Recorded in late 1973 and completed in the spring of 1974, "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" is credited to the Rolling Stones songwriting team Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, although future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood collaborated with Jagger on it. The song was originally recorded one night in a studio at Wood's house, "The Wick" in Richmond, London. David Bowie was backing singer to Jagger's lead, and Willie Weeks played bass with Kenney Jones on drums. The song on the album is similar to that original recording, with the Stones keeping the original rhythm track.
The meaning of the lyrics was summed up by Jagger in the liner notes to the 1993 compilation Jump Back; "The idea of the song has to do with our public persona at the time. I was getting a bit tired of people having a go, all that, 'oh, it's not as good as their last one' business. The single sleeve had a picture of me with a pen digging into me as if it were a sword. It was a lighthearted, anti-journalistic sort of thing."
If I could stick my pen in my heart, And spill it all over the stage; Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya, Would you think the boy is strange? Ain't he strange?
If I could win ya, if I could sing ya, a love song so divine, Would it be enough for your cheating heart, If I broke down and cried? If I cried? I said I know it's only rock 'n roll but I like it
Released in July 1974, "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" reached number sixteen in the United States and number ten on the UK Singles Chart. The B-side was the ballad "Through the Lonely Nights", which was not featured on any album until the 2005 compilation Rarities 1971-2003.
"It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" was promoted by a memorable music video directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, showing the band dressed in sailor suits and playing in a tent which eventually fills with bubbles. This video was one of Mick Taylor's last appearances as a member of the band.
The Rolling Stones regularly perform the song in concert, although in a different key from the studio recording: on their concert albums Love You Live (1977) and Live Licks (2004), the number is in B, whereas the studio track is in E. According to Richards, the song was recorded in the wrong key, but they did not realise this until they played it live.