|Song by the Rolling Stones|
|from the album Let It Bleed|
|Released||5 December 1969|
|Recorded||23 February and 2 November 1969|
"Gimme Shelter" is the opening track to the 1969 album Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones. Greil Marcus, writing in Rolling Stone magazine at the time of its release, praised the song, stating that the band has "never done anything better".
Although the first word was spelled "Gimmie" on that album, subsequent recordings by the band and other musicians have made "Gimme" the customary spelling.
Inspiration and recording
"Gimme Shelter" was written by the Rolling Stones' lead vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, the band's primary songwriting team.[a] Richards began working on the song's signature opening riff in London whilst Jagger was away filming Performance with Richards's then girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg. In his autobiography Life, Richards revealed that the tension of the song was inspired by his jealousy at seeing the relationship between Pallenberg and Jagger, and his suspicions of an affair between them.
As released, the song begins with Richards performing a guitar intro, soon joined by Jagger's lead vocal. Of Let It Bleed's bleak world view, Jagger said in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone magazine:
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. The thing about Vietnam was that it wasn't like World War II, and it wasn't like Korea, and it wasn't like the Gulf War. It was a real nasty war, and people didn't like it. People objected, and people didn't want to fight it ... That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that.
Similarly, on NPR in 2012:
It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit ... When it was recorded, early '69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that's reflected in this tune. It's still wheeled out when big storms happen, as they did the other week [during Hurricane Sandy]. It's been used a lot to evoke natural disaster.
However, the song's inspiration was not initially Vietnam or social unrest, but Keith Richards seeing people scurrying for shelter from a sudden rain storm. According to him:
I had been sitting by the window of my friend Robert Fraser's apartment on Mount Street in London with an acoustic guitar when suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter – that was the germ of the idea. We went further into it until it became, you know, rape and murder are 'just a shot away'.
The recording features guest vocals by Merry Clayton, recorded at a last-minute late-night recording session during the mixing phase, arranged by her friend and record producer Jack Nitzsche. After the first verse is sung by Jagger, Merry Clayton enters and they share the next three verses. A harmonica solo by Jagger and guitar solo by Richards follow. Then, with great energy, Clayton repeatedly sings "Rape, murder! It's just a shot away! It's just a shot away!", almost screaming the final stanza. She and Jagger then repeat the line "It's just a shot away" and finish with repeats of "It's just a kiss away". When speaking of her inclusion in the recording, Jagger stated 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.'" Summoned – pregnant – from bed around midnight by producer Jack Nitzsche, Clayton made her recording with just a few takes then returned home to bed. It remains the most prominent contribution to a Rolling Stones track by a female vocalist.
At about 2:59 into the song, Clayton's voice cracks under the strain; once during the second refrain on the word "shot", then on the word "murder" during the third refrain, after which Jagger is faintly heard exclaiming "Woo!" in response to Clayton's powerful delivery. Upon returning home, Clayton suffered a miscarriage, attributed by some sources to her exertions during the recording.
Merry Clayton's name was erroneously written on the original release, appearing as 'Mary'. Her name is also listed as 'Mary' on the 2002 Let It Bleed remastered CD.
The song was recorded in London at Olympic Studios in February and March 1969; the vocals were recorded in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound Recorders and Elektra Studios in October and November that same year. Nicky Hopkins played piano, the Rolling Stones' producer Jimmy Miller played percussion, Charlie Watts played drums, Bill Wyman played bass, Jagger played harmonica and sang backup vocals with Richards and Clayton. Guitarist Brian Jones was present during the early sessions but did not contribute, Richards being credited with both rhythm and lead guitars on the album sleeve. For the recording, Richards used an Australian-made Maton SE777, a large single-cutaway hollowbody guitar, which he had previously used on "Midnight Rambler". The guitar barely survived the recording before literally falling apart. "[O]n the very last note of 'Gimmie Shelter,'" Richards told Guitar World in 2002, "the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original take."
Releases on compilation albums and live recordings
"Gimme Shelter" quickly became a staple of the Rolling Stones' live shows. It was first performed sporadically during their 1969 American Tour and became a regular addition to their setlist during the 1972 American Tour. A version recorded in Oakland CA is on thebootleg Live'r Than You'll Ever Be. Other concert versions appear on the Stones' albums No Security (recorded 1997, released 1998), Live Licks (recorded 2003, released 2004), Brussels Affair (recorded 1973, released 2011), and Hyde Park Live (2013). A May 1995 performance recorded at Paradiso (Amsterdam) was released on the 1996 "Wild Horses" (live) single, on the 1998 "Saint of Me" single (included in the 45-CD 2011 box set The Singles 1971–2006), and again on Totally Stripped in 2016.
The song appeared in Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, a film of the Stones' 1972 North American Tour, as well as on its 2010 official DVD release. It is also featured on the concert DVD/Blu-ray sets Bridges to Babylon Tour '97–98 (1998), Four Flicks (2003), The Biggest Bang (2007), Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (2013), Totally Stripped (2016), and Havana Moon (2016).
Michel Gondry, an Academy Award-winning French filmmaker, directed a music video for the song, which was released in 1998. The video features a sixteen-year old Brad Renfro, playing a young man escaping with his brother from a dysfunctional home and the abuse they suffered at the hands of their abusive alcoholic father, and then from society as a whole.
The Rolling Stones
- Mick Jagger – lead vocals, harmonica
- Keith Richards – lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals
- Bill Wyman – bass
- Charlie Watts – drums
- Nicky Hopkins – piano
- Jimmy Miller – percussion
- Merry Clayton – co-lead vocals (credited as "Mary Clayton")
Greil Marcus, writing for Rolling Stone magazine at the time of the "Gimme Shelter"'s release stated that "[t]he Stones have never done anything better". "Gimme Shelter" was placed at number 38 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004. Pitchfork Media placed it at number 12 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Ultimate Classic Rock put the song at number one on their Top 100 Rolling Stones songs  and number three on their Top 100 Classic Rock Songs.
In popular culture
"Gimme Shelter" has been played in a variety of movies and television shows/commercials. The 1970 documentary film Gimme Shelter, directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, chronicling the last weeks of the Stones' 1969 US tour and culminating in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, took its name from the song. A live version of the song played over the documentary's credits. The song has appeared in three Martin Scorsese films.
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||600,000|
sales+streaming figures based on certification alone
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- Ruth Copeland on her first album Self Portrait, performed with George Clinton's Parliament, in 1969 (reissued on The Invictus Sessions in 2002)
- The original backing singer, Merry Clayton, recorded her own version in 1970 which entered the Billboard Hot 100
- Grand Funk Railroad on the album Survival in 1971; a number 61 US single
- Josefus for their album Dead Man
- Puddle of Mudd on the 2011 album Re:(disc)overed
- The Sisters of Mercy in 1983, on the B-side of their single "Temple of Love" (released on the album Some Girls Wander by Mistake in 1992). In this version the words "shot" and "kiss" were interchanged.
- The London Symphony Orchestra on the album Symphonic Music of The Rolling Stones. This version of the song is heard in the Children of Men (2006) trailer.
- Patti Smith released the song as a single from her April 2007 covers album Twelve.
- Paul Brady & the Forest Rangers covered the song for the final episode of season 2 of Sons of Anarchy. This version is available on the 5-song EP Sons of Anarchy: Shelter.
- Tom Jones recorded the song with New Model Army. It was released on his album, The Definitive Tom Jones 1964–2002.
- U2 covered the song at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame benefit concert on 30 October 2009, with Mick Jagger sharing lead vocals with Bono and featuring the Black Eyed Peas members Fergie, singing Merry Clayton's vocal part, and will.i.am, playing piano and synthesizer.
- The Underachievers used the introduction of "Gimme Shelter" for the production of their 2013 single "The Proclamation"
- Stone Sour covered the song on their EP Straight Outta Burbank... with female vocals performed by Lzzy Hale of Halestorm
- Jazz vibist Cal Tjader covered the song on his 1971 album Agua Dulce.
- Holy Soldier on their 1992 album Last Train
- Hawkwind published their cover on It Is the Business of the Future to Be Dangerous (1993)
- Beninese artist Angélique Kidjo covered the song on her Grammy Award-winning 2007 album Djin Djin. English singer Joss Stone provided additional vocals.
"Putting Our House in Order" project
In 1993, a Food Records project collected various versions of the track by the following bands and collaborations, the proceeds of which went to the Shelter charity's "Putting Our House in Order" homeless initiative. The versions were issued across various formats, and had a live version of the song by the Rolling Stones as a common lead track to ensure chart eligibility.
"Gimme Shelter" (pop version – cassette single)
"Gimme Shelter" (alternative version – CD single)
"Gimme Shelter" (rock version – CD single)
"Gimme Shelter" (dance version – 12" single)
- 808 State and Robert Owens
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