Rolling Stones songs: Ventilator Blues
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
When you’re trapped and circled with no second chance/ Your code of living is your gun in hand,,,
Written by: Jagger/Richard/Taylor
Recorded: Rolling Stones Mobile, Nellcote, France, Jun.-Nov. 1971; Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, USA, Dec. 1971-March 1972; RCA Studios, Los Angeles, USA, March 1972
Guest musicians: Nicky Hopkins (piano), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Jim Price (trumpet and trombone)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
The Stones recorded this in Keith Richards’ villa in France. The rest of the band rented houses nearby, but they used Keith’s basement as a studio because they liked the sound. Because it was not a controlled environment, they got a weird sound when they recorded this, but decided to leave it in.
The band picked the title because the basement where this was recorded had only one small window, and the air got very stale.
This is credited to Jagger/Richards/Mick Taylor – it’s only Stones song guitarist Mick Taylor received a writing credit for. One of the reasons Taylor left The Stones in 1974 was because his songwriting was not being credited, meaning he did not get royalties.
One reviewer compared this song to the output of the record label Chess Records. The Stones also dropped a nod to Chess Records in the song “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” which was Chess Records’ address. The Stones repeatedly credited their influence to Chess artists and the culture around them.
Several Rolling Stones songs have lyrics that contain a touch of misogyny, which is apparent here in the line, “Your woman’s cussing, you can hear her scream; you feel like murder in the first degree.”
Drummer Charlie Watts would later tell interviewers in 2003 that this was one song whose pinnacle was the original recording, never to recapture the glory again. “It’s a great track, but we never play it as well as the original. Something will not be quite right; either Keith will play it a bit differently or I’ll do it wrong. It’s a fabulous number, but a bit of a tricky one.” That could have something to do with the cramped and dilapidated basement studio, which gives it an air of authentic misery. But it’s also a technically tricky song.
The title actually comes from that basement, which lacked proper ventilation.
The album’s sleeve features photos from Robert Frank’s 1958 book The Americans. Notable characters include famous contortionist Joe Allen and Three Ball Charlie, who was known for the astonishing ability to fit a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a “5” billiard ball simultaneously in his mouth. The latter image has become most famously associated with the album.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
The starting point for “Ventilator Blues” was the overwhelming heat and
humidity in the basement at Nellcôte and the urgent need for a fan. Andy
Johns remembers: “Sometimes, Mick Taylor would stop because he was out
of tune. There was this one little tiny fan in the window up in the corner.
Which didn’t work very well. Therefore, ‘Ventilator Blues.’ It’s one of my
favorite tunes.” Mick Jagger conquered his claustrophobia by writing a
set of feverish, vengeful lyrics. In the first verse, he comes to the defense of
a poor guy married to a shrew. In the second, his attack is directed against
society as a whole. “Ventilator Blues” is a blues-rock number in the finest
Stones tradition, serving as yet another reminder (should one be needed) of
the close connection between the British band and the Chess giants, from
Muddy Waters to Howlin’ Wolf.
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