Certainly there were any number of songs at that time heralding the new generation’s outlook and values — in lyrics, distinctive sound, and in some cases, musical “attitude.”
Bob Dylan, for one — the leading tr0ubadour of the 1960s — had begun offering his interpretations by the early 1960s. His “Blowin` in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A Changin`” were much in the air by 1963.
But in May 1965, a young British rock group named the Rolling Stones recorded a rock song called “Satisfaction”– also known by its longer title, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” By July 1965, “Satisfaction” had been released in the U.S. and soon became a gigantic hit. This song, however, was something more than merely good rock `n roll. In its way, and perhaps in a more popular mainstream sense, “Satisfaction” became the pop/rock equivalent of what Dylan and other folk/protest musicians were offering to somewhat less mainstream audiences. “Satisfaction” was a hard-rock tune with a driving sound, but with lyrics that were also aimed at the status quo; a song that expressed a distinct “dis-satisfaction” with the way things were.The Rolling Stones had formed their band in the early 1960s playing mostly cover versions of American rhythm and blues(R&B) music and Chicago blues and rock n’ roll artists, including Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and others. Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, a former Beatles publicist, later encouraged the Stones to write their own pop songs as the Beatles were doing. Brian Jones, a talented guitarist who had once led the group and would later die in a drowning accident, preferred the R & B path. But lead singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards soon began writing pop rock ‘n roll songs, taking the group in what would prove to be a very successful direction. “Satisfaction” would become their landmark hit; their big breakthrough.
Keith Richards played a key inventor’s role with this song. In early May 1965, as the Rolling Stones were on tour in the U.S., it was Richards who came up with “Satisfaction’s” opening guitar riff — the distinctive, flat-sounding twang that powers the song throughout and its signature sound. Story has it that Richards woke up in the middle of the night during the U.S. tour and recorded the guitar riff into a tape recorder that he kept at his bedside for unexpected moments of inspiration. Then he went back to sleep. Next morning he played the riff for Mick Jagger, offering one lyric he had in mind for the song – “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Jagger would later say he thought that line was possibly influenced subconsciously by Richards’ listening to a 1955 Chuck Berry song titled “30 Days,” a tune which has a similar line – “I don’t get no satisfaction from the judge”. The guitar riff developed by Richards in any case, was initially not set for guitar, but thought as a guide for horns. Jagger, meanwhile, fleshed out more of “Satisfaction’s” lyrics one afternoon while on tour, later admitting to incorporating some of his own feelings at the time about the media and advertising.
I can’t get no satisfaction,
When I’m drivin’ in my car
When I’m watchin’ my TV
I can’t get no satisfaction,
When I’m ridin’ round the world
I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
The Stones, still on tour in the U.S. at the time, continued to work on the song between performances. In Chicago, they took it into the Chess recording studios, working on it there May 10, 1965. Two days later in Los Angeles, California, they completed it during a long session at RCA’s studios. It was in this session that Richards reportedly rigged up a version of a “fuzz box” to his guitar which gave the opening riff he’d invented its distinctive sound, helping send “Satisfaction” straight up the charts.
In that summer of 1965, there was no shortage of rock ‘n roll music. New songs were coming from all directions – Detroit’s Motown, the California surf scene, and a wave of new British artists. Among the tunes at or near the top of the charts that summer were songs such as: “Help Me, Rhonda” by The Beach Boys, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher. But “Satisfaction” was different; the song stood out and apart. It had something about it that made it more than just a song. Though it was certainly musically appealing to the youth of that day, “Satisfaction” was also music with a message.
A share of popular and folk music by then had begun to take a more serious and cynical tack. Bob Dylan, as mentioned earlier, was having a profound influence, not only in folk and protest music, but also in mainstream rock `n roll. Dylan’s songs in 1962-1965, such as: “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall“, “Masters of War,” and “The Times They Are A-Changin`,” as well as songs by other protest songwriters, had opened a new window for 1960s’ music, bringing social commentary to song writing. The Rolling Stones and other groups at that time were greatly influenced by Dylan’s music. And “Satisfaction” – though not a protest song per se – was clearly one of those songs that had picked up on the idea of adding some “message” to the music.
Although the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were both underway by mid-1965, “Satisfaction” was not a song aimed at those troubles per se. Rather, “Satisfaction” at the time was more of a general angst tune; a song that captured the frustrations bubbling up with the younger generation on a number of fronts, Vietnam and civil rights included. Conventional wisdom and social values were then being challenged all around and “Satisfaction” chimed in with lyrics aimed at superficial advertising and uptight sexual mores.“Satisfaction” had enough attitude and swagger to wilt any set of established values its listeners might target. It became an all- purpose anti-etablishment anthem.
The plea of the narrator/singer in this song is a guy who is frustrated with the “useless information” and advertising hype he hears on radio and TV, plus his own personal plight of not being able to score with the ladies. The guy is essentially throwing up his hands in frustration with life in general: he just isn’t getting any satisfaction on any level. Millions of young people then were trying to make their way in the world, and many weren’t happy or “satisfied” with what they saw around them.
The song’s lyrics, for their day, were controversial, in part, because they challenged the prevailing cultural mores. Perceived as an attack on the status quo, the song could be threatening to older listeners. “Satisfaction” offered plenty of attitude – not only in its lyrics, but also in its sound and the way the Stones delivered the song. “Satisfaction,” in fact, had enough attitude and swagger to wilt any set of established values its listeners might choose to target. It became an all-purpose, anti-establishment anthem with broad applicability. The song was a good fit for its times and audience.
BreakthroughFor the Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction” proved to be the breakthrough song; the one that set them apart and sent them on their way toward superstardom. The group performed “Satisfaction” on American TV even before the single was released in the States. On May 20, 1965, they appeared on the ABC show Shindig! from Los Angeles. “Satisfaction” was released as a U.S. single by London Records on June 6th,1965, with another somewhat obscure song on its B-side, “The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man.” The Stones were then touring in the U.S., the third time they’d been to the States. But at the time they were still a new group to many in America. As part of this tour, for example, on May 4th, 1965, they performed at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. On June 5, 1965 they played to about 3,000 people at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Florida. “Satisfaction,” meanwhile, had entered the Billboard Hot 100 that week and rose to No. 1 by July 10th, displacing The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself.” The song was also featured on the Rolling Stones’ third U.K. album, Out of Our Heads, also released in the U.S. in July 1965. Glenn Gass, a professor at the School of Music at Indiana University, told ABC News decades later on the 45th anniversary of “Satisfaction,” that although there were many great songs that year from groups such as the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, the Byrds, the Four Tops and others, “Satisfaction” nonetheless “claimed that summer.” The song held the top spot on the record charts for four weeks until August 7, 1965, when another English band, Herman’s Hermits, hit No. 1 with their tune, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.” Still, “Satisfaction” remained on the Billboard charts for 14 weeks. The song sold 500,000 copies in its first eight weeks, giving the Stones their first official gold record award by the Recording Industry Association of America. The song also put the Stones on the path to “Beatles-level” popularity. “They were already going strong,” said Indiana University’s Gass of the Stones’ growing popularity then, “but that song put them in the Beatles’ stratosphere of rarified air.”“…It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band…”
– Mick Jagger Mick Jagger himself would later acknowledge much the same in a 1995 interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine:
“…It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band. You always need one song. We weren’t American, and America was a big thing and we always wanted to make it here. It was very impressive the way that song and the popularity of the band became a worldwide thing. It’s a signature tune, really,…a kind of signature that everyone knows. It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs… Which was alienation. Or it’s a bit more than that, maybe, but a kind of sexual alienation. Alienation’s not quite the right word, but it’s one word that would do.”“Satisfaction” did, however, in the mid-1960s, tread upon sensitive ground with its lyrics suggesting frustrated adolescent sexuality — i.e., not getting any “girl reaction” – interpreted by some listeners and radio programmers as meaning a girl willing to have sex. In fact, when the Rolling Stones performed the song on the TV show Shindig! in 1965, the line “trying to make some girl” was censored. And again, when they performed it later on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 the same line – “trying to make some girl”– was not used.
“Satisfaction” also put rock music, and the Rolling Stones, on something of a more raucous, more bawdy, harder-edge path – a distinction some would later draw in comparisons to the Beatles. The Beatles, of course, had just been through their 1964-1965 “Beatlemania” period with a phenomenal run of pop hits and lots of “yeah, yeah, yeah.” The Stones, on the other hand, were coming on with a little different sound; providing music that had more of an R&B- and blues-tinge to it. “Satisfaction” was a “great ‘no’ to the Beatles’ ‘yeah’,” offered Glenn Gass from Indiana University in a 2010 interview with ABC News at the song’s 45th anniversary. Others, including writer Tom Wolfe, would go farther. “The Beatles,” he once famously wrote, “just want to hold your hand. The Rolling Stones want to burn your town down” – an exaggeration, of course, but the message was plain.But it wasn’t just the Stones who were supplying that harder edge to rock music. In 1964 there had also been bluesy songs like the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” and even the Beatles did their raucous cover of “Twist and Shout” that year. The Stones themselves also had the bluesy 1964 hit, “Time is On My Side,” which rose to No. 6 that November. Bob Dylan, meanwhile, had “Like A Rolling Stone” in the summer of 1965, a landmark message song. Still, “Satisfaction” grabbed center-stage attention at the time, appealing to mainstream rock audiences in a new way. It was a distinctive turn. After 1965-1966, of course, the music would change again, and the change would escalate, with much more innovation, new sounds, and good music to come – from the Stones, Dylan, the Beatles, and many others.
The Stones, for their part, would follow “Satisfaction” with a long list of other 1960s’ hits, such as: “Get Off My Cloud” and “As Tears Go By” in 1965; “Paint it Black” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” in 1966; “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” in 1967; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” in 1968; “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Honky Tonk Woman” in 1969, and many more. The Stones, in fact, were just getting started in the 1960s, with about four more decades of music-making and performing ahead of them. “Satisfaction,” meanwhile, would experience a spike in sales after being heard in movies such as Apocalypse Now in 1979 or Starman of 1994, as well as during and after the Stone’s many concert tours.Over the years, “Satisfaction” has been accorded high honors in the pantheon of rock `n roll. The song has been noted in various “top 100 lists” by Vox, BMI , VH1, MTV, Q magazine and other media and rock music venues. Newsweek once called the song’s opening guitar riff, “five notes that shook the world.” In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at No. 2 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”– second only to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. In 2006, “Satisfaction” was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, songs deemed to be among those that are culturally and/or historically significant.
Other stories at this website on the Rolling Stones, their music, and business history include, for example, “Paint It Black” (song history & subsequent uses); “Stones Gather Dollars” (how the Rolling Stones helped develop a lucrative concert touring model); “Start Me Up” (Bill Gates & Windows 95 theme song), and “Shine A Light, 2008” (Rolling Stones film trailer). Additional story choices on other topics at this website may be found on the Home Page or in the Archive. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 11 July 2011
Last Update: 11 March 2012
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “…No Satisfaction, 1965-1966,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 11, 2011.
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