More than Words: Feeling Sympathy for the Devil…

Posted: August 9, 2013 in One People's Public Trust (OPPT)

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Music video by The Rolling Stones, Fatboy Slim performing Sympathy For The Devil. (C) 2003 ABKCO Music & Records, Inc.

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More than Words: Feeling Sympathy for the Devil…

June 12, 2009

Have you ever loved a song to the point of ridiculousness but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t understand the lyrics? What was the artist thinking when writing your favorite tune? More Than Words, a weekly column, will help to delve a little deeper…

Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones (Beggar’s Banquet, 1968)

Jagger (1995): “I knew it was a good song. You just have this feeling. It had its poetic beginning, and then it had historic references and then philosophical jottings and so on. It’s all very well to write that in verse, but to make it into a pop song is something different. Especially in England – you’re skewered on the altar of pop culture if you become pretentious.” Songfacts.

“Sympathy for the Devil” was written by Stones lead singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards for the 68 album Beggar’s Banquet. In reference to the title, many believe that the song highlights the similarities between the Devil and the human race.

“If you take them at face value, you might consider that Mick Jagger is sincerely suggesting that the devil really isn’t such a bad fellow. After all, he says, “every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints,” and it was “you and me” who “killed the Kennedys.” So what’s the difference? We’re all the same, aren’t we? He’s just one of the lads.”

However, cleverly, the lyrics seem to be deeper and darker than they initially appear – particularly for a song written in the more conservative 60s. It has been suggested that song refers to the human race being lured into a false sense of security. That even though the Devil has caused such atrocities, it is easy to be charmed by his seductive nature. Instead, the lyric “I shouted out “who killed the Kennedy’s?” when after all it was you and me”, suggests that through the Devil’s persuasiveness, John and Robert Kennedy were actually killed by man – a joint effort so to speak. Jagger has also claimed that this song is about the dark side of man and not a celebration of Satanism.

“This song makes references to the crucifixion of Christ, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Crusades, and the assassination of the Kennedys. The reference to all these terrible tragedies helps the listener understand evil in the world. The devil can not help but boast that he can come in any shape, size, or form: “Pleased to meet you, hoped you guessed my name, but what’s troubling you is the nature of my game.” The question is will the listener be able to recognize him; because the devil’s real game is not to do evil himself, but to make people do evil for him.”

In an interview titled ‘Jagger Remembers’ by Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, Jagger states that “Sympathy for the Devil” was inspired by old French writing; “I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire’s, I think, but I could be wrong. 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.” However, likenesses have also been compared with Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita.

“The lyrics were inspired by The Master and Margarita, a book by Mikhail Bulgakov. British singer Marianne Faithfull was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time and she gave him the book. Faithfull came from an upper-class background and exposed Jagger to a lot of new ideas. In the book, the devil is a sophisticated socialite, a “man of wealth and taste.” Songfacts.

“Sympathy for the Devil” was ranked number 32 in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time and it has been covered by various musicians including Guns N’ Roses and Jane’s Addiction. The “Whoo-Whoo” backing vocals were added when Richard’s girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, did it during a take and the Stones liked how it sounded. Pallenberg sang this on the record along with Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Marianne Faithfull and Jimmy Miller.

“Sympathy is quite an uplifting song. It’s just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He’s there all the time. I’ve had very close contact with Lucifer – I’ve met him several times. Evil – people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn’t rear its ugly head. Sympathy for the Devil is just as appropriate now, with 9/11. There it is again, big time. When that song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first sort 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. Everybody gets sucked into that. And as America has found out to its dismay, you can’t hide. You might as well accept the fact that evil is there and deal with it any way you can. “Sympathy for the Devil” is a song that says, ‘Don’t forget him. If you confront him, then he’s out of a job’.” Keith Richards, Rolling Stone, 2002.

*More Than Words is a weekly column. If you liked this column, you may also enjoy – SpoonmanYellow,Jane SaysBarracudaBohemian RhapsodyA Day in the LifeAll I Want, War PigsMessage in a BottleBuffalo SoldierPurple Haze, I am The WalrusRiders on the StormWhite RoomWear Your Love Like HeavenCould Have LiedGo Your Own WaySweetest ThingSmells Like Teen Spirit.


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