The story behind writing and recording ‘Sympathy For The Devil’



One of the most controversial songs in rock history has its share of secrets. It is the story of Sympathy for the devil.

Since 1964, the writing partnership between Mick jagger and Keith richards has been controversial, innovative and legendary. Throughout the turbulent political quagmire of the 1960s, the Rolling Stones both avoided their adversity and attacked it head on.

For example, when Street fighter was released, various radio stations banned the track due to the racial and student protests it helped inspire. As you can imagine, when The rolling stones published Sympathy for the devil all hell broke loose, cementing the legacy of their most iconic song.

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Sure, presenting himself as the devil to the public can be quite daring, but Mick Jagger succeeded in style and without ulterior motive. Declare your inner demon “a man of wealth and taste”, Jagger has confessed to being the culprit for some of the nastiest acts in history. Leading the Nazi blitzkrieg raid, despising the Russian revolution, assassinating JFK, and encouraging the crucifixion of Jesus – this is not a given – all with a suave chorus seemed like a happy old joke for Mick Jagger.

But what do we really know about Sympathy for the devil? Here are the song’s darkest secrets.

Birth of the devil

In 1967, the Rolling Stones were under fire from the press, religious leaders, parent groups and government officials on various charges of moral corruption. The most extreme claim was that the Rolling Stones supported Satanism. Ridiculous in hindsight, even though the band had just dated Their demand for satanic majesty.

The Rolling Stones sealed their fate the following year with Sympathy for the devil. Mick Jagger drew central lyrical inspiration from a collection of sources he came across in 1968, explaining:

“When this song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first kind of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everyone is sucked into it.

A known point of reference is the writing of the French poet Charles Baudelaire. Another major and more obvious influence is the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov novel The Master And The Margarita. Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, Marianne Faithfull, gifted it to him.

Bulgakov’s book is hailed for its ability to harmoniously blend fantasy and social satire. For example, he compares the life of Jesus Christ to that of an artist in Soviet Russia amid arbitrary arrests and mental hospitals.Sympathy for the devil

This concept of inverted values ​​and confusion of reality is prevalent in the words of Sympathy for the devil. Cops are all criminals and all “sinful saints”. He even refers to the pain of Jesus Christ and his “Moment of doubt”.

Another influence in the composition of the lyrics is Bob dylan. Referring to major moments in history such as the execution of the Romanov family in 1917, the October Revolution, World War II and the assassination of the Kennedy brothers, Jagger assumes a dylanic poetic verse reinforced by the elucidation of archetypal figures as a focal anchor.

In reality, the essence of Sympathy for the devil is not different from that of Give me shelter. The philosophy of peace and love remains as true as political instability as America’s war efforts of the 1960s bled into the 1970s.

Capture the devil

It makes sense to assume that the Jagger / Richards songwriting partnership is split so that Mick writes the lyrics and Keith follows the music, however, this was rarely the case.

In this case, Mick Jagger wrote both the lyrics and the music for Sympathy for the devil. Keith Richards’ major influence has been helping Jagger set the pace.

“I was just trying to figure out if it was a samba or a fucking folk song,” Richards recalled in 2002. “Sympathy” is a pretty uplifting song. It’s just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He’s there all the time. I had very close contact with Lucifer – I have met him several times. Maleficent – people tend to bury him and hope that he will get over it and not lift his ugly head.

Another crucial addition to the song came from Keith Richard’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg – Brian Jones’ former girlfriend – arrested by the studio.

“Anita was the epitome of what was going on at the time. She was very Chelsea. She would arrive with the crowd of elite films ”, says Stones producer Jimmy Miller.

After 32 takes of the folk interpretation, they gave it a ride with a samba rhythm and Anita Pallenberg started singing “Whoo-whoo ” in the cabin. The Stones immediately appreciated it and eventually recorded the role as a vocal gang with Palenberg, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Marianne Faithfull and Jimmy Miller.

The creation of Sympathy for the devil is remarkably captured in the film of the same name by Jean-Luc Godard. The film exquisitely documents the evolution of the song as it slowly incorporates elements of Brazilian dance. Jagger and Richards run the show with flair and passion while Brian Jones sits alone in an acoustic booth for much of the session.


When Beggars banquet hit the shelves on December 6, 1968, the world was in turmoil. With the assassination of Bobby Kennedy exactly six months earlier, Jagger’s words took on a whole new meaning. Critics and fans alike began to call the group “the devil worshipers” or “the messengers of lucifer”. Of course, it was great for publicity and continued to calcify the song as one of the Stones’ immortal tracks.

On the heck, though, maybe Keith Richards should have the final say:

“When this song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first kind of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everyone is sucked into it. And as America discovered to its dismay, you can’t hide. You might as well accept the fact that the evil is there and deal with it in any way you can. Sympathy for the Devil is a song that says don’t forget it. If you confront him, then he’s out of business.


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