Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The Rolling Stones almost did not release “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” because Keith Richards felt that the famous riff sounded too similar to another song.
Let’s say that you wake up in the middle of the night and you have a great beat in your head. Would you think that you just came up with a really cool riff, or would you think that you must be remembering a song you heard somewhere?
I think most of us would tend toward the latter, but as it turns out, even famous musicians sometimes think that are in the latter category, as seen with the interesting case of Keith Richards and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
In one of the most famous stories about rock ‘n’ roll (and one of the coolest), Keith Richards woke up one night with the famous guitar riff to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in his head, along with the words “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
He got his tape recorder and recorded the riff and the words and then went back to bed.
He then brought the song to his writing partner, Mick Jagger, who wrote the rest of the lyrics and worked out the melody (remember, all they had was “da da…da da da da”) and they completed the song that would soon become the signature hit of the Rolling Stones, and one of the most famous songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Only the Stones almost never released the song!
This is where the “basically” part comes in, because really, I doubt that the Stones were ever TRULY serious about not recording the song, but I do believe it that Keith Richards had doubts about the tune.
One of his worries was that this great riff (or lick or whatever you want to call it) of his was just him remembering the riff/lick from a popular song of the day, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.”
For comparison’s sake, here are YouTube videos of each of the two songs (I can’t speak to how long each of the videos will stay on YouTube)…
I don’t really see that close of a comparison between the two, but perhaps adding to Richards’ worry is the fact that the “I can’t get no satisfaction” line also appears in another song that he and Jagger were familiar with, as Jagger pointed out in a 1995 interview:
Keith wrote the lick. I think he had this lyric, I can’t get no satisfaction, which, actually, is a line in a Chuck Berry song called 30 Days… I can’t get no satisfaction from the judge… (T)hat was just one line, and then I wrote the rest of it. There was no melody, really.
Whether he was right to feel wary about the tune, Richards was not a supporter of the song, feeling that it was basically an unfinished song – perhaps worthy of a B-Side, but that was it. So when it came time to vote for what was to be the band’s next single, Richards voted against “Satisfaction” (so did Jagger).
However, everyone else voted FOR it, and, well, the rest is rock ‘n’ roll history, I suppose.
The legend is…
STATUS: Basically True
Thanks to Ian McPherson’s amazing Rolling Stones site, Time Is On Our Side, for the quotes and a lot of the information behind the makings of the song.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.