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"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction": Solid Gold Spotlight

The history of the Stones' defining generational anthem

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The sleeve for the original US 45 of "Satisfaction"

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(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones

Written by: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (credited as Jagger-Richards)

Recorded: May 11-12, 1965 (RCA Studios, Hollywood, CA)
Mixed: May 13, 1965
Length: 3:44
Takes: unknown
Produced by: Andrew Oldham
Engineered by: Dave Hassinger

Musicians:

Mick Jagger: lead vocals
Keith Richards: lead guitar (1959 Gibson Les Paul), backing vocals
Brian Jones: acoustic guitar
Bill Wyman: bass guitar (1960 Vox "teardrop" V248)
Charlie Watts: drums (1956 Gretsch Round Badge)
Jack Nitzsche: piano, tambourine

Releases:

US: London 9766 (June 6, 1965), UK: Decca F12220 (August 10, 1965)

History:

  • It's arguably the anthem that defined a generation, a song often cited as one of the greatest songs of the decade, typically mentioned in the same breath as masterworks like Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and the Beatles' "Hey Jude." But what would come to be known simply as "Satisfaction" was written and recorded in a shockingly offhand manner, its composer not at all convinced that it was even worth releasing as a single.
  • Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards woke from a sound sleep on the night of May 6, 1965, in his room at Hollywood's Jack Tar Harrison Hotel where the band had been staying on their North American tour, reaching for his portable cassette recorder to take down the riff he kept hearing in his head: 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4-5. Although he didn't make the connection at the time, he was inspired by the band's love of Motown, specifically Martha and the Vandellas' recent hit "Nowhere to Run," and figured what he'd just written was an excellent riff for a horn section. He even came up with a lyrical motif to go with it, borrowing a line from Chuck Berry's 1955 single "Thirty Days": "I can't get no satisfaction from the judge." He repeated the riff and phrase over and over into the recorder until he fell asleep: upon awakening the next day, he found he'd filled the rest of the tape with the sounds of his snoring.
  • After waking up, he went to the hotel's pool with Mick Jagger, who immediately set about writing lyrics to fit Keith's theme of dissatisfaction. Drawing both on the insane life of a touring rock band and the shock of the American culture they'd recently been exposed to, he concocted a disaffected workingman's blues for rock stars, replete with lyrics knocking the ridiculous pervasiveness of advertising, the pain of information overload, the general hassles of the music business, and the difficulty of having sex on the fly -- going so far as to mention being denied sex because some female fan was having her period! When the band's tour hit Chicago a few days later, they recorded the first version of "Satisfaction" at the legendary Chess studios, treating it as a blues, right down to an added harmonica.
  • Richards was less than thrilled with the result, however: he kept hearing a soul song, not a blues. So the next day when the Stones found themselves in RCA's Los Angeles studio, he went to a nearby music store called Music City and purchased a new toy called a fuzzbox -- a filter created by Gibson in order to give a guitar instant distortion. In an attempt to show what his new riff might sound like as a horn chart, he played it through the Gibson Maestro box; drummer Charlie Watts came up with a stuttering go-go drumbeat to match it, and veteran sessionman and producer Jack Nitzsche, attending the sessions for RCA, added piano, then recut Mick's tambourine himself to make it more rhythmically correct. The Stones assumed they'd just laid down a pretty good demo, but producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham thought it was perfect, and despite the objections of Mick and Keith, it was cleaned up for single release. It became the group's first worldwide number one smash, and it made them superstars, cementing forever their place in rock history.

Trivia:

  • Not unusually for a 1965 song by a British band, "Satisfaction" was released only in mono, meaning that Nitzsche's piano was never heard until 2002, when a fake stereo mix was finally released. That mix moved the acoustic instruments to the left side of the spectrum and all the electric elements to the right.
  • Otis Redding was pressured to cover this song by his label, Stax/Volt, which he resisted at first. However, his version ironically restored the riff to a horn section, just as Keith always envisioned.
  • The flip side of the original 45 release was a also song about the music business, at least in the US: the sardonic "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man," recorded at the Chess studios and this time sounding very much like a Chicago blues. In the UK, another original from that session made the b-side, the predatory "The Spider and the Fly." The single appeared on the US version of the LP Out of Our Heads, but British fans had to wait for the following year's compilation Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) to get it on an album.
  • So sloppy was the recording used for the hit single that you can hear Richards turn on his fuzzbox for the chorus, at about 36 seconds in.
  • The line referring to menstruation -- "Baby, better come back, maybe next week / cause you see I'm on a losing streak" -- got the single banned in a few markets, but when the group performed the song on the Ed Sullivan show, the following year, the only line censored was the one implying that Mick was trying to "make some girl." The relatively harmless lyric about "girl reaction" was likewise often misheard as "girlie action."
  • The Stones closed their set with this song for decades, usually along with some sort of pyrotechnic display.

Covered by: Devo, Otis Redding, Britney Spears, Jerry Lee Lewis, PJ Harvey with Bjork, Cat Power, Manfred Mann, Eddy Mitchell, Blue Cheer, The Residents, Frankie Ruiz, Jonathan King, Assemblage 23

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