I love The Rolling Stones for the stuff they did in the '60s and very early '70s. Unlike Bob Dylan, for example, they just haven't been able to mark every passing decade with some classic material. They're legends of course as the recent Scorsese movie, 'Shine a Light', no doubt proves but for me the '60s and early '70s is when they peaked.
The infamous 'Sympathy for the Devil' appeared on the excellent album Beggars Banquet (1968). It caused a furore at the time when The Stones became associated with Satan worship because of this and other dark allusions in their songs. The Stones, not particularly known for their lyrics, really excelled in this one. Events throughout history starting with the crucifixion are named one after the other as 'Lucifer' narrates his role in some of the world's worst attrocities. The samba-style musical backing is brilliant and Keith Richards' guitar solo could just be my favourite of all time. Jagger's vocal performance is also striking.
So what of the Devil? Well, Jagger and Richards have claimed this is more about the 'dark side of mankind' than about a Satan figure - a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of scenario. Of course it's true that much of the hell we find on earth is created by humankind itself. However, in 2002 Richards became more explicit: "Sympathy is quite an uplifting song. It's just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He's there all the time. I've had very close contact with Lucifer - I've met him several times. Evil - people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn't rear its ugly head. Sympathy for the Devil is just as appropriate now, with 9/11. There it is again, big time. When that song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first sort of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everybody gets sucked into that. And as America has found out to its dismay, you can't hide. You might as well accept the fact that evil is there and deal with it any way you can. Sympathy for the Devil is a song that says, Don't forget him. If you confront him, then he's out of a job."
Preach it Keith - Make of that what you will...