Gimme Shelter 1969

Gimme Shelter is the opening track to the 1969  Rolling Stones album ‘Let it Bleed’, probably one of the best albums by the band, released in a moment of strong...

Gimme Shelter is the opening track to the 1969  Rolling Stones album ‘Let it Bleed’, probably one of the best albums by the band, released in a moment of strong political and social tension worldwide. It was written by lead vocalist Mick Jagger, and guitarist Keith Richards, who wrote the unforgettable riff heard at the beginning of the song, inspired by a Chuck Berry Favourite.

Gimme Shelter was released during a period of strong political and social turmoil: Martin Luther King had been killed months before, and race riots were intensifying; the war in Vietnam was still ongoing, and protests against it were as heated as ever.  In the song, Mick Jagger sings of finding shelter from this ‘storm’. In an interview in 2012, the lead vocalist declared:

“It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you. it was a time of war and tension, and that is reflected in the song. 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. Kind of apocalyptic”

Keith Richards stated in his memoir Life (2010):

“I wrote ‘Gimme Shelter’ on a stormy day, sitting in Robert Fraser’s apartment in Mount Street. Anita (Pallenberg) was shooting Performance at the time, not far away… It was just a terrible f–king day and it was storming out there. I was sitting there in Mount Street and there was this incredible storm over London, so I got into that mode, just looking out of Robert’s window and looking at all these people with their umbrellas being blown out of their grasp and running like hell. And the idea came to me… My thought was storms on other people’s minds, not mine. It just happened to hit the moment.”

The song does not hide its meaning and intention, it shakes you. In the original version, Merry Clayton’s voice fills the room, a scream with the power to break glass, repeats – almost in an exasperating way ” rape-murder is just a shot away”. At about 2:59 into the song,  Clayton is singing with such emotional force that her voice cracks twice from the strain; once during the second refrain, on the word “shot” from the last line, and then again during the first line of the third and final refrain, on the word “murder”, after which Jagger (quietly) can be heard saying “Woo!” in response to Clayton’s emotional delivery. She portrays a desperate woman and almost gives the idea that she  herself has lived the situation she is singing about, and is a witness or a victim of murder and rape.  The complete and utter surrender to an atrocious situation is almost tangible.

“Gimme Shelter” quickly became a staple of the Rolling Stones’ live shows, first performed during their 1969 American Tour. Since 1989, Lisa Fischer, incredibly talented singer who manages to make you feel and touch what she is singing about, has been singing the song with the Rolling Stones. The version here, is a 1995 live sung by Lisa Fischer and Mick Jagger.

The lyrics are still very much relevant today, where technology has truly made war, rape and murder just a kiss away. With the spread of information happening so fast, it is difficult to escape the storm, we are obliged to realise what is happening, and do something about it.

 

Lyrics:

Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin’
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

The floods is threat’ning
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
Kiss away, kiss away

Gimme Shelter 1969
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Sounds from the Bucket
Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a freelance journalist and editor based in Barcelona, consults for Oxfam in Spain and the Netherlands, and she is the Chief Editor of WIB. She is a passionate advocate of human rights and freedom of speech. And a meme enthusiast. She has worked in the development sector in Malawi and Kenya and Somalia before returning to Europe, where she gained experience in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Spain. To see her work, look at her website here: http://virginiavigliar.com/
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