits. Many people believe The Stones should have compensated The Staple Singers because it was based on their version of the song.
In the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones
, Keith Richards wrote: "We didn't find it difficult to write pop songs, but it was VERY difficult - and I think Mick will agree - to write one for the Stones. It seemed to us it took months and months and in the end we came up with The Last Time, which was basically re-adapting a traditional Gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers, but luckily the song itself goes back into the mists of time. I think I was trying to learn it on the guitar just to get the chords, sitting there playing along with the record, no gigs, nothing else to do. At least we put our own stamp on it, as the Staple Singers had done, and as many other people have before and since: they're still singing it in churches today. It gave us something to build on to create the first song that we felt we could decently present to the band to play... The Last Time was kind of a bridge into thinking about writing for the Stones. It gave us a level of confidence; a pathway of how to do it. And once we had done that we were in the game. There was no mercy, because then we had to come up with the next one. We had entered a race without even knowing it." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
This song did have some clear antecedents in black American music, in particular the 1964 James Brown single "Maybe the Last Time," which was itself based on ideas found in a traditional gospel song that had been recorded, but not written, by the Staple Singers. Some have accused the Stones of literally stealing from their black heroes, but "The Last Time" is clearly different from and more rock-oriented than the tracks recorded by James Brown and the Staple Singers, although there are some similarities in approach and the use of the title lyric. (thanks, Joel - Chicago, IL)
The Stones recorded this in Los Angeles on a one day tour stopover on their way to Australia. The Stones were on a grueling American tour, but in order to capitalize on their success they wanted to keep cranking out singles, especially in England because they were not there. As a result, they frequently recorded in between American shows.
Phil Spector assisted with the production. You can hear his "Wall Of Sound" approach on the recording.
The opening guitar riff repeats throughout the song. This was an innovative device for a pop song at the time.
A 1997 song called "Bittersweet Symphony
" by The Verve sampled an obscure orchestral version of this track. The Stones' former manager Allen Klein, who owns the publishing rights to The Stones version of "The Last Time," received extensive royalties, as "Bittersweet Symphony" was a radio hit and even used in a Nike commercial.
This was the first song Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote that was an A-side single. The Stones played a lot of covers before they learned to write songs.
The Who recorded this in 1967 as a show of support when The Stones were being held in England on drug charges.