Today marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” arguably the Rolling Stones’ greatest song and easily rock and roll’s best parenthetical ditty. As recently as 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 2 on its list of the 500 greatest songs ever. It’s been covered over these ages by acts as diverse as Otis Redding, Devo and Britney Spears. There’s even a version by Bill Cosby. Yes, that’s right, Bill Cosby was recorded for posterity singing about how he cannot seem to get satisfaction. Ironic, no?
When anyone discusses the song, the right place to begin is with the riff. It’s the first thing you hear and it’s known to practically every music lover on Earth, and even most casual listeners. But, if you listen past it to what Charlie Watts is doing on drums, the beat mimics the stomping feet of a petulant, unsatisfied person. Mick’s finger-wagging “no-no-no’s” vocalize all you want that you’ll never have. Like a sexier Arthur Schopenhauer, Jagger is echoing the Buddhist principal that man’s craving is the source of his suffering. The lyrics don’t just define man at that time, they define man at all times. Know living, no peace, is Jagger’s message here.
Dour as that notion seems, it’s a good thing to hear. According to Art and the Buddhist monks (not a jazz band), life's greatest solace is in accepting that our every desire can’t be fulfilled. Take what you have, enjoy it for what it is, make it better if you can. You can’t get no satisfaction. Timely as ever, it’s a message that will never go out of style.
Rolling Stone’s advocacy for the song being runner-up to the greatest song of all time – Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” as they see it – is pretty strong. They proclaim the angst in the lyrics and the edgy guitar riff, which allegedly came to Keith Richards in a dream one night, as the moment that “transformed the rickety jump and puppy love of early rock & roll into rock.” That’s about as perfect an endorsement as can be offered. Still, a song this important to any music fan deserves a little love on its birthday, so Rocks Off reached out to some locals with music roots for their thoughts on the song’s impact.
As leader of The Roustabouts and the cover band Picture Book, Chase Hamblin gets to put a modern spin on the ‘60s psychedelic rock he cherishes. If there’s a musician in town thoroughly qualified to discuss “Satisfaction” and its relevance, it’s him.
“’Satisfaction’ is notable for Keith Richards’ first use of a fuzz-box effect on the iconic guitar riff. He wanted horns to play the line instead, like a Motown arrangement, but he had no budget at the time to hire a horn section,” Hamblin shares. “The fuzz has a very gritty and crunchy sound which mimics some of the ‘honk’ and reediness of a horn in the mix, yet sounds even dirtier. His use of the fuzz pedal on this hit created mass interest in stomp boxes and helped to launch the guitar-effects industry.”
Hamblin is working on new original music, so he’s not gigging much presently, but you can catch him with Picture Book on May 21 at Discovery Green with The Fab 5. Hamblin says his band is doing a tribute to songs released in 1965. Yes, he notes, they will perform “Satisfaction.”
Annie B is the vocalist and guitarist for the Annie B! Band, which plays original, blues-based rock reminiscent of the Stones’ early Decca days. The band has a standing Thursday night gig at Last Concert Café, but is prepping for a big Saturday show there May 23 to celebrate a CD release. She took a few minutes to share her thoughts on the song of the day.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – well, ain’t it true?!", she says. "I think we can all relate. When I hear that song, at every age it’s meant something different to me, but it always applies. When I was in my teens I probably couldn’t get the car. In college, it was about sex – not enough or the right kind – and now it’s more about material things that don’t give satisfaction. Even without listening to the lyrics, the music has a powerful impact to the listener. The choir, acoustic guitar and trombone in the introduction is so unexpectedly gentle and even a bit melancholy. As Mick begins to sing, it becomes anthem-like and triumphant, emphasized by the choir throughout and at the close. The choir makes me feel like I’m commiserating with the rest of the world who feels this way, too. Who wouldn’t dig on that?”
Last year, we chronicled A Day of Joy, the 1970 Houston event that may have been the city’s first open-air rock festival. Jim Tucker, who organized the show, shared his thoughts on what “Satisfaction” sounded like back when it was freshly released on the masses.
“My opinion of the Beatles was that they sounded like they were in a studio; however, the Stones’ sound was small-bar music where the tables and floor shake to the bass player’s licks and the crowd’s noise goes on,” he says. “’Satisfaction’ had that feel, plus lyrics that reflected the times when the nation was coming into a new era. We were unsatisfied with the war and music was going off in different, sometimes confusing, directions. People were looking for something to satisfy them, and this was an anthem of the times.”
Garage-rock rave-ups Mikey & The Drags have a fine ear for ‘60s era music, which comes across in their exciting, modern-day original work. Their music is informed by the very music the Stones and labelmates like The High Numbers made way back when. If you need a quick history lesson on the music of the era, just scroll the band’s Facebook page and enjoy its hand-selected choices.
“I think ‘Satisfaction’ is still an important song because it's the epitome of a rock & roll song!”, says band namesake Mikey Drag. “It has everything you need in a good tune! A rockin’, steady drum beat. Slick riffs. And catchy, hooky lyrics! ‘But he can't be a man cause he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me’ is probably one of my favorite all time lyrics! I believe the song has the perfect amount of cynicism and frustration with consumerism that can still hold true to this day. Long live rock & roll!!”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.