Someone once suggested that you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. Oh…that was the Rolling Stones and they proved their case this day in 1965. It was this day 56 years back that they released a single they thought was OK, but not what they really wanted. Of course, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” went to horrify grammar teachers for generations and become, as Newsweek put it “the five notes that shook the world.” Not only is it likely the best-loved Stones song, it’s one of the truly iconic rock songs of all-time…despite guitarist Keith Richards thinking it wasn’t ready to release yet.
The success was something rock stars normally only dream of. What’s more, it apparently began in a dream. Keith Richards says he got the idea for the music in a dream. He got up, picked up an acoustic guitar and a portable tape recorder and played the riff. He says when he played back the tape there was about a two minute song followed by “me snoring for 40 minutes.” They knew the music was catchy and Mick Jagger quickly put together the lyrics, which he said was “an attack on the status quo” – sexual frustration mixed with the frustration of living in an overly materialistic, commercial world.
At the time they were touring the States, and they quickly went to Chess Studios in Chicago to record it – or a version thereof. It was a little different than the “Satisfaction” we know, and Brian Jones played harmonica on it. Viewers of the show Shindig heard it first. They played that version on the show with them lip-synching to it before it was released. However, a few days later they went to a studio in California and re-recorded it, resulting in the smash hit we all know. Keith used a Gibson Fuzzbox to get the familiar buzzy guitar sound…which he ironically planned to have taken off the record! He heard it in his head being played by a horn section and used the effect to simulate the sustain he thought the horns would have. Mick and producer Andrew Oldham disagreed though and rushed the single out, guitar and all. Which was probably a great veto!
For the mid-’60s it was a bit of a shocking song. It rocked harder than most of its contemporaries on hit radio and it was comparatively blatant about “trying to get some girl” . And it complained about advertising, from the Marlsboro man to soap commercials, which didn’t thrill a lot of radio people. Consequently, some stations wouldn’t play it over here, and the BBC initially wouldn’t play it because they considred it too controversial. They’d later reverse that decision not long after it was officially released in Britain, a few months later.
It quickly became “the song that really made the Rolling Stones; changed us from just another band into a huge monster band,” as Mick Jagger put it. The song would eventually become their fourth #1 hit at home, but more significantly it was their first American #1. It would spend four weeks at the top (before being knocked off by Herman’s Hermits “I’m Henry the 8th, I Am” believe it or not) and finish up the year-end as the third biggest hit. It’s import seemingly has only grown since then. BMI list it among the 100 most-played records of the century and in 2000, VH1 viewers voted it the “greatest rock song,” period. Rolling Stone, the magazine, would go on to list the Rolling Stones, the band, song as the second greatest song of all-time and “the sound of a generation impatient to inherit the world!”
Keith for his part says “I’m not going to complain…although I never consider it the finished product.” Which I guess is true of his band itself, revving up to mark their 60th anniversary together next year.