This is the 56th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
In early 1965, The Rolling Stones toured the US. Keith Richards spent many of the nights on tour partying, but one night while the band was in Clearwater, Fla., he decided to retire to his room early. He had a riff in his head, so he decided to record it before going to bed.
In Jon Kutner’s and Spencer Leigh’s 2005 book, “1000 UK Number One Hits,” Richards was quoted as having said, “The next morning I listened to the tape It was about two minutes of this acoustic guitar playing a very rough riff of ‘Satisfaction’ and then me snoring for 40 minutes.”
Mick Jagger then came it with the title and the lyrics, writing about a myriad of topics, including sexual frustration, boredom, television, and deceptive advertising.
The Rolling Stones first recorded “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” at Chess Studios in Chicago later that year. They finished it a few days later at RCA Studios in Hollywood. In June of 1965, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was released in the US, with “The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” as its B-side. It was released a few months later in the UK, with “The Spider and the Fly” as its B-side.
Richards didn’t think the song was ready for release. In the aforementioned “1000 UK Number One Hits,” he was quoted as having said, “I wanted to cut it again but I don’t think we could have done it right. You need horns to knock that riff out.”
But the song was released anyway. And it not only becoming a commercial success. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” entered the Billboard Hot 100 within a week of its release. It was on the Hot 100 for 14 weeks, four of which were at the Number 1 spot. The song was also included American version of the Rolling Stones’ album, “Out of Our Heads.”
Worldwide, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” ended up reaching Number 1 in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Germany, Austria and The Netherlands.
A few months after the Rolling Stones released its “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Richards got his wish when Otis Redding recorded a version of the song, with horns. By adding the horns and speeding up the song, Redding played up the urgency and frustration of the narrator. Jagger’s narrator couldn’t get any satisfaction, but Redding’s narrator sounded like he was about to pee his pants if he didn’t tell you right this minute.
As you might be able to tell, not all of Jagger’s lyrics made it onto Redding’s version. “I use a lot of words different than the Stones’ version,” Redding later said. “That’s because I made them up.” Musician and producer Steve Cropper later explained how that happened, saying, “I set down to a record player and copied down what I thought the lyrics were and I handed Otis a piece of paper and before we got through with the cut, he threw the paper on the floor and that was it.”
By the end of 1965, at least a dozen more artists covered “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Of all of them, the most noteworthy versions were this one by The Strangeloves on its “I Want Candy”…
This version by a husky-voiced Chris Farlowe…
… and this instrumental version by The Ventures.
Manfred Mann’s 1966 EP, “Instrumental Asylum,” was a collection of modern pop and rock songs. The band’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was mostly instrumental, save for its use of the “hey hey hey, that’s what I say” from the chorus. The track maintained the signature guitar riff, but added some meandering jazz flourishes, including horns and keyboards. The song was later included on the 1967 album, “Soul of Mann.”
Aretha Franklin included a cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on her 1967 album, “Aretha Arrives.” Simply titled “Satisfaction,” Franklin’s version was faster, with added horns and piano. She left out some of Jagger’s verses, including the one about the man on the TV talking about how white the shirts could be, and added a new set of lyrics:
Well, I don’t know what I can do
When I just can’t do no more
Each thing new and different I try
Seems to turn out to be one big bore
That version ended up getting high praise from Jagger, who told Rolling Stone in 1968 that he liked it better than Redding’s version:
Yeah, I dug [Redding’s version] but … not … well I dug it. I think it’s great cause it’s sort of … no, I’m not going to say. Well, the sounds were great and he was great when he first started off singing but then it sort of went into ‘Ooh, aaah, gotta gotta gitta’ which is great because that’s his scene but I like Aretha Franklin’s better. I was very turned on that Otis cut it.
Bill Cosby covered “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for his seventh album, “Bill Cosby Sings Hooray for the Salvation Army Band!” It was his second studio album to feature his singing, and was collection of covers of then-popular pop and rock songs. It sounds like cartoonishly filtered take of Redding’s version, but beyond that, it’s hard to listen to now that several women have accused him of sexual assault and shared disturbingly vivid stories. All of his work is tainted by that now, but particularly his cover of this song, given the context of the lyrics.
In 1968, Sandie Shaw released an album called “The Sandie Shaw Supplement,” named after her TV show of the same name. It included several covers, including a version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Richards’ riff was in tact, but even heavier and more distorted. Like Franklin, Shaw left out the part about the man talking about how white the shirts could be.
“Bubblerock Is Here to Stay” was a 1972 album that producer and musician Jonathan King released under the name Bubblerock. It included a folky, almost-country version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that became a UK Top 30 hit in 1974. But it now suffers the same problem as Cosby’s version, as King was later convicted of sexually abusing children.
Two experimental covers of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” were released toward the end of the ’70s: The Residents’ noisy and abrasive “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” released in 1976…
…and Devo’s less aggressive new wave cover, released as a single in 1977 and part of the 1978 album, “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”
Both versions slowed the song down, rendering Richards’ riff barely recognizable. When reviewing The Residents’ cover for Dangerous Minds, Brad Laner wrote:
The Residents’ 1976 version of The Stones’ “Satisfaction” is nearly everything the better known version by Devo from a year later is not: Loose, belligerant, violent, truly fucked up. A real stick in the eye of everything conventionally tasteful in 1976 America. Delightfully painful to listen to thanks to Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman’s completely unhinged lead guitar and mystery Resident member’s menacing vocal, this is a timeless piece of yellow plastic.
Dance-pop singer Samantha Fox covered “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for her self-titled second album, released in 1987. It was overwhelming and overstimulating, featuring synthesizers, drum machines, and backup singers. Her delivery was too smooth and peppy for a song supposed to be about frustration. She made up for it a year later when she nailed her cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You.”
The 1988 movie “Satisfaction” featured Justine Bateman and Julia Roberts as members of an all-female band called The Mystery. The soundtrack, which included a cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” was credited to Justine Bateman & The Mystery. In reality, it was Bateman singing lead vocals and costar (and future Luna member) Britta Phillips singing background vocals while session musicians played the songs.
Tom Jones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” from the album “Move Closer,” felt like a cheesier version of Fox’s version, because in addition to the drum machines and back-up singers it had, well, Tom Jones. If you make far enough to the part where he talks about the man talking about how white his shirts could be, you might chuckle at Jones’ altering of “cigarettes” to “cigars.” If you get that far.
Vanilla Ice had commercial success with his single “Ice Ice Baby” and its parent album, “To The Extreme.” But that album was actually an overhaul of a previous Vanilla Ice, 1989’s “Hooked.” Most of the songs on “Hooked” made it onto “To The Extreme,” but one that didn’t was “Satisfaction,” a song that sampled the riff and chorus of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It does not hold up, as it paints Vanilla Ice as a lecherous sleazeball.
Chan Marshall, performing under the stage name Cat Power, covered “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for her 2000 album, “The Covers Record.” Cat Power stripped the song of its riff and all instrumentation except a guitar. In her hands, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was a quiet meditation. She left out the chorus, but even though she didn’t say the words “I can’t get no satisfaction,” her frustration was clear.
Britney Spears’ second studio album, “Oops!… I Did It Again,” featured a reworked ” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” produced by R&B/hip-hop producer Rodney Jerkins. Spears and Jerkins would team up again for her cover of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” on 2001’s “Britney.” The covers sounded similar, but her take on “Satisfaction” sounded more jarringly different from the original, as Jerkins chopped and slowed down the riff. When she got to the part about the man talking about how white the shirts could be, Spears left out the lyrics about cigarettes and white shirts altogether, changing the words to:
When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that girl comes on and tells me
How tight my skirts should be
She can’t tell me who to be
‘Cause I’ve got my own identity
In 2008, Hip-O Records released a 2-CD collection of rarities by The Supremes called, “Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Motown Lost & Found).” The Supremes’ version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” had horns, but unlike the horns in the versions by Redding and Franklin, these horns don’t compete with the vocals. Diana Ross sounds as confident as other, but is still able to convey the frustration of Jagger’s lyrics.
When recording the 1965 album, “Beach Boys’ Party!,” The Beach Boys recorded a few versions of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but neither made it onto the album. But they did make it onto a 2015 remix of the album, called “Beach Boys’ Party!, Uncovered and Unplugged.” On both version #1…
…and version #2…
…one can tell that the band members are goofing off, as they don’t even attempt to stifle their laughter.
These versions only scratch the surface, as the song has been covered at least 200 times. That isn’t surprising, of course; critically, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” has been hailed not just as one of the best Rolling Stones songs, but one of the best songs in history. When Rolling Stone compiled its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was listed at Number 2, just behind ob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” (Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” was listed at Number 5.)
And it’s not hard to see why the song is so revered. As noted in the aforementioned “1000 UK Number One Hits”:
…[the song] would be a great record even if it ended before Mick Jagger sang. Keith Richards wrote an explosive rock’n’roll riff which belongs alongside ‘Bo Did- dley’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, ‘La Bamba’, ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Summertime Blues’. Like those classics, the riff hypnotically continues throughout the record. You become hooked to the rhythm which is why ‘Satisfaction’ is such a perfect party record as well as one which summed a whole Sixties attitude.
Richards, Jagger, and The Rolling Stones ending up doing so much that solidified their rock legacies, but that riff sure helped. And it’s because that riff is so iconic, it was surprising to learn that Richards wasn’t satisfied with it. Then again, that makes sense right? If he’s not going to be satisfied with one of his songs, shouldn’t it be a song about not being satisfied?