Rolling Stones songs: Midnight Rambler
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
I’m gonna smash down all your plate glass windows/ Put a fist, put a fist through your steel-plated door!…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Olympic Sound Studios, London, England, Feb. 9-10, March 11, May 16 1969
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
In this song, Mick Jagger takes on the persona of killer who is stalking his victim. This character calls himself the “midnight rambler” and he seems to relish his notoriety – much like many real-life serial killers.
A likely inspiration for the lyric is the case of the Boston Strangler. Thirteen women were found dead (many had been sexually assaulted) in and around Boston from 1962-1964. Most of the victims had been strangled and were found with their nylon stockings tied in a bow around their necks.
In 1965, Albert DeSalvo, who was serving time in a mental institution on rape charges, confessed to the murders and was later sentenced to life in prison. There was no clear physical evidence that DeSalvo committed the crimes, however, and his confession has been questioned, with some forensic experts stating that there may have been multiple killers. DeSalvo died in prison in 1973; new evidence has come up in the case from time to time.
As for the song, while the lyrics do not directly relate to the case, Jagger implies it when he sings, “Well you heard about the Boston…” before an instrumental stab cuts him off.
The Stones played this in 1969 and throughout the ’70s at their concerts, and when they did, it was a showstopper. Mick Jagger created a morbid atmosphere as he took the role of the killer, spastically whipping the floor toward the end of the song as the audience would scream along.
These performances were enhanced by a custom light rig that their lighting director, Chip Monck, created for the band’s 1969 US tour. This was the first lighting system to travel with a rock band, and The Stones used it to great effect on this song. At the climax, the lights would shine red on Jagger in a very theatrical moment.
Mick Jagger: “That’s a song Keith and I really wrote together. We were on a holiday in Italy. In this very beautiful hill town, Positano, for a few nights. Why we should write such a dark song in this beautiful, sunny place, I really don’t know. We wrote everything there – the tempo changes, everything. And I’m playing the harmonica in these little cafés, and there’s Keith with the guitar.”
Brian Jones is credited on percussion. Even though he died before this album was released, a few of the songs were recorded during the Beggar’s Banquet sessions in 1968. “Midnight Rambler” was one of them.
Mick Taylor added an extra guitar to the live performances of this. The live version can be heard on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out.
When Mick Jagger performed this in character on stage, it was good preparation for his acting career. In 1970, he appeared in two films: Ned Kelly and Performance. He would later appear in Freejack (1992) and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001).
Keith Richards: “When we did Midnight Rambler, nobody went in there with the idea of doing a blues opera, basically. Or a blues in four parts. That’s just the way it turned out. I think that’s the strength of the Stones or any good band. You can give them a song half raw and they’ll cook it.”
This was used in The Office episode “Pam’s Replacement” from season 8. Robert California and his friends play it when they take over Andy, Kevin, and Darryl’s band.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
In April 1969, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took a few days’ vacation in
southern Italy, at Positano on the Amalfi coast. This charming town is built
on a hillside and is bathed in sunshine almost all year round. It was in this
delightful setting that various tracks on the album Let It Bleed, including
“Midnight Rambler,” were born. How did the Glimmer Twins come to write
one of their darkest songs in such an enchanting place? This is just one
more mystery in the long and enthralling history of the Rolling Stones.
“Keith and I went to Italy, and Keith had this idea for ‘Midnight Rambler,’
so we just started changing the tempos within the tune,” explains Mick
Jagger. “Melodically it remains the same thing, it’s just a lot of tempo
changes. We worked on it with acoustic guitar and harmonica, just jammed
it, went through the tempo changes and had it all organized by the time we
had to record it for Let It Bleed.”
The figure of the “midnight rambler” was inspired by the serial killer
Albert DeSalvo, who, between June 1962 and January 1964, raped and
strangled thirteen women in Boston, Massachusetts, spreading panic
throughout New England. The “Boston Strangler” was eventually arrested
in November 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was killed in jail
Mick Jagger made direct use of DeSalvo’s confessions when writing his
gruesome lyrics. The atmosphere is all the more oppressive as the singer
identifies with the serial killer just as he identified with Lucifer in
“Sympathy for the Devil.” The narrator addresses his wife and ends up
confessing that he is the “rambler”: I’m called the hit-and-run raper in
anger, the knife-sharpened tippie toe… or just the shoot ’em dead brainbell
“‘Midnight Rambler’ is a Chicago blues. The chord sequence isn’t, but
the sound is pure Chicago,” explains Keith Richards in Life. “I knew how
the rhythm should go. It was in the tightness of the chord sequence, the D’s
and the A’s and the E’s. It wasn’t a blues sequence, but it came out like
heavy-duty blues. That’s one of the most original blues you’ll hear from the
In an interview with Guitar World, he clarifies: “When we did
‘Midnight Rambler,’ nobody went in there with the idea of doing a blues
opera, basically. Or a blues in four parts. That’s just the way it turned out. I
think that’s the strength of the Stones or any good band. You can give them
a song half raw and they’ll cook it.”
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