'(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' Lyrics/Song Meaning And How It Was Written By Accident By The Rolling Stones
When Keith Richards sat down to write one of the most iconic riffs in music history, to the point where the song is in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress since 2006, to the point where it was played on only pirate radio stations at first, and then became The Rolling Stones first #1 in the U.S., he wasn't exactly lucid. He, in fact, had no idea he'd written it at all. He listened to the recording one morning, and there were maybe two minutes of an acoustic guitar playing the pervasive riff, followed by about forty minutes of "then me snoring," according to Richards. That's how "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was written to start, just a fleeting memory of inspiration, no lyrics, no music, no horn section (the horn section would never happen), and no plan. Just a stray message on an old Phillips tape recorder.
The song was actually written in two places
There's some confusion as to how the rest of the song was written. Some stories tell of the hotel room in Clearwater, Florida, at the Fort Harrison Hotel, while Keith Richards' autobiography mentions he recorded it in his flat in Carlton Hill, St. John's Wood, while Jagger wrote the lyrics by the pool in that Florida Hotel a couple of days before they hit the studio to record it.
Record companies and studios used to have a lot more power in that they would dictate a lot more of the musical qualities of the songs they spend their lives commodifying, calling for broad appeal, diminishing some of the art, and ultimately homogenizing the process. This process, by the way, isn't necessarily a bad one or one that we don't need. We wouldn't have some of the greatest songs the world has ever seen without these people exercising their right and duty to make this song as well-loved as possible, which is a wonderful way to think about songwriting, but it just isn't how it happens most of the time.
When the song was originally recorded, it had Brian Jones on harmonica, and after performing it once, they re-recorded it with a Maestro fuzzbox to add some sustain to the guitar riff that Richards wrote with no recollection. He had since then thought of it as a line for horns, so the fuzzbox was really there to mimic what the horns would do. "[It] was just a little sketch," according to Richards, and he wanted a whole horn section doing what the guitar was doing. Later on, though, producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham and their engineer David Hassinger persuaded Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to keep the song as it was. Fans agreed.
The song was a success for so many reasons
The song was an almost instant success. It led to fuzzboxes selling out by the end of the year it came out, giving the U.S. a new sound for rock, and featured The Rolling Stones' classic device of using blues scales to make rock songs. It hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the U.S. starting in June and didn't leave for 14 weeks, later dethroning the Four Tops' "Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" earning a spot in the Top 10. It hit gold on the U.S. charts in only 8 weeks. Billboard later ranked it as the #3 song of 1965.
You can hear the song in movies, TV, and any medium you can think of, including Apocalypse Now (1979), and, of course, its original album "Out Of Our Heads" along with reissues, re-recordings, and the famous-but-rare stereo version which was never widely released, and is a collectors' item, on various Rolling Stones albums.
The song was controversial in its day
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was controversial and banned in some places because of the sexual connotations of the line having to do with "girl reaction," but according to Jagger, the critics missed the juiciest line in the song: "When I'm riding 'round the world / And I'm doing this and I'm singing that / And I'm trying to make some girl / Who Tells me baby, better come back, maybe next week / Cause you see, I'm on a losing streak"
That lyric was, according to Jagger, about the woman being on her period that week, and asking him to come back the next week. So the song isn't completely about getting laid, it also deals with his impatience, and how relatable that is to almost anyone who is so desperately either single or pining for someone that they can't seem to hold anyone in particular's attention.
While the song isn't completely about getting laid, it's very obviously about the plight of a man in that time, trying their hardest to keep up with the relentless cavalcade of masculinity that people tried to, but no one could ever really achieve in conjunction with actually being happy. The line "When I'm watching my Tv / And a man comes on and tells me / How white my shirts can be / Well he can't be a man cause he doesn't smoke / The same cigarettes as me," he is making reference to the Marlboro Man, and a seemingly unattainable standard of cleanliness, masculinity, and how those hardly ever reconcile.
The world was receiving mixed messages, and if there's anything about mixed messages we can all agree on, it's that they're not very helpful, conducive to feeling complete, or at all, even a little bit, satisfying. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" isn't so much about someone who's so sexually frustrated that they're singing about it, although there's a measure of that, but a rallying cry for people who've had enough of not only consumerism and the status quo, but for people who don't know what to physically and mentally sit down and do with all the messages that consumer culture throws at us. There was no "report" button for ads in those days, and they were in the thick of the Mad Men era, when advertising was bold, manipulative, lying, and at its gregarious peak. Of course he was frustrated, everyone was frustrated, we are all currently frustrated. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" isn't about someone complaining, it's about what consumerism does to us, and how that really never gets any better. While it's probably not why the song fades out, but the fact that we will pretty much always feel this way is a sobering thought brought home by the fade out in the song itself. No one in a consumerist culture will ever be satisfied, which his also probably why this song will always be a hard cut classic that speaks for past, present, and future generations.
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