Listen: The Rolling Stones 'Gimme Shelter' Deconstructed

Breaking song down into individual components reveals hidden complexity

November 30, 2010 6:45 PM ET

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.

Deconstructing 'Gimme Shelter': Listen to the Isolated Tracks Of The Rolling Stones in the Studio [Dangerous Minds]

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

More Song Stories entries »