Sympathy For The Devil - The Rolling Stones

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"Sympathy For The Devil" - The Rolling Stones (1968)

The Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy for the Devil" was largely a Jagger composition which began with the working "The Devil Is My Name". It is sung by Jagger as a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer.

Jagger said his influence for the song came from Baudelaire and from the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita – a book given him by his then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull had given him.

He remembers:

“Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song.”

Keith Richards suggested changing the tempo and using additional percussion, turning the folk song into a samba.

Backed by an intensifying rock arrangement, the narrator, with narcissistic relish, recounts his exploits over the course of human history and warns the listener: "If you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste; use all your well-learned politesse, or I'll lay your soul to waste."

The lyrics focus on atrocities in the history of mankind from Lucifer's point of view, including the trial and death of Jesus Christ . European wars of religion, the violence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the 1918 massacre of the Romanov family and World War II . It steps right into the present time of 1968 with the lines: "I shouted out, "Who Killed the Kennedys?"/ When after all it was you and me".

The phrase "Just as every cop is a criminal/And all the sinners saints" is apparently a part of Mick Jagger's philosophy.

Drummer Charlie Watts wrote:

"'Sympathy' was one of those sort of songs where we tried everything. We had a go at loads of different ways of playing it; in the end I just played a jazz Latin feel in the style of Kenny Clarke would have played on 'A Night in Tunisia' – not the actual rhythm he played, but the same styling.”

Commenting on the overall power of the recording, Jagger said:

"It has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music. It doesn't speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove. The actual samba rhythm is a great one to sing on. It becomes less pretentious because it is a very unpretentious groove. If it had been done as a ballad, it wouldn't have been as good.”

At the time of the release of the Beggars Banquet album which contained the track The Stones had already raised some hackles for sexually forward lyrics such as "Let's Spend the Night Together"  and for allegedly dabbling in Satanism. Their previous album had been titled Their Satanic Majesties Request.

 "Sympathy For The Devil" brought these concerns to the fore, provoking media rumors and fears among some religious groups that the Stones were devil-worshippers and a corrupting influence on youth.

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