Album: Beggars Banquet
. . .
“Street Fighting Man” just might be my favorite Rolling Stones song, and one of the Rolling Stones most unique studio productions. Like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” an overloaded Phillips cassette recorder was integral to the basic track, but on “Street Fighting Man” it was even more elaborate.
In this case, Keith, Mick and Charlie all gathered around the cassette recorder, like teenagers recording their garage band. Keith was on acoustic, Mick on maracas and Charlie . . . Charlie was playing a 1930s toy drum kit. Then, Jimmy Miller stuck a professional studio microphone in front of the cassette speaker and that became a single track over which they dubbed a shit-ton of other instruments: Charlie added a second drum part, Keith added bass and a bunch more acoustic guitars, and Brian added sitar and tambura that whirled in and around the final mix. And that was just the beginning.
All of those drums are awesome, especially the overdubbed floor tom “whack-whack-whack-whack!” that doubles with the snare and adds an off-kilter flavor to the beat, which kinda matches the back-and-forth melody line on the verses. While the original version of the song was called “Did Everybody Pay Their Dues?” and is actually pretty good, “Street Fighting Man” is streets ahead, a never-ending churn that always feels like it’s about to explode in your face.
Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
‘Cause summer’s here, and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
Just as Bruce Springsteen would do a decade later with “Racin’ in the Street,” Mick Jagger nicked a lyric from the already-immortal “Dancing in the Street,” which had evolved into a civil rights anthem, but he was talking about all of the unrest happening around the world in 1968 and coming to a conclusion about his own part in it.
Well, what can a poor boy do except to sing for a rock and roll band?
‘Cause in sleepy London Town
There’s just no place for a street fighting man, no
It’s such a perfect Mick Jagger chorus: provocative as fuck, and yet at the same time fully distancing himself from it. Also, I love the way Mick wends his voice around “street fighting meeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan” And with Nicky Hopkins totally and utterly exploding with a fusillade of piano notes, Brian Jones swirling around with a sitar and a tambura, it sounds like a fucking riot. Maybe even a revolution of the palace variety.
Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
‘Cause where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Street Fighting Man” dispenses with a guitar solo, as focusing on any single instrument would destroy the roiling jumble of sound they’ve layered at every single juncture, though check out Keith’s cool little bass run after “revolution,” and again during the instrumental break just a few seconds before Mick screams “get down” as the sail into the final verse & chorus.
Hey! Said my name is called Disturbance
I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants
Well, then what can a poor boy do except to sing for a rock and roll band?
Because in sleepy London Town
There’s just no place for street fighting man, no
Keith doesn’t sing on “Street Fighting Man,” instead Mick provides his own harmonies, but at the tail end of the final verse, there’s a Keith-sounding groan and I will swear on a zillion bibles for the rest of my life that he then says “yeah” at the same time Mick sings last “no.”
After, “Street Fighting Man” storms into its all-instrumental code, led by Dave Mason — whom Jimmy Miller worked with in Traffic — making that keening noise on a shenhai (an Indian woodwind) while Keith does some more bass runs and Nicky Hopkins fucking smashes his piano into the ground while playin all 88 keys at seemingly the same time. It’s fucking magnificent, is what it is.
“Street Fighting Man” was released as a single in the U.S. in August, 1968, but its incendiary subject matter was just too much for radio programmers, or maybe even the nation as a whole, and it totally and utterly stiffed, maxing out at #48. But, of course, it’s gone on to be one of their most beloved songs.
“Street Fighting Man” Official Lyric Video
“Street Fighting Man” live in New York, 1969
“Street Fighting Man” live in Germany, 1973
“Street Fighting Man” live in Los Angeles 1975
“Street Fighting Man” live in Miami, 1994
“Street Fighting Man” live in New York, 2003
“Street Fighting Man” live in London, 2013
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