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The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter

TDR Classic Group and Song: THE ROLLING STONES, GIMME SHELTER. "Gimme Shelter" is the opening track on the Stone's 1969 album, LET IT BLEED. One of it's features was Keith Richard's playing with his new "Open Tuning" on his electric guitar, another defining part of the song is the distinctive opening riff that Keith worked on in London while Mick was away shooting the film, "Performance."

 

As soon as Mick returned home they started writing songs starting with the dark lyrics of "Gimme Shelter;" in an interview Mick agreed that not only was the opening track dark, but also the rest of the album, he talked about the atmosphere in 1969, The Vietnam War and it's hundreds of thousands of angry protestors: "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... That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that."

 

Producer Jack Nitzsche late on the night of the final mix sensing it needed something extra called singer Merry Clayton to come in cold, and add to the vocals. He had her enter on the second verse and sing with Jagger until the end of the third when she almost screams, "It's Just A Shot Away, It's Just A Shot Away," and later with Mick, "It's just a Kiss Away."

 

Commenting on Merry's being called in the middle of the night and pregnant he said: "It 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." After the take she returned home and back to bed. But until this day Merry Clayton's singing on the track is still considered the greatest contribution of any female to a Rolling Stones record.

 

I'm sorry to report that shortly after returning to home and bed she suffered a miscarriage, which is often blamed on the Session and perhaps why she no longer wanted to do it. Nicky Hopkins played piano on the final cut and Jimmy Miller added percussion to Charlie Watts drums.

 

Fun Fact: Although "Gimme Shelter" was never released as a single, it's been a staple of Stones Tours since 1972 and on the Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary Tour in 2015, Mary J. Blige, Florence Welch, and Lady Gaga, all did the Merry Clayton part on various shows. Finally, Greil Marcus, writing in Rolling Stone at the time stated, "The Rolling Stones have never done anything better."


For the TDR Video Scott has chosen the Official Promo Film of the Rolling Stones performing their 1969 song
"Gimme Shelter" Live in 1998, (with Lisa Fischer, doing the Merry part and the only woman to appear on all their tours since 1989) in a pristine audio/video clip. Rock On! @therealdonrocks 
 

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