Friday, October 26, 2007

Gimme Shelter

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "Gimme Shelter" was created from the combined efforts of both the singer and the guitarist. Richards had been working on the song's signature opening in London while Jagger was working on the film Performance. The song takes the form of a churning mid-tempo rocker. It begins with a rhythm guitar intro by Richards, followed by Jagger's lead vocal. On the recording of the album, Jagger said in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, "Well, it's a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense..." On the song itself, he concluded, "That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that."

The lyrics of the song speak of seeking shelter from a coming storm, painting a picture of devastation and social apocalypse while also talking of the power of love:
“ Oh, a storm is threat'ning, My very life today; If I don't get some shelter, Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away ”

“ War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away; War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away ”

A high second vocal track is sung by guest vocalist
Merry Clayton. On her inclusion, Jagger said in the 2003 book According to... The Rolling Stones, "The use of the female voice was the producer's idea. It would be one of those moments along the lines of "I hear a girl on this track - get one on the phone." Clayton gives her solo performance, and one of the song's most famous pieces, after a solo performed by Richards, repeatedly singing "Rape, murder; It's just a shot away, It's just a shot away," and finally screaming the final stanza. She and Jagger finish the song with the line, "Love, sister, it's just a kiss away." To date it remains one of the most prominent contributions to a Rolling Stones track by a female vocalist.

Recording of the song took place and London's Olympic Sound Studios. in February and March 1969. Clayton's piece was recorded at Los Angeles' Sunset Sound & Elektra Studios in October and November of that same year. Nicky Hopkins performed pianos for the song while the Stones' producer Jimmy Miller provided percussion. Charlie Watts performed drums while Bill Wyman performed bass. Jagger performed harmonica for the piece and sang backup vocals with Richards and Clayton. Guitarist Brian Jones was absent from these sessions. An unreleased version features only Richards providing vocals.

Although popular, "Gimme Shelter" was never released as a single. It quickly became a staple of their live show, first featuring throughout their 1969 American Tour. It has been included on many compilation releases, including both Hot Rocks and Forty Licks, and concert versions appear on the Stones' albums No Security and Live Licks.

"Gimme Shelter" was placed #38 in the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.

Richards toiled on the opening riff and the music to this song in general for awhile, and with his side outfit, the Expensive Winos, he took his own heavy swipe at it in the live arena, which served up this version, available as a B-side on his "Eileen" single. Keith doesn't really sing it as kind of talk through it, in a Dylanesque way, but it still carries a huge wallop and he injects a really (nice) menacing tone into the song, which is great. I'm usually not one for live recordings, and I'm usually not one for Keef's more recent live vocal outings, but this is a fantastic exception on both fronts.

Merry Clayton - Gimme Shelter

Clayton, originally one of Ray Charles' Raelettes, provided the backing vocals on the original version -- famous for that high wail that cracks and prompts someone (presumably Mick) to just-audibly exclaim "Whoo!" Urban legend holds that Clayton's performance on the original was so impassioned that it in fact caused a miscarriage of the baby she was carrying at the time of recording. It's a great story (tragic, yes, but still great), though it's validity remains in question. Clayton did her own version a year later on an album of the same name, and while it adds a bit more of an R&B feel to he song, the vocal doesn't quite match her first go with the Stones.

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