Though it seems like Keith Richards is the sort of guy who should have passed over to the other side a long time ago given his various excesses, as fate would have it, he's still with us and for my money has always been one of the great guitar gods. Blues-rock guitar gods, anyway.
And so it's his famous grinding riff in Satisfaction - conceived, he has claimed, while asleep; why am I not surprised? - that defined one of the anthems of rock in the mid-60s, giving the Stones their first #1 on the charts 44 years ago yesterday and flipping the bird at the comparatively sweet Beatles. (I Feel Fine, Eight Days A Week and Ticket To Ride had already been #1 that year.)
The Stones had found their way into the top 10 with The Last Time and their cover of Time Is On My Side, both killer songs, but #1 had eluded them. Debates over which band was better were common as was, after Satisfaction, ongoing interest in who was #1 or close to it at any given time. (The Beatles would have more singles top the charts that year than the Stones.)
A Battle of These Particular Bands seems silly when you think about it now, but the menacing, edgy Stones were the anti-Beatles and the juxtaposition of the two was interesting to ponder back in the day. Newsweek didn't call the Beatles "leering." The Stones? Oh yeah they did.
Although being an inductee of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress (2006) would seem to fly in the face of that leering sensibility, nonetheless Satisfaction was, 44 years ago and today, one of the best examples of disaffectedness that the 60s had to offer.
The song was actually railing against America's empty values, but somehow I don't think that's what most kids took away from it. I know I didn't, anyway. It was one of those songs that simply made it OK to give voice to the idea that life is a disappointment on so many levels. (Kind of a musical version of the brain of Holden Caulfield.) And it's also one of those songs that if, say, you're having a bad day 44 years later, still taps into that belligerent streak that some of us (read: I) have always had, for better or worse.
What I didn't know is that the song wasn't initially viewed as anything special, at least not by Richards and Mick Jagger.
On their third U.S. tour, they stopped into various recording studios along their route to lay down tracks for whatever was percolating in their brains at the time. Following a Chicago concert in 1965, that studio was Chess, where some of their own heroes, such as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, recorded - as did McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters, after whose Rollin' Stone, the first single Chess ever released, the Stones had named themselves.
Here the song's first take germinated but it was nothing like what was eventually released. The finishing touches didn't happen until they hit L.A. and RCA's studios. Keith had recently acquired a Gibson Maestro FuzzTone pedal, and suddenly the song morphed aggressive. However, the story goes that the guitar riff was merely a stand-in for the horns that he was actually envisioning. In any case, he didn't see it as A-side fare. For one thing, he thought it was too much a knockoff of Martha and the Vandellas' Dancing in the Street.
In reality, Satisfaction was probably the synthesis of many influences that could have been soaked up in those days. Nothing unusual about that. Here's Keith briefly demonstrating the song's bluesy roots, from what source I do not know.