Jagger & Keith Richards
Recording date: March, May & July 1968
Recording locations: Olympic Sound Studios, London, England & Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, USA
Producers: Jimmy Miller Chief engineers: Eddie Kramer & Glyn Johns
Performed onstage: 1969-73, 1975-78, 1981, 1989-90, 1994-95, 1998, 2002-03, 2013
Bass drum: Dave Mason
Bass: Keith Richards
Acoustic guitars: Keith Richards
Vocals: Mick Jagger
Piano: Nicky Hopkins
Sitar: Brian Jones
Shehnai: Dave Mason
Tamboura: Brian Jones
It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions.... I wrote a lot of the melody and all the words, and Keith and I sat around and made this wonderful track, with Dave Mason playing the shehnai on it live. It's a kind of Indian reed instrument a bit like a primitive clarinet. It comes in at the end of the tune. It has a very wailing, strange sound.
I cut the first track in an enormous studio at Olympic in London, and there's Charlie and me sitting on the floor with this little Phillips... (mimics pushing play button) Play.
The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He's holding notes that wouldn't come through if you had a board, you wouldn't be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.
Street Fighting Man was all acoustics. There's no electric guitar parts in it. (Even the high-end lead part was through) a cassette player with no limiter. Just distortion. Just two acoustics, played right into the mike, and hit very hard. There's a sitar in the back, too. That would give the effect of the high notes on the guitar. And Charlie was playing his little 1930s drummer's practice kit. It was all sort of built into a little attaché case, so some drummer who was going to his gig on the train could open it up - with two little things about the size of small tambourines without the bells on them, and the skin was stretched over that. And he set up this little cymbal, and this little hi-hat would unfold. Charlie sat right in front of the microphone with it. I mean, this drum sound is massive. When you're recording, the size of things has got nothing to do with it. It's how you record them. Everything there was totally acoustic. The only electric instrument on there is the bass guitar, which I overdubbed afterwards.
What I was after with all of those - Street Fighting Man, Jumpin' Jack Flash - was to get the drive and dryness of an acoustic guitar but still distort it. They were all attempts at that.
I remember the first cassette machines came out. I thought, Oh great, a portable tape recorder, fantastic. And then I started to like put songs down on it and I realized that... that little microphone in there had something. If you overloaded it, it basically became a pick-up.
(The Phillips) didn't smooth the sound out, it broke up a lot. So recording in bedrooms, and with little tambourine sets or little percussion things, sounded thunderous.
I'm leaning right over into the mike and Charlie's got this little - he had this practice (drum kit)... It was for drummers on their train ride. And it had a little sort of tambourine thing and a little sort of fold-up cymbal. It was so cute and it had been made in the '30s. And it was like an antique, you know. And two little sticks. And... that's how we cut the track.
Street Fighting Man was recorded on Keith's cassette with a 1930s toy drum kit called a London Jazz Kit Set, which I bought in an antiques shop, and which I've still got at home. It came in a little suitcase, and there were wire brackets you put the drums in; they were like small tambourines with no jangles. The whole kit packs away, the drums go inside each other, the little drum goes inside the snare drum into a box with the cymbal. The snare drum was fantastic because it had a really thin skin with a snare right underneath, but only two strands of gut... Keith would be sitting on a cushion playing a guitar and the tiny kit was a way of getting close to him. The drums were really loud compared to the acoustic guitar and the pitch of them would go right through the sound. You'd always have a great backbeat.
Charlie stuck with me on this track. I'm the rhythm player. I'm not a virtuoso soloist or anything like that. To work together with the drummer, that's my joy. This record, to me, is one of the examples of what can happen when two cats believe in each other.
(O)n Street Fighting Man there's one 6-string open and one 5-string open. They're both open tunings, but then there's a lot of capo work. There are lots of layers of guitars on Street Fighting Man. There's lots of guitars you don't even hear. They're just shadowing. So it's difficult to say what you're hearing on there. Cause I tried 8 different guitars. And which ones were used in the final version, I couldn't say... (A) the same time the guitar was going on, I had Nicky Hopkins playing a bit of piano, and Charlie just shuffling in the background. Then we put drums on it and added another guitar while he was doing that. And we just kept layering it.
So you had this very electric sound, but at the same time, you had that curious and beautiful ring that only an acoustic guitar can give you. It was just a bizarre way of making a record. And everybody, of course, is looking at me like I'm nuts. You know, I'm in the middle of this enormous studio with a little cassette machine and bowing before it with an acoustic guitar, and they go, What the hell is he doing? We'll humor him.
Jimmy Miller was one of the most simpatico producers I have ever worked with. He could handle a band - especially this band - and give everybody the same level of support. He was a great drummer in his own right, so he could talk to Charlie on equal terms, and he had a very good rapport with Mick. He didn't mind any idea that came up. He loved improvisation. I don't think I could have done Street Fighting Man without him. Mick would get impatient with my experiments sometimes, but Jimmy gave me a lot of encouragement saying, let's take this down the line and let's see where it goes.
Brian was a master of picking up the weirdest instruments that happened to be around... He was amazing at being able to master, at least for a certain song, a sound or an instrument that had nothing to do with guitars or anything.
The fact that a couple of American radio stations in Chicago banned the record just goes to show how paranoid they are.
They told me that Street Fighting Man was subversive. Course it's subversive, we said. It's stupid to think that you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could!
We're more subversive when we go onstage. Yet they still want us to make live appearances. If you really want us to cause trouble we could do a few stage appearances.
(The song) says: But what can a poor boy do, except sing in a rock and roll band - what else can I do besides sing? The song itself is the only thing that has to do with street fighting.
I don't think (people) understand what we're trying to do, or what Mick's talking about, like on Street Fighting Man. We're not saying we want to be in the streets, but we're a rock and roll band, just the reverse... Politics is what we were trying to get away from in the first place.
Street Fighting Man is a funny song to play onstage in an era when you don't fight in the street anymore. To play the song is fantastic, but the lyrics are very much about the events of 1968 in Paris, which is when Mick wrote it. It was political: not that it was going to change the world, but it was extremely influenced by what was going on; a very strong song about what was happening at the time.
I don't think violence is necessary in this society to bring about political change. I was never supportive of the Weathermen or anything like that. I NEVER believed that the violent course was necessary for our society. For other socieites perhaps, but in ours, it's totally unnecessary. It's just morally reprehensible. And that's what I'm saying in (Street Fighting Man), really. However romantic the notion of manning the barricades may seem... I mean, that romantic ideal actually brought down a government very close to (England) - the de Gaulle government in France. And in America, you had the rioting at the Democratic convention in the same year. So there was a lot of street violence going on, for very ill-defined reasons. I'm not quite sure what all that was really about, when you think about it now.
I wanted the [sings] to sound like a French police siren. That was the year that all that stuff was going on in Paris and in London. There were all these riots that the generation that I belonged to, for better or worse, was starting to get antsy. You could count on somebody in America to find something offensive about something — you still can. Bless their hearts. I love America for that very reason.
I don't know if it (has such resonance today). I don't know whether we should really play it. I was persuaded to put it in this tour because it seemed to fit in, but I'm not sure if it really has any resonance for the present day. I don't really like it that much. I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; De Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing. Yeah, it was a direct inspiration, because by contrast, London was very quiet...
One of my favorite Stones songs is Street Fighting Man. Mick and Keith were writing good songs then. They still are, but they were working a lot closer together then because they were a lot hungrier to still achieve things, which you are when you're young.
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