More of Mick Jagger’s patented ersatz country, this time in the service of a character sketch, which I think he does not enough of. It’s impossible to tell whether it is about someone real or just a sketch or even if it’s honest or joking – Jagger is opaque that way. At first I thought he was mocking the poor schlubs who get their feet wet waiting for girls who are not international jet-setters to come out of work – Jagger can be mean that way. Then I thought, maybe he’s thinking back on his own days of waiting in the rain for girls who work and have stains on their dress. Looking at the conversation going on on YouTube I saw an entirely different view. Some people are hearing it as a tribute to a whole generation of ‘factory girls’ – the hardworking women who kept industry churning during the war years. Mick Jagger, born in 1943, must have known a lot of such women growing up, and no doubt remembers a few of them. He could have been thinking of people he knew as a child when he wrote this song. We can only speculate, but however you understand it, it’s one of Jagger’s best observational lyrics.
Musically, it’s an interesting beast too. Keith Richards called it “Something like ‘Molly Malone’, an Irish jig; one of those ancient Celtic things that emerge from time to time, or an Appalachian song.” Charlie Watts said “On ‘Factory Girl’, I was doing something you shouldn’t do, which is playing the tabla with sticks instead of trying to get that sound using your hand, which Indian tabla players do, though it’s an extremely difficult technique and painful if you’re not trained.” And Jagger said “The country songs, like ‘Factory Girl’ or ‘Dear Doctor’ on Beggars Banquet were really pastiche. There’s a sense of humour in country music anyway, a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way – and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.” All interesting things to know. Of course there’s no reason why Jagger couldn’t have been thinking of an old girlfriend, and remembering factory workers in the forties, and at the same time been happily poking fun at Appalachian folk music.