. . .
When I was first thinking about these Rolling Stones posts — sometime in 2017, truth be told — my original conception was to have a section on every post about what was problematic with the song, as they got away with a lot of things in the 60s, 70s & 80s that would be unthinkable in our more evolved era.
Like, of course, “Under My Thumb,” the first truly famous Rolling Stones song that was never released as a single in either the U.S. or the U.K.
So let’s address that first, shall we? “Under My Thumb” is all about what George Costanza once referred to as having the “hand” in a relationship, which apparently, was the same situation that Mick Jagger had to deal with. Until all of sudden — for reasons never explained by the song, but we have to assume is because Mick’s such a stud — not only does Mick have the hand, he’s using it.
Under my thumb, the girl who once had me down
Under my thumb, the girl who once pushed me around
Probably, if he’d just stopped there, nobody would have many grounds to complain. But, of course, Mick Jagger wasn’t ever going to stop there. Not 1966 Mick Jagger, who was beginning to come into his own as a rock star — they originally wanted to call this album Could You Walk on The Water? much to Decca’s horror — singing on top of one of the coolest tracks his band ever recorded.
Aftermath was the first album of the Stones experimental period, and, musically “Under My Thumb” was one their most successful tracks on that record, with all kinds of cool shit going on. Everybody always focuses on the marimba hook played by Brian Jones, but Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are utterly in the pocket from the very start, providing a Motown-style groove before Mick even opens his mouth.
And let’s not forget Keith, whose lead guitar is continually commenting, augmenting and circling around the rest of the song — check out the sparse, lowdown solo he takes in the middle — while also finding space to overdub an acoustic guitar and add some fuzz bass to the chorus.
It’s down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
And of course, it just gets worse from there: the comparisons to a squirming dog and siamese cat; the behavioral changes he describes; the bragging about cheating at the end. It’s all too much. I mean, even if you think that Mick is playing a character — and I happen to think that Mick is almost always playing a character — it’s too much, and I totally get why this song has always been controversial, ane even Mick has backed away from it over the years. Which, right there, is a pretty good sign that he knew he crossed a line with his provocations.
It certainly wouldn’t be the last time.
A year later, in the aftermath (get it?) of the infamous bust at Keith’s house in the country, when both Mick and Keith were convicted an in jail for a few pep pills and allowing weed-smoking on the premises, The Who (with Pete Townshend playing bass cos John Entwistle was on his honeymoon) rush-recorded and released a single “The Last Time” / “Under My Thumb” was a gesture of solidarity. Neither was all that great, but their version of “Under My Thumb” had some pretty cool backing vocals and an aggressive Townshend solo.
“Under My Thumb”
“Under My Thumb” live in Arizona, 1981
“Under My Thumb” live 2006
“Under My Thumb” by The Who
Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page