Rolling Stones songs: Under My Thumb
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
Under my thumb/ The girl who once pushed me around…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, USA, March 6-9 1966
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
To be “under one’s thumb” means to be under that person’s control. In this song, Mick Jagger has turned the tables on a girl who used to push him around, so now she’s under his thumb and the “sweetest pet in the world.”
Some feminist groups the song rather offensive, especially the line, “The way she talks when she’s spoken to down to me.” In a 1984 interview, Jagger explained: “The whole idea was that I was under HER, she was kicking ME around. So the whole idea is absurd, all I did was turn the tables around. So women took that to be against femininity where in reality it was trying to ‘get back’ against being a repressed male.”
The unusual percussion on this track is Brian Jones playing the marimbas. Their original lead guitarist, Jones played a variety of instruments to create some innovative sounds for the Stones, who weren’t as guitar focused in their early years. Nick Reynolds, who co-produced the documentary Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones, considers it some of Jones’ best work. “He makes the arrangement that turns this song into a timeless classic,” Reynolds told Songfacts.
Brian Jones went into decline in the years after this song was released and was fired from the band in 1969, less than a month before he was found dead in his swimming pool. Keith Richards said in 1994: “Brian was still fantastic making records, because he was so versatile. I mean, he’d have marimbas – which is why you have marimbas on ‘Under My Thumb’ – or dulcimer, sitar. He kind of lost interest in guitar, in a way. But at the same time he added all of that other color, those other instruments and other ideas. He was an incredibly inventive musician.”
Mick Jagger was going out with a model named Chrissie Shrimpton when he wrote this song with Keith Richards.
This was the song The Stones were playing when a fan named Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by members of the Hells Angels at their Altamont Speedway concert in 1969. The Hells Angels were a motorcycle gang hired for security at the show. Big mistake.
The Angel who stabbed Hunter, Alan Passaro, was found not guilty, with a jury ruling that he acted in self defense; Hunter produced a gun before he was killed. Footage of the stabbing that appeared in the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter was shown at the trial.
The Who recorded this in 1967 as a show of support when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were being held in England on drug charges. After police raided Richards’ home in Sussex, he and Jagger were charged with drug possession when they found some marijuana and amphetamines. Jagger and Richards were found guilty and each spent a night in jail before they were released on bail. The raid was done mostly for publicity and backfired on British lawmakers when it became clear the police staged a massive raid to uncover a small amount of drugs. Charges against Richards were dropped and Jagger’s sentence was reduced to a conditional discharge.
This features Ian Stewart on piano. Stewart played on a lot of tracks by both Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
The criticisms that rained down on the shoulders of the Rolling Stones
when they started singing their misogynist and antifeminist diatribes
assumed a new dimension with “Under My Thumb.” This time, the central
character is not leaving his girlfriend. She has made his life a misery, and he
is staying with her in order to finally indulge in some role reversal. He will
no longer be the plaything of this diabolical creature, but will instead be a
kind of domineering Pygmalion. The first verse has a certain startling
clarity to it: Under my thumb/The girl who once had me down/Under my
thumb/The girl who once pushed me around. The narrator—Jagger himself?
—is relishing his revenge, and throughout the song it is this sense of delight
that dominates; the pleasure of seeing this squirmin’ dog turn into the
sweetest pet in the world, of ruling with a rod of iron a girl who has had the
upper hand (in the bedroom as well?) for far too long!
This thirst for revenge on women expressed by Mick Jagger and Keith
Richards in “Under My Thumb” would anger even the most inured
feminists. The song has to be seen as yet another in a sequence of
provocations, and certainly also as a desire to take up a contrary stance to
the politically correct, to the progressive movements. Mick Jagger: “But if
you really listen to the lyrics closely—not too closely—‘under my thumb, a
girl who once had me down’—you see? It’s not so unfair. Why should it
apply to every girl? But I think it was really true. It’s funny to think about it
—it was very adolescent, those songs, about adolescent experiences.”
And the Rolling Stones’ singer would pursue this conciliatory line two
years later, again in Rolling Stone: “That’s going back to my teenage
years!” and claim that the squirmin’ dog thing was a matter of being
deliberately provocative: “Well, that was a joke. I’ve never felt in that
position vis-à-vis a person—I’d never want to really hurt someone.”29 So
Chrissie Shrimpton was not in his sights after all? Keith would take a more
self-justifying approach, blaming the pressure from fans who pursued the
band members as far as their hotel rooms, and the fatigue engendered by
incessant touring, concluding that “that’s how one got.”
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