Thursday, November 28, 2019

50 years ago: The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” released on Let It Bleed

Gimme Shelter

The Rolling Stones

Writer(s): Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (see lyrics here)

Released: November 28, 1969 on Let It Bleed album

First Charted: November 28, 1998

Peak: 29 AR, 1 CL, 42 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.6 UK

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 128.55 video, 377.46 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

One of the Rolling Stones most acclaimed albums, 1969’s Let It Bleed kicks off with “this brooding, apocalyptic salvo – as if, despite the peace and love elsewhere, the Rolling Stones had tapped into an altogether dark vein. ‘Rape, murder – it’s just a shot away’ (as backing vocalist Merry Clayton screams midway through) were not then staples of 1960s songwriting.” XFM At the time of the album’s release, Greil Marcus praised the song in Rolling Stone magazine, saying the group had “never done anything better.” WK

Singer Mick Jagger explained to NPR that “It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit.” WK He told 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…It was a real nasty war…People objected, and people didn't want to fight it…That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really.” WK

Guitarist Keith Richards asserted that the song wasn’t initially about social unrest or Vietnam, but seeing people scurrying for shelter from a rain storm. WK He wrote the “signature opening riff” in London while his girlfriend, Anita Pallenburg, was filming Performance with Jagger. Richards said the song’s tension grew out of his jealousy at seeing Anita and Mick together and his suspicion that they were having an affair. WK

Clayton’s backing vocals on the song have been called “the most prominent contribution to a Rolling Stones track by a female vocalist.” WK Producer Jimmy Miller thought it needed a female voice and producer Jack Nitzsche called her WK late at night while the Stones were recording in Los Angeles. She said in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom that she showed up in silk pajamas with curlers in her hair. SF She “delivered a chilling vocal” SF in just a few takes while heavily pregnant and returned home to bed. She later suffered a miscarriage, which some have attributed to her exertion in recording the song. WK

While the Stones never released this as a single, Clayton recorded her own version in 1970 and released it. It reached #73.


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for The Rolling Stones
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia
  • XFM Mike Walsh (editor) (2010). The XFM Top 1000 Songs of All Time. Elliott & Thompson Limited: London, England. Pages 367-8.

Related Links:

First posted 10/26/2021; last updated 8/3/2022.

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