‘Gimme Shelter’ or ‘Gimmie Shelter’
as originally named, was released by Decca Records in 1969 on The Rolling
Stones number one album Let It Bleed. Written by vocalist Mick Jagger and
Guitarist Keith Richards, the lyrics portray and define the vulnerability and
fear for life in the late 1960’s. We can draw parallels between Gimme Shelter
and the counterculture, racism, new technology, world events and youth that was
found at the time. Although The Rolling Stones are a UK rock band, the album as
a whole and specifically my chosen song depicts ‘the desperation for shelter’
in the USA in 1969.
begin with the Vietnam war. ‘Fifty-nine thousand soldiers were killed and over
three hundred thousand were debilitated’ (USA
National Archives, n.d.) throughout the lengthy conflict and
‘over half a million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians’ (Abbott, 2016) are still being identified to this day.
The horror of this conflict is unimaginable for most, especially those who
weren’t alive at the time however, through music we can begin to understand the
true nature of just how horrific the war was. For example, the first two lines
of the first verse ‘Ooh, a storm is threat’ning, my very life today’. This,
according to Jagger is a metaphor for the Vietnam war and his feeling that ‘the
world was closing in on you’ (NPR, 2012, p. NPR). This can be
justified as man-made warfare paired with natural disasters at the time forced
fear into the hearts of the public and it was common belief that death was
‘just a shot away’.
parallel we can draw between Vietnam and Gimme Shelter is through the line ‘The
fire is sweeping’. Vietnam was particularly horrific due to the nature of
weaponry used against a developing opposition whose technological warfare was
certainly not up to the same standard. This reference specifically refers to
the devastating ‘napalm, herbicide poisoning and bombings’ (Robert, 2016) that destroyed huge areas of the
Vietnamese jungle. The idea of ‘spreading’ can be juxtaposed with the napalm
strikes as it represents the ‘anger and protests that gained national
prominence in 1965 over the violence and expense’ (Williams, 2010) of the conflict.
can compare the war on the streets of the USA and the UK with the war in
Vietnam. Race played a huge part in 1960’s culture. In the UK in 1968, just
months before the recording of Gimme Shelter, a controversial speech was given
expressing the ‘concerns over mass commonwealth immigration’ (Powell, 1968) which featured on the Beatles song ‘Get
Back’ and due to the changing times and culture led to the adjournment of
Powell’s position. The USA had and still has problems of its own when it comes
to race. In the 1960’s African Americans were experiencing ‘extreme public
violence’ (Coop, 1992)
which saw the brutal beatings by police officers as well as white politicians
encouraging segregation with political bills such as the Southern Manifesto. Again,
we experience the need for ‘shelter’ as at the time our own streets were not
music and especially The Stones was a way of integrating all races with white
youth listening to what was known as black music. It’s well known The Stones
biggest influence is blues music, the same can be said for the whole of rock
and roll. Although not explicitly
mentioned in the song, the live performances are places where everyone from any
background can come together and listen to good music.
isn’t the case when it came to the Altamont Free Concert at the Altamont
Speedway in 1969. The invention of new technology as mentioned with weaponry
earlier has a huge effect on how society functions, the new weaponry overseas
was killing thousands however the new inventions were also causing problems in
the western world. A perfect example of this in the 60’s is the invention of Lysergic acid diethylamide
(LSD). Many 60’s rock bands were
heavily influenced by this creation. ‘The Doors, The Beatles and The Grateful
Dead’ (Wikipedia, 2015) are examples of this. The bands almost
encouraging use of mind altering substances filtered down into the 60’s counterculture.
Unfortunately, the concert at Altamont is renowned for its extreme violence and
the untimely death of a young African American man Meredith Hunter who was
stabbed by a member of the white biker group The Hell’s Angels. This was
accompanied by three accidental deaths one of which was LSD induced.
heavy use of LSD went hand in hand with the youth at the time. It was almost
‘religious symbolism’ (Wikipedia, 2015) to be under the influence of such drugs
at 60’s rock concerts. The youth however, have probably been responsible for
all the points I have mentioned above. Anti-war protests were ‘mainly attended’
by young people who believed it was time for change. This can still be seen now
with ‘more than half of those aged 18-24’ (Holder, et al., 2017) wanting a more free
and liberal society. In the 60’s particularly the hippy movement, which began
in San Francisco in the early 60’s, wanted a free and integrated society. This
accompanied with psychedelic substances made for a brilliant sub culture that
is common today.
the contrary to the violence, uncertainty and vulnerability of the times
Richards has said his inspiration for this song came from watching people
‘running for shelter from a sudden monsoon’ (NPR, 2012).
This is interesting as it differs from Jagger’s perspective however, you can’t
help but compare the sight of people running from a storm from the civilians
escaping the napalm strikes in Vietnam. This just highlights the thoughts of
the world at the time as Richard’s goes on to say how the lyrics ‘Rape, murder’
naturally came to him while watching the situation play out.
marry the hippy movement, the new technology, young people, race and world
events with Gimme Shelter I’d like to highlight the outro to the song. ‘I’ll
tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away’. This line is Jagger and Richards
way of saying it’s easier to love one another than it is to fight. Instead of
‘death being a shot away’, ‘love is just a kiss away’ (Jagger & Richard’s, 1969).