'(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones: The making of the riff-tastic anthem

22 September 2021, 14:08

Rolling Stones - Satisfaction
Rolling Stones - Satisfaction. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

The Rolling Stones have a load of signature tunes, but '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' is maybe their biggest.

The Rolling Stones are back on the road for the first time since the death of their long-term drummer Charlie Watts.

With hundreds of songs in their back catalogue, putting a setlist together can't be easy, but one song that always makes its way there is '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'.

But who wrote the classic track, how did that guitar riff nearly get replaced by brass and who has covered it? Here's everything you need to know.

Who wrote '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' and who plays on it?

When The Rolling Stones formed they played covers, usually R&B hits. But badgered by manager Andrew Loog Oldham and inspired by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, they soon started to write their own material.

The bulk of the Stones' self-written songs are credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as Jagger/Richards, and so is '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'.

Getting specific, Richards borrowed the line "I can't get no satisfaction" from Chuck Berry's '30 Days'. Jagger wrote the lyrics, and Richards wrote the music in his sleep at home in St John's Wood. No, really.

The story goes that Keith recorded a rough version of the riff on a cassette player without even realising it, finding two minutes of guitar and 40 minutes of snoring on the tape the next day.

Jagger wrote the lyrics by the pool in Clearwater, Florida, just a few days before they went into the studio to record it.

As for who's playing on the final version, you've got the full classic Stones lineup.

So that's: Mick Jagger (vocals), Keith Richards (guitar and backing vocals), Brian Jones (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums). Also pitching in was Jack Nitzsche on piano and tambourine.

How did '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' almost lose its iconic guitar riff?

The Stones first recorded 'Satisfaction' (with Brian Jones on harmonica) at Chess Studios in Chicago, Illinois on May 10, 1965, and mimed along to this early version when they appeared on Shindig!

"I didn't think much of 'Satisfaction' when we first recorded it," admitted Keith. "We had a harmonica on then and it was considered to be a good B-side or maybe an LP track."

That all changed when the band re-recorded it a couple of days later at RCA Studios in Hollywood, California.

The new take had a slightly different beat and made liberal use of the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone (aka, the fuzzbox) to help along that iconic riff.

Amazingly, Keith never actually wanted that riff to be on the finished song. His plan was to replace it with some proper brass.

"This was just a little sketch, because, to my mind, the fuzz tone was really there to denote what the horns would be doing," Keith said in 2003.

QUIZ: How well do you know The Rolling Stones' song lyrics?

"But Andrew spotted the spirit of the track and we were already back on the road before we heard that they'd decided that 'Satisfaction' was going to be the single."

He added: "We had thought we were going to cut a better version.

"It was still not finished as far as we were concerned, but sometimes an artist's sketches are better than the finished painting, and that's probably one of the perfect examples."

When was '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' released and where did it come in the charts?

'(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' goes Gold
'(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' goes Gold. Picture: Getty

'Satisfaction' was first released in the US on June 5, 1965, with 'The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man' on the flip.

It jumped into the charts the following week, and eventually got all the way to number one for a four-week run.

Read more: Remembering when Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts had the ultimate drummer's revenge on Mick Jagger

Incredibly, the single was held back for more than TWO MONTHS in the UK because their label Decca was working on the Got Live If You Want It! EP.

It was eventually given a release on August 20, 1965 with 'The Spider and The Fly' on the B-side, going for number one for two weeks in September.

It went Gold in both the UK and US, as well as selling loads of copies all around the world.

What is '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' actually about?

Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger in 1967
Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger in 1967. Picture: Getty

While plenty of Rock 'n' Roll songs (and plenty of Rolling Stones songs) are about guys and girls getting together, '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' was about guys and girls not getting together. ("I can't get no satisfaction / I can't get no girl reaction").

It's also one in the eye for the wave of advertiser-powered, post-war commercialism ("And a man comes on and tells me/ How white my shirts can be"), and that combination of sexual frustration and dissociation with the modern world certainly caused controversy.

"It captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs," Mick said in 1995. "Which was alienation. Or it's a bit more than that, maybe, but a kind of sexual alienation."

The song got its earliest airplay on pirate stations, with BBC and commercial radio shying away from the suggestive and anti-establishment content.

Though Jagger suggested that the most controversial line was actually misunderstood by most.

"The dirtiest line in 'Satisfaction' they don't understand, see?" he smirked to TIME in 1966. "It's about 'You better come back next week cause you see I'm on a losing streak'.

"But they don't get that. It's just life. That's really what happens to girls. Why shouldn't people write about it?". Ahem.

Who has covered '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'?

'Satisfaction' isn't just one of the most-covered songs in rock history, it's also been covered in a startling variety of versions.

One of the very first covers came from Otis Redding in September 1965, just a few months after the Stones' version, and he immediately made it his own.

"The riff was in essence not meant for the guitar," Richards said."Otis Redding got it right when hr later recorded it because it's actually a horn riff."

In 2003, Ronnie Wood added: "When we play it today live we still have that essence of the soulful treatment that Otis gave 'Satisfaction'."

Before the year was out, The Surfaris, The Strangeloves, The Ventures, and countless other beat groups had a go at 'Satisfaction'.

Still in the 1960s, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Manfred Mann, The Kingsmen, Mary Wells, James Last, Aretha Franklin, The Shirelles and Sandie Shaw gave their takes.

The Troggs and Eddie & The Hot Rods were next, before The Residents and Devo completely reimagined the song in their own style.

And it still hasn't stopped.

Since then, everyone from Tight Fit and Television to Samantha Fox, Tom Jones, Sly & Robbie, Cat Power, Britney Spears, Julian Cope and Diana Ross & The Supremes have given us 'Satisfaction'.

If you go down to your local venue tonight, there's a fair chance that the band will rock out to 'Satisfaction' there, too.