3 SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
Beggars Banquet album track, 1968
BOB GELDOF: I think the Stones have always been really underrated as lyricists. Mick’s so highly articulate and the words on “Sympathy For The Devil” are just amazing. That whole period from Beggars Banquet through to Exile On Main Street was astonishing.
BUTCH VIG: I recently saw the whole film about Altamont and it made this song seem relevant in a way the Stones probably never intended. The chords are really simple, but the hooks and the lyrics are awesome. I know there’s a couple of radio stations over here that just play The Beatles all day, but you could do the same with the Stones: they have a whole mountain of songs just as good as this one.
IAN ASTBURY: Probably my all-time favourite track by anyone. The subject material I absolutely loved, as I have a fascination for the arcane. They put it down in that sensual, erotic context. You can visualise them putting this together. Again, it captures the death of the Sixties dream, but also the sense that there was no way of going back. It’s probably been one of the most ripped-off songs as well, which obviously shows its incredible power.
ANDY ROURKE: It’s brilliant musicianship, great playing, and a great vibe. As a bass player, Bill Wyman did inspire me, although his style didn’t really lend itself to The Smiths so much. In fact, I find myself playing more like him now than I did then. Just in the kind of notes he used, he was definitely an influence. And I don’t move around much either.
WILL SERGEANT: It has a unique vibe, and I think it’s based on The Master And Margarita by Bulgakov. It’s just amazing. The thought of the devil worrying what people thought of him. It’s pretty cool imagery and shows how imaginative they were. And yes, you can never get bored of hearing it.
ARTHUR BAKER: Looking back, “Satisfaction” was filled with optimism for the Sixties and this song was the nail in the coffin. I was only a kid when this song came out, but I knew it was an end to the hedonism of the era and hippie idealism.
MICHAEL BONNER: The sound of war. The sound of a generation turning on itself. The sound of violence and death and madness. And the most disturbing thing
of all, undoubtedly, is that the band are thriving on it. Keith’s guitar solos are phenomenal, razor cutting through the song, the man drawing lightning down from the sky. Charlie’s drumming is all furious voodoo beats, possibly like nothing else he’s ever done before or since. Mick’s lyrics are a league apart, still so provocative, so arrogant, delivered like some sneering King of the Damned (which, arguably, he almost was at that point). Welcome to the Pit.
STEVE WYNN: My favourite guitar solo of all time. If someone was to ask me how to play this solo I would just advise: “Stick out your hand and raise your middle finger.” Same effect. This guitar solo swears at you, tells you to go fuck yourself and smiles while doing it. It also reminds me that Mick Jagger used to be such an incredible lyricist. The bit about the Kennedys was such an absolute ballsy thing to write in 1968 and doesn’t seem inappropriate or gratuitous. Just the anti-gospel truth. Hard to believe considering the type of lyrics he’s written in the last 20 years. I mean, “I’m so hot for her, I’m so hot for her, she’s so cold”? Give me a break.
NICK HASTED: Playing their bad reputation for all it was worth, the personally plastic Jagger shape-shifting into a Beelzebub much like the louche west London aristos he now associated with, the Stones coolly upped the decade’s lyrical stakes with a smash-and-grab from historical darkness no one else would have dared: Christ on the cross, Nazi tanks crunching through Europe, Jagger as the brimstone Zelig who stokes it all. The real danger starting to choke the air was signalled when “who killed Kennedy?” had to be switched to the plural when RFK dropped. But as Keith’s guitar lashes and sings, you know the Stones think they won’t be touched.
GALE PARIDJANIAN: It’s got the wickedest guitar solo, it’s really sharp. The track is so hard, unrelenting and dark. You’ve got your “Whoo whoos”, which are brilliant, giving it this really catchy quality. The first time I heard it was through Jane’s Addiction, who covered it on their first album. That was when it first stuck in my memory, because I heard that before I’d ever really got into the Stones. I love the first verse – it’s not ‘Hey, I’m the devil, look how evil I am’ but this brilliant description of him as “a man of wealth and taste”. I like that idea, it’s how I’d imagine the devil too, quite a refined character.
MICHAEL GIRA: What can you say about this? It’s been covered, referenced, exploited, ridiculed, and probably used to sell Nikes by this point, but I can still listen to it and get inside the thing itself without getting distracted by the associations that it’s accrued since I first heard it. Plus, its ‘message’ remains as pertinent as ever.
ROB HUGHES: Nothing to it. Three chords and a rumble of bongos. But Keef at his best, driving the whole thing along. Not just keeping the flame but whipping up a bloody firestorm. And the greatest guitar solo ever committed to wax – the simplest of scales, but unbelievable feel and touch. Even I can play it, but light years removed from Richards’ phrasing. Typifies what the Stones do best . . . simple on the surface, but so much bubbling underneath. Music to shake your soul.
JEFFREY LEWIS: Hideously impeccable production and arranging! It’s the way the whole thing builds in hypnotising layers, and that solo that makes you feel like you’re being jabbed with a white hot sonic sewing needle. Why is it seemingly impossible for anyone to be this damn good today? Jimmy Miller was probably a big part of the band’s sound on these albums, ’cause the Stones never sounded like this before or since his turn as producer.
NICK DAGGER: I imagine it was originally written as a folk song like so much of Beggars Banquet, but the Afro-Cuban beats take it off somewhere else. It’s so dark and atmospheric – right from the opening “Please allow me to introduce myself . . .” you’ve got the chills. And that “whoo whoo” chorus is simply one of the great pop music moments. Whenever we play it, it’s one of the great rallying points for the audience in our set.
ED HARCOURT: One of those tracks that shouldn’t work but it does. It doesn’t sum up an era for me, but it has stood the test of time and I love the lyrics. It’s also quite baggy for its time, which is odd, though that’s the percussion. It’s an hypnotic, relentless, tribal track that suggests there was a bacchanalian orgy going on in the studio.
RICHARD LLOYD: The middle guitar solo is 15 seconds of the greatest lead guitar in rock. Also, it’s a religious, primeval understanding, before good and evil. The depth of this song is amazing. You could write a college thesis on it.