“As Tears Go By” is a song written by The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, and their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and was a popular hit for both British singer Marianne Faithfull in 1964 and The Rolling Stones in 1965.
The song is one of the first original compositions by Jagger and Richards, as until that point The Rolling Stones had chiefly been performing covers of blues standards. The myth surrounding the song’s genesis has it that Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Jagger and Richards in a kitchen forcing 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 changed “Time” for “Tears”. 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. It reached # 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 November 28, 1964, where it stayed for nine weeks peaking at # 22.
Another myth is 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. Although Paul McCartney had written and played the song for many people in 1964 before finally releasing it on the album Help!
The Rolling Stones recorded their own version in 1965. This recording is notable for its heavy string arrangement by Mike Leander. It was one of the three songs (“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” being the other two) the band performed live during their third appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was released as a single in December 1965 by their American record label, London Records, due to popular demand after radio DJs across the country started playing the song from the band’s recently released album December’s Children (And Everybody’s). The song peaked at #6 on the American Billboard Charts. The song also had great success on the Billboard Easy Listening chart (#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”.
It was performed live on tour for the first time in November 2005 on the Stones’ A Bigger Bang Tour. A performance from the 2006 leg of the tour was captured for the 2008 live release Shine a Light.
It is the evening of the day … I sit and watch the children play … Smiling faces I can see … But not for me … I sit and watch … As tears go by
My riches can’t buy everything … I want to hear the children sing … All I hear is the sound … Of rain falling on the ground … I sit and watch … As tears go by