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Rolling Stones songs: Beast of Burden
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
You can put me out/ On the street/ Put me out/ With no shoes on my feet…
Written by: Jagger/Richards
Recorded: EMI Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, Oct. 10-Dec. ’77; Jan. 5-March 2 1978
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
Sometimes misunderstood as a putdown, this is a rare Stones song that treats women as equals. Jagger sings that he “Don’t need no beast of burden.”
Ron Wood: “That’s another one that just came very naturally in the studio. And I slipped into my part and Keith had his going. It may have appeared as though it was planned. We can pick it up today and it will just naturally slip into the groove again with the guitars weaving in a special way. It’s quite amazing really. Ever since Keith and I first started to trade licks, it was a very natural thing that, for some unknown reason, if he’s playing up high, I’m down low and the other way around. We cross over very naturally. We call it an ancient form of weaving– which we still are impressed by it to this day. Unexplainable, wonderful things happen with the guitar weaving. There’s no plan.”
This isn’t about a specific woman. Most women in Stones’ songs are composites of many.
A live version from their 1981 US tour was used as the B-side of their “Going To A Go-Go” single.
A beast of burden is an animal that labors for the benefit of man, like an ox or a pack mule.
Keith Richards wrote this, but a lot of the lyrics were improvised in the studio. While the band played, Jagger came in with different lines to fit the music. As a result, some of the lyrics are less than meaningful and a little repetitious.
This song could be allegorical – it was written by Keith as a kind of homage to Mick for having to carry the band while Keith was strung out on heroin: “All your sickness I can suck it up, throw it all at me, I can shrug it off.”
Bette Midler covered this in 1983. Jagger appeared in the video.
The Chinese ministry of culture ordered The Stones not to play this when they performed there in 2003. It was going to be the first time The Stones played in China, but they canceled because of a respiratory disease that was spreading through the country.
Whilst Richards spent much of the ’70s insulating himself with drugs, former London School of Economics student Jagger was running the band. However, by the time of Some Girls, Richards wanted to share the workload. Mojo magazine January 2012 asked Richards how much this song was about his relationship with Jagger? He replied; “Mick wrote a lot of it but I laid the general idea on him. At the time Mick was getting used to running the band. Charlie was just the drummer, I was just the other guitar player. I was trying to say, ‘OK I’m back, so let’s share a bit more of the power, share the weight, brother.”
From the Rolling Stones – All the Songs, The Story Behind Every Track book:
The “burden” in question is Keith Richards himself, whose descent into hell as a result of drugs and arrests almost dealt a fatal blow to the Rolling Stones. “When I returned to the fold after ‘closing down the laboratory,’” he explains, using colorful imagery, “I came back into the studio with Mick, around the time of Emotional Rescue, to say, ‘Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden’—that’s why I wrote ‘The Beast of Burden’ for him, I realise in retrospect.” Hence the lines All your sickness, I can suck it up/Throw it all at me, I can shrug it off. Mick Jagger then reworked the song—with Keith claiming to have completed a couple of verses—and, as happened often, transformed it into the expression of a difficult relationship between a man and a woman.
Mick explained in an interview: “The song says: I don’t need a beast of burden, and I’m not going to be your beast of burden, either. Any woman can see that that’s like my saying that I don’t want a woman to be on her knees for me.” Jared Followill, a member of the alternative rock band Kings of Leon, would later say of this song: “I prefer songs that go to the heart rather than the head, and only few bands can hit the heart with ease, like the Stones. ‘Beast of Burden’ is one of my absolute favourite songs ever, for the yearning vocal and the great guitar work.”
“Beast of Burden” was the A-side of the second single from Some Girls (with “When the Whip Comes Down” as the B-side). It rose to number 2 in Scandinavia, number 4 in New Zealand, and number 8 on the Billboard chart, but failed to chart in the United Kingdom.
Categories: Can You Hear the Music?