“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”  


On May 7, 1965, Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night at a Florida hotel with a melody in his head. Fumbling in the dark, he grabbed his guitar next to the bed and a cassette recorder on the nightstand—and played an eight-note riff into it. It was accompanied by the mumbled vocal line, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Then he fell back asleep.

“On the tape you can hear me drop the pick,” Richards later recalled. “The rest is me snoring.”

The Rolling Stones were in the middle of their second headlining U.S. tour, having already scored two Top 10 hits—“Time Is on My Side” and “The Last Time.” But in the ranks of the British Invasion, they still remained a notch below Herman’s Hermits. They needed a defining single.

Richards didn’t initially recognize that his motel riff was exactly what the Stones were looking for. “I never thought it was commercial enough to be a single,” he said. Mick Jagger added, “He was too close to it and just felt it was kind of silly.” But Jagger was inspired and quickly wrote a lyric.

During their tour, the Stones had been stopping at various American studios to record their ideas. A few days after Richards’ midnight ramble, they entered Chess Studios in Chicago. As home to some of their biggest influences including Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, Chess seemed the perfect location to lay down their new tune.

With manager Andrew Loog Oldham producing, the group cut an acoustic, countryish version of “Satisfaction” that sounded like Bob Dylan. The sexy swagger that would mark the finished version was completely absent.

Two days later in L.A., the Stones checked into RCA Studios and tried again. Motivated by Richards’ recently acquired Maestro Fuzz-Tone pedal, the tracks offered a more aggressive feel. Plus, famed arranger Jack Nitzsche pitched in with tambourine and piano, adding a Motown-style groove.

The band loved the result. But Richards wasn’t convinced. He was now hearing the song as a tribute to Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” declaring that his fuzz guitar line was only intended as a sketch for a horn section when the band came to record the final version.

But as the Stones resumed touring, Oldham started promoting the new song. Knowing the tune’s suggestive lyrics—especially the line about “trying to make some girl”—might prevent the song from getting airplay, Oldham decided to bury it in the mix.

Despite the murky vocals, the song became a target for the antirock establishment. Newsweek dubbed the Stones a “leering quintet” and said “Satisfaction” was full of “tasteless themes.” But even a radio ban in certain cities couldn’t stop the song’s rise—and in July, a month after its release, the song topped the charts for the first of four weeks.

In 1988, when Rolling Stone voted it the Greatest Pop Single of the previous 25 years, Richards confessed, “I hear ‘Satisfaction’ in ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’ I hear it in half of the songs that the Stones have done.” In 2000, a VH1 poll of 700 music industry movers and shakers voted “Satisfaction” as the top rock song of all time.

Though he’s been happily playing the song in concert for the last 50 years, Richards admits, “If I’d had my way, ‘Satisfaction’ would never have been released. The song was as basic as the hills, and I thought the fuzz-guitar thing was a bit of a gimmick.”

–Bill DeMain


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