Rolling Stones songs: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
We decided that we would have a soda/ My favorite flavor, cherry red…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Olympic Sound Studios, London, England, Nov. 17 1968-March 15, 1969
Guest musicians: Al Kooper (French horn, piano), Rocky Dijon (congas), Jimmy Miller (drums)
Madeline Bell, Nanette Newman, Doris Troy and The London Bach Choir (chorus)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
There are two theories as to the identity of “Mr. Jimmy,” who appears in the third verse:
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
It could be a reference to Jimmy Miller, who was The Stones’ producer at the time, but it might also refer to Jimmy Hutmaker, a local character who wandered the business district in Excelsior, Minnesota, a trendy artist community outside Minneapolis near Lake Minnetonka. Hutmaker, known as “Mr. Jimmy,” had some disabilities but seemed mentally sharp most days, although he would talk to himself a lot. He walked miles every day and was cared for by the local shop owners until his death on October 3, 2007.
The Stones performed in Excelsior on their first US tour in 1964, and were not well received. According to Excelsior lore, Mick Jagger went into a local drugstore to get a Cherry Coke. Back then a cherry coke was a coke with real cherries in it, and drug store soda fountains were the place you usually found them. The store didn’t have cherry cokes and Mr. Jimmy, standing in line behind Jagger, commented, “Well, you can’t always get what you want.”
Mr. Jimmy was at the Stones’ next show in Minneapolis. Legend has it that Jagger sent a limo to pick him up, but it is more likely that a local businessman worked it out so he could go.
The chorus of children is the London Bach Choir. Their 60 voices were double-tracked to make it sound like there were even more of them.
The London Bach Choir tried to have their name removed from the album when they found out it was called Let It Bleed and contained “Midnight Rambler,” a song about a serial killer.
The lyrics are about how hard it is to find happiness. No matter what you have, you always want more.
The “Chelsea Drugstore” was in Chelsea; the King’s Road, in fact, which “Swung” just as much as Carnaby Street in its day. But it wasn’t a drug store (not officially anyway), it was a pub. Stanley Kubrick filmed part of A Clockwork Orange there. But the most devastating fact about the Chelsea Drugstore is that the place is now a McDonald’s.
This was released as the B-side of “Honky Tonk Women.” The version on this single is shorter than the one on the album. It was released July 3, 1969, the day Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones died.
A version without the choir appears on Rock and Roll Circus, a British TV special The Stones taped in 1968, but never aired. Featuring music and circus performers, it was released on video in 1995.
The Stones first recorded this in 1968 as part of the Beggars Banquet sessions. It didn’t make the cut for that album, so it was revived for Let It Bleed.
Al Kooper was brought in to play the organ and French horn. These instruments would have been played by Brian Jones, but he was having severe drug problems and was unavailable. That’s Kooper playing the long horn note at the beginning.
This was used in the 1983 movie The Big Chill in a scene where it plays at the character Alex’ funeral.
One of the backup singers was Doris Troy, who had a hit in 1963 called “Just One Look.”
Marrianne Faithful, who was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, claimed that her drug use was the inspiration for this song.
Mick Jagger explained: “It’s a good song, even if I say so myself. It’s got a very sing-along chorus, and people can identify with it: No one gets what they always want. It’s got a very good melody. It’s got very good orchestral touches that Jack Nitzsche helped with. So it’s got all the ingredients.”
The band’s drummer, Charlie Watts, did not play on this track for the simple reason he was technically unable to figure out the beat for this unusual groove and rhythm. Their producer, Jimmy Miller, played on it instead. Watts eventually modified a way of playing along to it as shown in the Rock And Roll Circus video. Miller was very particular about drumming. He also played on “Happy” and contributed cowbell to “Honky Tonk Women.”
In an interview with NPR, Al Kooper said he observed Jimmy Miller and Charlie Watts working on the drum piece. Watts wasn’t getting it quick enough so Miller said, “Here, let me show you.” At that point Watts said, “Why don’t you play it then” and walked out. Miller stayed and the song was cut.
The comedian Tig Notaro did a bit where she talked about how this song is the wrong choice when trying to introduce someone to the music of the Rolling Stones. She says that when she was a kid, she was evangelical about The Beatles and The Stones, and one day the coolest kid in school came in with his father’s Let It Bleed album, which he was allowed to play one song from in class. He asked Tig for the perfect track and she chose this one, which didn’t go over well, since the first 45 seconds is taken up by a children’s chorus. Before Mick Jagger could sing a note, the bell rang, leaving the class with the impression that The Rolling Stones made experimental choral music.
In 2004, Coke used this in commercials for C2, a lower calorie, lower carb version of their regular soda.
Following Donald Trump’s victory speech after being named America’s 45th President, the newly elected leader walked off stage to this song.
Mick Jagger was not impressed, tweeting: “Just was watching the news… maybe they’ll ask me to sing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ at the inauguration, ha!”
One of the more unusual performances of this song was broadcast on April 18, 2020, when Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts teamed up virtually via Zoom to perform it for the One World: Together At Home concert in support of the World Health Organization during the coronavirus pandemic. Watts apparently didn’t have a drum kit available, so he played air drums – his track was presumably dubbed in.
(Ref. you can’t always get what you want)
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a Mick Jagger song. “[It] was
something I just played on the acoustic guitar—one of those bedroom
songs,” he would later explain. Keith Richards recalls perfectly the
moment he arrived in the studio and announced that he had a song. “I said,
you got any verses? And he said, I have.”
That brings us to the words. How should they be interpreted? Five years
after “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “You Can’t Always Get What You
Want” (which, incidentally contains the same number of syllables!) sounds
like another slogan. Before, it was the consumer society (against a
background of sexual frustration) that was pilloried; now, the end of the
sixties utopia was being celebrated. The dream ended when the babyboomer
generation realized that the possibilities were not limitless after all.
This seems to be what Jagger is saying. The reception described at the very
beginning of the song thus symbolizes Swinging London, and more
specifically the curtain that had fallen on the nonstop party that had been
going on for several years. In short, the end of innocence.
At the same time, Mick Jagger intersperses a few more personal
references into his message. The line I went down to the demonstration to
get my fair share of abuse probably refers to the Vietnam protest march he
joined in London on March 17, 1968, during which various acts of violence
were perpetrated. There is also the Chelsea Drugstore, which opened its
doors in 1968, and the enigmatic Mr. Jimmy. Is this the producer Jimmy
Miller, who played a decisive role in the recording of “You Can’t Always
Get What You Want”? As for the woman with a glass of wine in her hand,
hoping to meet her connection, the peddler of false dreams, this is perhaps
Marianne Faithfull. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” remains one
of the greatest of all the Stones’ songs. It was released as the B-side (in a
shorter version than that on the album) of the single “Honky Tonk Women.”
Although Mick Jagger wrote the words and came up with the tune of
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Keith Richards played a major
part in giving the song its final form. As Richards recounts in Life, Mick
asked how it was going to sound: “Because he’d written it on guitar, it was
like a folk song at the time. I had to come up with a rhythm, an idea…” So
the band got to work. The sessions for “You Can’t Always Get What You
Want” were the very first for the album Let It Bleed.
(Ref. you can’t always get what you want)
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