It’s hard to overstate the impact of “Satisfaction,” technically known as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but this was when labels were wary buyers would not be able to find the record they desired.
The British Invasion started with the Beatles, and the acts that followed in their footsteps…some were dark in image, the records could have an undercurrent of danger, but they were all shy of the line, “Satisfaction” crossed it.
Many claim “Between the Buttons” deserves to be seen as an entire LP, of a piece, but the truth is the Rolling Stones did not truly begin their album run until “Beggars Banquet,” although they tried with its predecessor, the unjustly maligned “Their Satanic Majesties Request.” “Beggars Banquet” got stellar reviews, and was aided by the initial and definitive version of “Sympathy for the Devil,” as well as the legendary mostly in hindsight, but with less than universal impact “Street Fighting Man.” “Let it Bleed” turned the dial up to ten, it’s a definitive statement, the Stones have been touring on its nuggets ever since. But the Stones didn’t truly become a legendary album band until “Sticky Fingers,” “Brown Sugar” was ubiquitous and the album was a staple, in an era where it was about the collection as opposed to the single, but before this run…the band’s singles ruled. Sure, there were people who owned Stones albums, but you did not readily see them at your friends’ houses.
The Stones started in the U.S. with “Not Fade Away.” Unlike the Beatles, they didn’t wear suits, they were not lovable, but scruffy, and they didn’t write their initial singles, not that “Not Fade Away” was a hit in the States, it only reached #48 on the “Billboard” chart, which means it got far less than universal airplay. But then came the original “Tell Me,” a ballad, with dark undertones, that was anything but dangerous, other than in its underlying sexual tension. But “Tell Me” only made it to #24.
Then there was another cover, of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” only possibly superseded as the definitive version by Rod Stewart’s take on “Gasoline Alley.” “It’s All Over Now” made it to #26, which was very good for a cover. But the Stones didn’t hit the Top Ten until they covered the Ragavoy/Norman song “Time is On My Side,” and it soon superseded the Irma Thomas’s version to become the definitive rendition in the mind of the audience, the song is forever associated with the Stones.
The Stones wrote their next successful cut, “Heart of Stone,” but this too was a ballad, most people were unaware of the explosive energy of the band, but then came “The Last Time” with Brian Jones’s indelible riff. At this time, we all had guitars, and this was easy to play, and we all did, the sound was ethereal, and dark, but with a ray of hope if you were a fan, Stones fans were outsiders, not like the insiders in the Beatles camp…and then came “Satisfaction.”
The Stones were part of the firmament, they were not one or two hit wonders like so many of the acts, be it from the U.K. or U.S., but they were still a sideshow, they weren’t the main event, never mind not being anointed the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.
“Satisfaction” was made for the radio, back when people did not buy albums previously unheard, when the airwaves were the primary method of exposure, and we were all addicted, it was akin to sports, we followed the countdown, the younger generation, our generation, had taken over the radio from our predecessors, we’d squeezed out all the antiques, and it started with the Beatles but we were not prepared for “Satisfaction.”
It was the riff. We were aware of distortion from “I Feel Fine,” but the sound of this guitar was beyond that, it was like a spike in your eye, unfiltered, the Stones were no longer holding back, they were being themselves, no holds barred…AND WE LOVED IT!
And, this was in an era when if something was a hit, it was played incessantly, and there was no way you could sit quietly when it came over the radio, you were squirming in your seat, you were pounding the dashboard, “Satisfaction” was a drug we were all instantly hooked on, and we were never going back to our safe, ignorant ways, as a matter of fact, without “Satisfaction” you get no Hendrix, no Cream, none of the album acts that emerged in the latter part of the decade who operated without limits, unafraid of blowback by the arbiters of yore.
Keith Richards, occasionally labeled “Richard” at the time, says the riff came to him in a dream, and the truth is your best creative work is done when you’re not paying attention, when you’re not working, when your mind is elsewhere, asleep, in the shower, when your mind is a blank slate and ideas can penetrate and percolate.
The truth is I’ve never heard Keith play this riff properly live. The last tour it was closest, but the truth is it’s more than the sound, it’s the rhythm, it’s just not a run of notes, there’s the sustain in the middle, the swing, that was the key to the track, that’s what was embedded in your brain, that’s what you needed to hear like a junkie needs his dope, it was distorted yet pure, it bended both body and brain.
And then came Mick.
At this point we did not know he went to the London School of Economics, this was long before he hung with the glitterati, prior to this point he was just another singer, who was not classically beautiful, and this was before he danced like a ballerina on stage, he’d hold on to the mic and spit the lyrics and even if you were on his side you were on guard, because he really MEANT IT!
“I can’t get no satisfaction”
This was revolutionary, this was the essence of the youthquake, we were not satisfied, we’d been told to obey since birth but we weren’t taking it anymore, WE WANTED MORE!
And we had disposable time and disposable income, we could contemplate whether we were having a good time, and that’s what we wanted. We were trying and trying and trying.
“When I’m driving in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s telling me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination”
They weren’t buying it. I hate to say it, but it’s kind of like Trump, the Stones and the generation they lifted into the future didn’t care about norms, they were speaking English, and we all knew the truth. Polite society…you hold back, you behave a certain way, and even though everyday discourse is more base today, the truth is as you climb the social ladder you conform, it’s one of the things I hate about the modern music business, the wearing of suits by executives, the Stones PAVED THE WAY FOR US NOT TO WEAR SUITS! Sure, the Beatles opened the door, but the Stones came out with dynamite to blow the entire edifice to high heaven, so we could start over, doing it the way we wanted to.
“When I’m watching my TV
And a man comes on and tells me
How white my shirts can be
Well he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me”
TV was the internet of its day. Our parents labeled it the “Idiot Box,” but we were addicted. We’d gone from the “Mickey Mouse Club” to “Bonanza,” from black and white to color, to developing sexuality, and it was all powered by commercials in an era before clickers, i.e. remotes. And now the Stones were biting the hand that fed them, the whole enterprise was based on commercials, not only TV, but radio, newspapers too, kind of like we pay for the internet through our information fed to cookies today, and we hate that too.
“When I’m riding ’round the world
And I’m doing this and I’m signing that
And I’m trying to make some girl
Who tells me baby, baby come back, maybe next week
‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak”
This was when they were inventing the rock star paradigm, musicians who lived without rules, who were as rich as anybody in the world and behaved however they wanted to, carousing all over the world getting laid all the while. WHEW!
Sure, the pill started the sexual revolution. But the truth is everybody wanted to model their lives on the rock stars, they wanted that experience, which is why they flooded concert venues, which is why so much mazuma was being generated.
But even if you had it all, you still couldn’t be satisfied. Despite being a rock star, Jagger couldn’t get laid, at least by the person he desired. As David Lee Roth ultimately said, being a rock star means you can get laid every night, but not necessarily by the person you want to get laid by.
Meanwhile, it’s summer. Most people were not working, they were not old enough, they were addicted to the radio. And unlike today, with boomers trying to hold on to control, our elders, the so-called “Greatest Generation,” not that I buy that, threw their arms up in the air and surrendered. I’m not saying they did not try to exert any influence, tell girls to wear their skirts over the knee, boys hair above the ears, but the truth was once you walked out the front door you could do what you wanted to.
And this was when a hit was a hit. Not like today, when half of America is unaware of #1, never mind having not even heard it. Everybody knew “Satisfaction,” because the entire younger generation was addicted to the radio and since the baby boomers represented the largest bulge of the population their music, this revolutionary music, was blasted from public address systems, speakers everywhere, I remember getting off the monorail at the New York World’s Fair just before midnight and hearing “Satisfaction” over the sound system, and with so few people around at that time, it was the soundtrack of the entire fairgrounds.
And with this giant success under their belts, the Stones continued to push the envelope. Next came “Get Off of My Cloud,” with a similar message as “Satisfaction,” but delivered even more self-satisfiedly.
And then the band was truly on a roll, there was no governor on the engine, there was “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Paint It Black,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and two hit ballads for leavening, “As Tears Go By” and “Ruby Tuesday,” enough hits that the Stones could fill out a greatest hits album, entitled “Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass),” which was the first Stones album most people bought, but listening indoctrinated you, such that you were ready for the album run to come.
At this point, “Satisfaction” is almost seen as a parody, quaint, but it was anything but that back then, “Satisfaction” was a statement, a line in the sand, both musically and culturally, it was now our world, we were adults, we were getting drafted and shot, we no longer obeyed authority, we divined our own truth, we were looking for our own satisfaction.
To the point so many of us refused to jump through the hoops. We didn’t want dreary jobs, a paint-by-numbers future, we wanted to investigate, we wanted to experiment, we wanted to find ourselves. We were set free…to say we wanted different, we wanted more, and we were not gonna take less, we were always, continually, looking for SATISFACTION!