Things moved fast in the music business back in 1965. Within mere months of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards coming up with the main riff, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the band’s first #1 single in the U.S.
Richards has said that he woke up in his home in St. John’s Wood, London, in the middle of the night, with the riff in his head. He had a tape recorder nearby, and recorded the riff on an acoustic guitar along with the phrase “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Richards explains what happened in his autobiography, Life: “I had no idea I’d written it, it’s only thank God for the little Philips cassette player. The miracle being that I looked at the cassette player that morning and I knew I’d put a brand-new tape in the previous night, and I saw it was at the end.”
Richards says that apart from the riff, the tape contained forty minutes of the guitarist snoring.
Two versions of the song were recorded. The first one was an acoustic version that the band cut at Chess Studios in Chicago on May 10, 1965. Two days later they recorded the electric version at RCA Studios in Hollywood. For the main riff, Richards used the Gibson Maestro Fuzz Tone, and in the process becoming one of the first rock musicians to use a fuzz box on a recording. Says Richards about the Maestro in his autobiography: “It was down to one little foot pedal, the Gibson fuzz tone, a little box they put out at that time.”
Richards hadn’t intended for the fuzz riff to be part of the final version of the song, but to be used as a guide for adding a horn section at a later time. He has said that he was surprised when he heard “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on the radio for the first time, because he didn’t even know it had been released. In Keith’s mind the song was just a demo. To give you an idea of what Keith was envisioning, listen to Otis Redding’s horn-filled soul version of the song, which came out just a few months after the Stones’ version. Musically, “Satisfaction” shares some similarities with Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” which reportedly had the band worried they would get in to trouble if the song was released.
Brian Jones played acoustic guitar on the song, while Richards played electric with a clean sound during the verses, and fuzz for the chorus. Since the recording equipment in the mid-sixties was quite limited, Keith recorded both sounds on the same track, giving the song more of an organic feel, as if it’s being performed live. If you listen closely, you can actually hear a “pop” when Richards stomps on the Maestro at about 36 seconds in to the song, and at various points he turns it on a note too late or too early - but hey, it’s only rock n’ roll!
Mick Jagger, who wrote the lyrics to the song, aside from the title, spoke about their meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine “It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kind of songs [...] Which was alienation. Or it’s a bit more than that, maybe, but a kind of sexual alienation. Alienation’s not quite the right word, but it’s one word that would do
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” might not be the Stones’ best work, but the song is special since it is responsible for taking the band to a whole new level in the U.S. It was a stepping-stone that led to songs like “Get Off of My Cloud,” and “Paint it Black.” One can speculate that if it weren’t for the band’s success with “Satisfaction” we might never have gotten songs like “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “Brown Sugar.”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was voted number one by VH1 in their 100 Greatest Rock Songs in 2000, and it came in second in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2010.