What is it with these legendary songs that were supposedly written in the sleep of their composers? Paul McCartney has always said Yesterday came to him in a dream. He rushed to the piano in the Asher household the following morning to play the melody, and was convinced at first that somebody else must have written it. But Scrambled Eggs, as he originally called it, was a Lennon and McCartney original.
And in the same year came (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had written their first number 1, The Last Time, earlier in 1965, although how much they can lay claim to that is debatable considering they pinched the chorus from the Staple Singers. Nonetheless, their songwriting was improving. The fact this song came soon after makes that a hell of an understatement.
Richards claims he woke up one morning and had a half memory of recording himself trying out a song that had come to him in the night. Playing back the recording, he heard himself playing (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction on an acoustic guitar for two minutes, singing the song’s title, followed by the sound of the pick hitting the floor and then him snoring for 40 minutes until the tape side ran out. Like McCartney, Richards was sure someone else had already written this song. He was worried it sounded like Martha & the Vandellas’ Dancing in the Street in particular.
Are the stories for these songs true? Did two of the most memorable pop songs of all time appear in their creators’ subconscious? Or did they lie to add to the legend? I guess we’ll never know, but if both are true, it’s fascinating.
The Rolling Stones entered Chess Studios in Chicago to record (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction on 10 May. Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics four days beforehand by a swimming pool. Apart from the aforementioned line, that is. The original recording wasn’t the version we know and love, and feature Brian Jones on harmonica. This version was the first the public heard of the track, however, when they debuted it on US telvision series Shindig. Two days later they tried again at RCA Studios in Hollywood, with Charlie Watts adding a new beat, and Richards performing the famous riff through a Gibson fuzzbox. This hadn’t been done on a released record before, and added a scratchy rawness to their sound. But that was fine, because he had no intention of it appearing on the released single. It was only there as a guide for what he wanted a brass section to perform.
What else can be said about (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction? How many superlatives exist? This was more dangerous than pop and rock’n’roll and to me, it’s one of the first singles you can call rock, along with You Really Got Me by the Kinks. Richards’ riff is like the musical equivalent of the big bang, it’s so important and incredible. And although it’s impossible to imagine a time in which it never existed, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction never, ever, sounds boring. That fuzzy riff is so primitive, it’s somehow meant the song has remained fresh in the same way the base raunch of You Really Got Me has. It’s such a fantastic riff, it would have no doubt sounded great from a brass ensemble, but would it be as immortal as the version we know? I doubt it.
Lots of credit should also go to Jagger, whose lyrics fit perfectly. This really spoke to his generation, and it’s hard sometimes to think a song that encapsulates feelings of alienation brought on by advertising could come from a man who later became obsessed with money like Jagger did. Despite all the plaudits the Stones have had thrown at them over the years, I don’t think Jagger has ever really got the credit he deserves as a lyricist. Some of his songs from 1965 through to the early-1970s are as sharp as pop and rock music gets. There’s a real dry wit on display here. It’s only now that I discover that although many people found this song dangerously sexually charged at the time, the filthiest lyric of all escaped most people, including me. When Jagger sings: ‘And I’m tryin’ to make some girl/Who tells me baby better come back later next week/’Cause you see I’m on a losing streak’ the ‘losing streak’ in question is the girl’s period. Clever, Jagger, you filthy beast. As great as the lyrics are though, I guess that riff overshadows, well, nearly everything. Bill Wyman’s bass also complements it brilliantly though.
Once the track was completed, everyone bar the songwriters was convinced it needed no brass overdubs, and that they’d hit upon something truly special. Luckily for everyone, Jagger and Richards were outvoted, and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was quickly released a month later in the US, a well as featuring on the American version of their third album, Out of Our Heads. A month later it was the US number 1. UK buyers had to wait a while longer, as Decca were already about to release a live EP by the Rolling Stones. Released in August, the song divided public opinion. To older people and the BBC, it was disgusting. To pirate radio and teenagers and young adults, it was fucking brilliant. We know who was right. The BBC relented and on 9 September it began an all-too-short fortnight at number 1.
The Rolling Stones were suddenly in a new league, and rightly considered on the same level as the Beatles. Jagger and Richard had gone from blues copyists to premier songwriters. Although the whole band stood to benefit from this, 1965 marked the year in which Brian Jones began to feel sidelined.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction is up there with She Loves You as one of the songs that defines music, let alone the 60s. There have been countless covers from the good, the bad and the downright odd over the years, including Otis Redding, Devo, Britney Spears, the Residents, Samantha Fox and Cat Power.
I was one of the lucky ones who finally got to see the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury Festival in 2013. I’m not a superfan, and was expecting dips in the set, but overall it was a triumph and well worth the wait. Their final song was (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. I’ve had many amazing monents at Glastonbury over the years. That ranks as one of the best.
Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham
Weeks at number 1: 2 (9-22 September)
Cricketer JW Hearne – 14 September
Geologist Arthur Holmes – 20 September