Review: Are you satisfied?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

First released: 1965

Highest UK chart position: 1

Highest US chart position: 1

If `Satisfaction' had ended before Mick Jagger had sung a note, it would still have been a great record. A short one, admittedly, but a great one. It opens with a explosive rock'n'roll riff every bit the equal of `Bo Diddley', `La Bamba' and `Louie Louie'. It continues throughout the record and you become hooked to the rhythm, which makes `Satisfaction' the perfect party record.

It had come about in a strange way. The Rolling Stones were touring non- stop, and early in 1965 they were in America. Some days had been set aside for recording at the Chess Studios in Chicago - the home of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley - and at RCA in Hollywood. They were to make the album which would become Out Of Our Heads, and their record producer and manager, Andrew Oldham, wanted Mick and Keith Richards to write a Motown- styled song similar to Marvin Gaye's `Can I Get A Witness'.

Keith normally partied till dawn, but one night in Clearwater, Florida, he was tired. A riff was going through his head, so he switched on his tape recorder. Then he fell asleep. "The next morning I listened to the tape," he recalls. "There was about two minutes of an acoustic guitar playing a very rough riff of `Satisfaction' and then me snoring for 40 minutes."

Keith admitted that the riff had been derived from a Motown record, namely Martha and the Vandellas' `Dancing In The Street', which was later a chart- topper for Mick Jagger and David Bowie. The records, though, are markedly different. `Dancing In The Street' was a song of happiness, while `Satisfaction' was full of foreboding.

Keith played his riff to Jagger, who came up with the title. At first the song had a folk-rock feel, but then Mick realised it provided the opportunity for some anti-Establishment lyrics and he could speak for many of his fans. Effectively, he was writing a contemporary blues lyric, and it was their first composition with a social content.

The Stones recorded four album tracks and a first take of `Satisfaction' at a marathon 17-hour session at the Chess Studios. The next day they moved to Hollywood and completed the song during another gruelling session. Keith was unaware of the strength of what they'd recorded. He had used his new Gibson fuzzbox, but he was not happy. "I wanted to cut it again but I don't think we could have done it right. You needed horns to really knock the riff out." He also wasn't keen on the lyric. "It was a working title. I never thought it was commercial enough to be a single."

Nevertheless, it was released as a single in the US, but many stations were unhappy with the reference to `I can't get no girl reaction'. When the Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the phrase `trying to make some girl' was bleeped. Even schoolteachers complained, as they disliked the double negative of `I Can't Get No Satisfaction'. Mick had written it that way to underline his dissatisfaction. He railed against society, boring television, fraudulent advertising and his problems with girls. He had captured the mood of the times as succinctly as Pete Townshend with `My Generation'.

The release of `Satisfaction' was delayed in the UK, as Andrew Oldham wanted to ensure that the Beatles' `Help!' had run its course. The pirate stations played it, and when it was released it quickly went to Number One. Indeed, it made Number One in 38 different countries and sold over four million copies worldwide.

Keith was delighted when the song was covered by Otis Redding as he could now hear it with Memphis horns, but Mick only heard Otis demolish the lyric and destroy the song's meaning. Indeed, `Satisfaction' sounds like a song that Otis Redding and Bob Dylan could have written together. Bob Dylan once told Keith, "I could have written `Satisfaction' but you cats could never have written `Mr Tambourine Man'." Certainly, Dylan could have written the verses to `Satisfaction', but could he have come up with such gut-wrenching rock'n'roll?

When a reporter asked Keith if he still had the tape on which he composed that magical riff, he said, "No, tapes rot after 100 years, you know."

`Behind the Song' by Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh is published by Blandford at pounds 14.99. Readers of The Independent can buy the book for pounds 12.99 (inc p&p). To order, phone 01624 675137.

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