Street Fighting Man

Composers: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recording date: March, May & July 1968
Recording locations: 
Olympic Sound Studios, London, England & Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, USA
Producers: Jimmy Miller        Chief engineers: Eddie Kramer & Glyn Johns
Performed onstage: 1969-73, 1975-78, 1981, 1989-90, 1994-95, 1998, 2002-03, 2013-14

Probable line-up:

Drums: Charlie Watts
Bass drum: Dave Mason
Bass: Keith Richards
Acoustic guitars: Keith Richards
Vocals: Mick Jagger
Piano: Nicky Hopkins
Sitar: Brian Jones
Shehnai: Dave Mason
Tamboura: Brian Jones
 

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

Well what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock & roll band?
Cause in sleepy London Town there's just no place for
Street fighting man, no

Hey, think the time is right for a palace revolution
Cause where I live the game to play is compromise solution

Well what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock & roll band?
Cause in sleepy London Town there's just no place for
Street fighting man, no

Get down

Hey, said my name is called Disturbance
I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants

And what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock & roll band?
Cause in sleepy London Town there's just no place for
Street fighting man, no

Get down
 
 
 

TrackTalk
 

It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions.... I wrote a lot of the melody and all the words, and Keith and I sat around and made this wonderful track, with Dave Mason playing the shehnai on it live. It's a kind of Indian reed instrument a bit like a primitive clarinet. It comes in at the end of the tune. It has a very wailing, strange sound.
- Mick Jagger, 1995

The music came first — before Mick wrote the lyrics. I had written most of the melody to Street Fighting Man sometime in late 1966 or early '67 — before Jumpin' Jack Flash — but I couldn't figure out how to get the sound I wanted. It's hard to explain. If you think of a melody as a song's shape, then the sound is its texture. The two were inseparable in my mind. I tried recording the melody in the studio in '67 but nothing happened. So I took the concept home to my Redlands farmhouse in Sussex, England, to work on it.
- Keith Richards, 2013


I cut the first track in an enormous studio at Olympic in London, and there's Charlie and me sitting on the floor with this little Phillips... (mimics pushing play button) Play.
- Keith Richards, 2003


The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He's holding notes that wouldn't come through if you had a board, you wouldn't be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.
- Keith Richards, 1971


Street Fighting Man
was all acoustics. There's no electric guitar parts in it. (Even the high-end lead part was through) a cassette player with no limiter. Just distortion. Just two acoustics, played right into the mike, and hit very hard. There's a sitar in the back, too. That would give the effect of the high notes on the guitar. And Charlie was playing his little 1930s drummer's practice kit. It was all sort of built into a little attaché case, so some drummer who was going to his gig on the train could open it up - with two little things about the size of small tambourines without the bells on them, and the skin was stretched over that. And he set up this little cymbal, and this little hi-hat would unfold. Charlie sat right in front of the microphone with it. I mean, this drum sound is massive. When you're recording, the size of things has got nothing to do with it. It's how you record them. Everything there was totally acoustic. The only electric instrument on there is the bass guitar, which I overdubbed afterwards.
- Keith Richards, 1977


What I was after with all of those - Street Fighting Man, Jumpin' Jack Flash - was to get the drive and dryness of an acoustic guitar but still distort it. They were all attempts at that.
- Keith Richards, 2002

On that opening riff, I used enormous force on the strings. I always did that and still do. I'm looking at my hands now and they look like Mike Tyson's. They're pretty beat up. I'm not a hard hitter on the strings — more of a striker. It's not the force as much as it is a whip action. I'm almost releasing the power before my fingers actually meet the strings. I'm a big string-breaker, since I like to whip them pretty hard.
- Keith Richards, 2013


I remember the first cassette machines came out. I thought, Oh great, a portable tape recorder, fantastic. And then I started to like put songs down on it and I realized that... that little microphone in there had something. If you overloaded it, it basically became a pick-up.
- Keith Richards, 2003


(The Phillips) didn't smooth the sound out, it broke up a lot. So recording in bedrooms, and with little tambourine sets or little percussion things, sounded thunderous.
- Charlie Watts, 2003


I'm leaning right over into the mike and Charlie's got this little - he had this practice (drum kit)... It was for drummers on their train ride. And it had a little sort of tambourine thing and a little sort of fold-up cymbal. It was so cute and it had been made in the '30s. And it was like an antique, you know. And two little sticks. And... that's how we cut the track.
- Keith Richards, 2003


Street Fighting Man
was recorded on Keith's cassette with a 1930s toy drum kit called a London Jazz Kit Set, which I bought in an antiques shop, and which I've still got at home. It came in a little suitcase, and there were wire brackets you put the drums in; they were like small tambourines with no jangles. The whole kit packs away, the drums go inside each other, the little drum goes inside the snare drum into a box with the cymbal. The snare drum was fantastic because it had a really thin skin with a snare right underneath, but only two strands of gut... Keith would be sitting on a cushion playing a guitar and the tiny kit was a way of getting close to him. The drums were really loud compared to the acoustic guitar and the pitch of them would go right through the sound. You'd always have a great backbeat.
- Charlie Watts, 2003


Charlie stuck with me on this track. I'm the rhythm player. I'm not a virtuoso soloist or anything like that. To work together with the drummer, that's my joy. This record, to me, is one of the examples of what can happen when two cats believe in each other.
- Keith Richards, 2012

Once Charlie and I had the basic track down, we played back what we had recorded through an extension speaker with a recording mike in front of it. We put that track onto an eight-track recorder, which gave us seven additional tracks for overdubbing. That damn little Philips recorder: I realize now I was using it as a pickup for the acoustic guitar — only it wasn't attached to the instrument.
- Keith Richards, 2013


(O)n
Street Fighting Man there's one 6-string open and one 5-string open. They're both open tunings, but then there's a lot of capo work. There are lots of layers of guitars on Street Fighting Man. There's lots of guitars you don't even hear. They're just shadowing. So it's difficult to say what you're hearing on there. Cause I tried 8 different guitars. And which ones were used in the final version, I couldn't say... (A) the same time the guitar was going on, I had Nicky Hopkins playing a bit of piano, and Charlie just shuffling in the background. Then we put drums on it and added another guitar while he was doing that. And we just kept layering it.
- Keith Richards, 2002

Then Charlie added a bigger bass drum on one track, and I added another acoustic guitar to widen the sound. In fact, the only electric instrument on the entire recording is the bass. Bill wasn't around and things were moving fast, so I just recorded the bass line I had in my head. Everything happened so quickly. Dave Mason came in later to add a bass drum and a shehnai at the end of the song. Brian played sitar and tambura and Nicky Hopkins added the piano part.
- Keith Richards, 2013


So you had this very electric sound, but at the same time, you had that curious and beautiful ring that only an acoustic guitar can give you. It was just a bizarre way of making a record. And everybody, of course, is looking at me like I'm nuts. You know, I'm in the middle of this enormous studio with a little cassette machine and bowing before it with an acoustic guitar, and they go, What the hell is he doing? We'll humor him.
- Keith Richards, 2012

Actually, I think Street Fighting Man is Charlie's most important record. Listen to him on there —h e has this Wall of Sound thing going the way he's hitting that snap kit and the bigger drum. When you experiment the way we did as a band, the smallest little things can happen that turn out to be a big deal. You just need the determination to go there. It's amazing what can happen when you have the right instruments — and the right amount of echo (laughs).
- Keith Richards, 2013


Jimmy Miller was one of the most simpatico producers I have ever worked with. He could handle a band - especially this band - and give everybody the same level of support. He was a great drummer in his own right, so he could talk to Charlie on equal terms, and he had a very good rapport with Mick. He didn't mind any idea that came up. He loved improvisation. I don't think I could have done Street Fighting Man without him. Mick would get impatient with my experiments sometimes, but Jimmy gave me a lot of encouragement saying, let's take this down the line and let's see where it goes.
- Keith Richards, 2003


Brian was a master of picking up the weirdest instruments that happened to be around... He was amazing at being able to master, at least for a certain song, a sound or an instrument that had nothing to do with guitars or anything.
- Keith Richards, 2012

Early on, when I had played the tape of my melody for Mick, his lyrics were about brutal adults. We recorded them and called the song, Did Everyone Pay Their Dues? But we weren't that crazy about the results, and the lyrics underwent several rewrites once we saw what was going on in the streets in London and Paris in 1968... Mick knew that Dues needed an overhaul that better matched what was going on. I came up with the line, What can a poor boy do and threw it out to Mick. He completed the thought with 'Cept to sing for a rock 'n' roll band and he wrote the rest of the new lyrics in the studio. That's how we often worked. One of us would have a piece of a lyric that sounded interesting, then hand it off to the other to get things going.
- Keith Richards, 2013


The fact that a couple of American radio stations in Chicago banned the record just goes to show how paranoid they are.
- Keith Richards, 1968


They told me that Street Fighting Man was subversive. Course it's subversive, we said. It's stupid to think that you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could!
- Mick Jagger, 1968


We're more subversive when we go onstage. Yet they still want us to make live appearances. If you really want us to cause trouble we could do a few stage appearances.
- Keith Richards, 1968


(The song) says: But what can a poor boy do, except sing in a rock and roll band - what else can I do besides sing? The song itself is the only thing that has to do with street fighting.
- Mick Jagger, 1969


I don't think (people) understand what we're trying to do, or what Mick's talking about, like on Street Fighting Man. We're not saying we want to be in the streets, but we're a rock and roll band, just the reverse... Politics is what we were trying to get away from in the first place.
- Keith Richards, on tour in 1969


Street Fighting Man
is a funny song to play onstage in an era when you don't fight in the street anymore. To play the song is fantastic, but the lyrics are very much about the events of 1968 in Paris, which is when Mick wrote it. It was political: not that it was going to change the world, but it was extremely influenced by what was going on; a very strong song about what was happening at the time.
- Charlie Watts, 2003


I don't think violence is necessary in this society to bring about political change. I was never supportive of the Weathermen or anything like that. I NEVER believed that the violent course was necessary for our society. For other socieites perhaps, but in ours, it's totally unnecessary. It's just morally reprehensible. And that's what I'm saying in (Street Fighting Man), really. However romantic the notion of manning the barricades may seem... I mean, that romantic ideal actually brought down a government very close to (England) - the de Gaulle government in France. And in America, you had the rioting at the Democratic convention in the same year. So there was a lot of street violence going on, for very ill-defined reasons. I'm not quite sure what all that was really about, when you think about it now.
- Mick Jagger, 1987


I wanted the [sings] to sound like a French police siren. That was the year that all that stuff was going on in Paris and in London. There were all these riots that the generation that I belonged to, for better or worse, was starting to get antsy. You could count on somebody in America to find something offensive about something — you still can. Bless their hearts. I love America for that very reason.
- Keith Richards, 2012


I don't know if it (has such resonance today). I don't know whether we should really play it. I was persuaded to put it in this tour because it seemed to fit in, but I'm not sure if it really has any resonance for the present day. I don't really like it that much. I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; De Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing. Yeah, it was a direct inspiration, because by contrast, London was very quiet...
- Mick Jagger, 1995


One of my favorite Stones songs is Street Fighting Man. Mick and Keith were writing good songs then. They still are, but they were working a lot closer together then because they were a lot hungrier to still achieve things, which you are when you're young.
- Mick Taylor, 1989


Street Fighting Man
was the first time I had a sound in my head that was bugging me. That would happen again many times, of course, but after that song I knew how to deal with it. Only in the studio could I put the two things together — the minimalist sound and the overdubbing. That's where the vision met reality. When we were completely done recording Street Fighting Man and played back the master, I just smiled. It's the kind of record you love to make — and they don't come that often. .
- Keith Richards, 2013

Street Fighting Man is one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs — probably because the music came together through a series of accidents and experimentation. We recorded it in a totally different way than anything we had done up until that point and the results were pretty exciting and unexpected.
- Keith Richards, 2013


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