The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" — from the band's classic Let it Bleed album — was recorded between February and November 1969 and features only four band members: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts (guitarist Mick Taylor joined the band that year but is not featured on "Gimme Shelter"). Now, music website Dangerous Minds has broken the song down into five components: 1) Jagger and Merry Clayton's vocals, 2) Richards' first guitar track, 3) Richards' second guitar track with Nicky Hopkins' piano, 4) Wyman's bass and 5) Watts' drums with producer Jimmy Miller's maracas. Of these, the vocal and guitar tracks are the most revelatory. We've analyzed each component below.
On the vocal track, Clayton's soulful banshee wail provides a perfect foil to Jagger's husky, menacing lead vocal. While she's prominent on the official recording, the nuances of her supporting role are thrown into bold relief here. Toward the end of the song, when she briefly takes the lead during the "Rape, murder" segment, a pair of whoops — presumably from Jagger — are audible after she hits the highest notes. (Clayton, a veteran session singer — she's on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" — released her own version of "Gimme Shelter" in 1970, but that performance pales next to her singing here.)
Similarly, Richards' guitar parts provide a fascinating dissection of the way his individual tracks create a single sound. The first guitar track provides the most familiar sounds — the unmistakable opening riffs and the chords that power the verses.
But the second track shows how intricately Richards embellished the first, adding the quicksilver runs to the opening and meshing with Hopkins' sparkling piano throughout the song.
Wyman's contribution, like his onstage demeanor, is the least flashy of the group's, but as always his playing is tasteful and deep.
And while a recording consisting entirely of a drum kit and maracas might seem spectacularly dull, it's a testament to Charlie Watts' rhythmic genius that his drumming has the kind of swing that defies physics and taps straight into the id.