Why Singer Patti Smith Called Mick Jagger the N-Word

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones has been called a number of glowing things over the years — in addition to a racial slur. Patti Smith used a slur to discuss him in a bizarre 1970s interview. Here’s a look at why she called him that — and what she meant by using the word.

Mick Jagger with a microphone
Mick Jagger | Evening Standard/Getty Images

The most controversial song of Patti Smith’s career — and how it relates to Mick Jagger

Smith is among the most notable women in the history of punk rock music — and rock music in general. In 1978, Smith released the album Easter, which included one of the most infamous songs of her career “Rock N Roll [N-word].” The song is supposed to be a tribute to people who live “outside of society.” According to Rolling Stone, in the liner notes of Easter, Smith wanted to define the slur “as being an artist mutant that was going beyond gender.” Smith said Jagger qualified as one. A reporter asked Smith how she could feel this way since Jagger had not suffered.

“Suffering don’t make you a [N-word],” Smith said. “Stylistically, I believe he qualifies. I think Mick Jagger has suffered plenty. He also has great heart, and I believe, ya know, even in his most cynical moments, a great love for his children. He’s got a lot of soul. I mean, like, I don’t understand the question.”

Patti Smith with a microphone
Patti Smith | Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images

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Smith continued discussing the slur. “Ya think Black people are better than white people or sumpthin’?” she asked the reporter. “I was raised with Black people. … I don’t have any kind of super-respect or fear of that kind of stuff. When I say statements like that, they’re not supposed to be analyzed, ’cause they’re more like off-the-cuff humorous statements. I do have a sense of humor, ya know, which is sumpthin’ that most people completely wash over when they deal with me.”

How the public reacted to Patti Smith’s song in the 1970s and how it resurged in the 1990s

“Rock N Roll [N-word]” did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s easy to see why the track was too controversial to garner much airplay. A far less offensive song from Easter, “Because the Night,” became the only hit from the album, reaching No. 13. However, “Rock N Roll [N-word]” did not disappear from pop culture. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails produced the soundtrack for Oliver Stone’s hyperviolent 1994 film Natural Born Killers, which included a remix of the track. 

“Because the Night”

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The following year, Reznor produced Marilyn Manson’s EP Smells Like Children. Smells Like Children includes Marilyn Manson’s classic cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” as well as a cover of “Rock N Roll [N-word].” The band’s choice to cover the song perfectly aligns with their penchant to shock people. While Smith tried to redefine an old slur, she did not succeed — even when icons like Jagger and Manson came into the picture.