The Rolling Stones

Dear Doctor

Composed by Keith Richards / Mick Jagger

Song Review by

From the Rolling Stones' legendary return to form, 1968's Beggar's Banquet, "Dear Doctor" is a country-blues song in waltz time about a nervous protagonist about to be the groom in a shotgun wedding. With all acoustic instruments -- guitar, tack piano, 12-string, harmonica, tambourine, and upright bass -- and a Louvin Brothers-like two-part harmony, the band manages to sound authentically old-time and primitive, with Mick Jagger employing the fake-American hick accent that he would continue to mine in future blues and country numbers throughout the Stones' career. The song is basically a comic look at the sad situation of a young man "to be wed in the hour," who has "been soaking up drink like a sponge" to numb him from his unenviable fate: marrying a girl who is a "bow-legged sow." The lyrics border on satire; Jagger never seems quite comfortable singing country-type songs with a completely straight face. He said as much in a 1995 interview: "I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn't bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it's very English, really. Even though it's been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak." Jagger hits the climax verse, reading a note from the would-be bride in a falsetto, a note that frees the narrator from his doom. Those with an impaired sense of humor and an overdeveloped state of politically correct consciousness might make the argument that Jagger is contemptuously mocking the people of the poverty-stricken rural American South. Like "Salt of the Earth," "Factory Girl," and a few other songs on the record, "Dear Doctor" deals with characters that might be referred to in less-polite company as "white trash"; however, as tongue-in-cheek as the lyrics are, the Stones clearly have a reverence for the American roots music that formed the foundation of their oeuvre. Jagger may be poking fun a little, but he could not nail the parlance of the characters so precisely if he had not studied it closely as a fan of the music. Ultimately, he respects the people of his songs; the songs would just not be believable if he went beyond humor to a wholesale malevolent disparagement. The Stones, for example, could be seen in the Robert Frank documentary of their 1972 tour, Cocksucker Blues, taking side trips on days off to hit the back roads of rural America, Kentucky bourbon in hand, as if they were rock & roll anthropologists studying primitive cultures in danger of losing their unique traits to the homogenization of American culture in general. Though it is obvious throughout much of that film that the band is very camera-conscious, their interest has always been earnest and true. In a sense, they have been musicologists, interpreting musical forms that were in danger of dying out. This has been true from the earliest days of the band -- covering long-lost blues songs. The raw quality of "Dear Doctor" and the rest of the album was a welcoming sound to the ears of most Stones fans losing patience with their experimentation on Their Satanic Majesty's Request (1967). Beggar's Banquet exhibited a cocksure confidence and swagger that made it the first in a string of records lasting from 1968 to roughly 1975 where it appeared the Stones could do little wrong. The band seemed to realize that they were in the position to set trends rather than follow them, relying on their own taste -- rooted in mostly African-American musical forms -- to guide them, and they launched any experiments off that sturdy foundation.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Beggars Banquet 1968 Digital 3:22
No Image 1981 Decca
Greatest Rarities, Vol. 2 1991 [Bootleg]
Beggar's Banquet/Black & Blue 1999 Rolling Stones Records
No Image 2001 Decca Bootleg
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 3:22
The Rolling Stones 1964-1969 [Vinyl Box Set] 2010 ABKCO Records / Universal Distribution 3:22
No Image Cool Blokes
blue highlight denotes editor's pick