What is the meaning behind Mick Jagger’s song “Sympathy for the Devil”?

MICHAEL writes:

Taken from a search, we find this insightful snapshot, given to provide some explanation for Sympathy For The Devil”. I find it interesting and coinciding with the reality perception back in the day.

The Story behind ‘Sympathy For The Devil’

Over the last 50 years the Jagger/Richards songwriting partnership has produced some of the most controversial yet innovative Rock N Roll songs, which have had a massive impact on society. For example when “Street Fighting Man” was released many radio stations banned it due to race & student protests it helped inspire. However, when The Rolling Stones released “Sympathy For The Devil” all hell broke lose as Mick Jagger literally sings in first person as the devil.

Background and inspiration

The main lyrical inspiration for “Sympathy For The Devil” come from a combination of sources Mick Jagger referenced back in 1968. One known source is Charles Baudelaire the French writer and the other is Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel ‘The Master And The Margarita’. His then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull gifted the latter to him. The book features the Russian writer skillfully blending fantasy with social satire. Baudelaire for example compares the life of Jesus Christ with that of an artist in Soviet Russia, against the backdrop of arbitrary attest and psychiatric hospitals.

There are two main concepts of his work that are featured heavily in the song, which are the reversal of values and the confusion of reality and appearance. In the song this is referenced as the devil being featured as a man with taste, and every cop is a criminal while every sinner saints. Even Christ is remembered for his pain but also for his moments of doubt. As these lyrics mentally register with the listener one may begin to think has evil trumped over good? That being said it’s nothing more than fantasy despite Mick Jagger’s persistence towards the end of the song by yelling, “Tell me baby, what’s my name? Tell me honey, can ya guess my name?” Apart from the religious themes featured in the song Jagger references other important events that occurred in the twentieth century, which is the October Revolution, the assassination of the Tsar and his ministers, WWII & the assassination of the Kennedy Brothers. If you look closely enough Jagger almost wrote the lyrics in a ‘Dylanesque poetic verse’

In reality the message of “Sympathy For The Devil” is hardly different from that of “Gimme Shelter” as the philosophy of Peace and Love as heard on “All You Need Is Love” was dead even before it began. The realities of the 60’s will be the Vietnam War and the violence that carried forward into the 70’s.

Recording of the Song

“The first time I ever heard the song was when Mick was playing it at the front door of a house I lived in Sussex. It was at dinner; he played it entirely on his own, the sun was going down and it was fantastic”

Charlie Watts on the first time he heard Sympathy for the devil

One may assume that the Jagger/Richards songwriting partnership works in a way where Jagger would write the lyrics and Keith Richards would write the music. However, nothing could be further than the truth as in this instance Mick Jagger wrote both the lyrics & the music for Sympathy for the devil. Keith Richards’s contribution was assisting Mick in helping him find his rhythm. He is quoted saying, “I was just trying to figure out if it was a Samba or a goddam folk song”. This can be witnessed thanks to the movie Sympathy For The Devil, which Jean-Luc Godard filmed as the band was recording the song at Olympic Studios. Here you can see the transformation of the song as it develops from a folk song to an epic Rock N Roll samba, which incorporates Brazilian dance musical elements.

That ends it here, with a multitude of banter around “Sympathy For The Devil” which captured the R&R world by storm. That storm brought protests against the Stones for being Devil worshippers and Mick alone being a modern day Lucifer. Nothing of these types of protest were fact bound, but the hysteria that the song and Jagger sung went on for years. Till this day, you just might find, people who promote Jagger as Lucifer and Mick probably thinking “But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, You get what you need”. All’s well that ends well, in real life, but it never ends in R&R. Personally, I’ve seen the Stones play the song while Mick sings and feel the R&R heartbeat just the same as any other of their R&R songs. I don’t pay any homage to the devil, Satan, Lucifer or any other satanic forces or alignment other than it just painting a picture with a R&R song with another story to put to music. To me, it’s fiction, all the way from the concept to writing, to playing on stage, and ultimately cashing in at the bank. It’s R&R music to my ears without a scintilla of fact with regards of Jagger being a real life Lucifer. That’s it for me, said enough, RockOn and “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (but I Like It)”.

So, here are the lyrics & song for your review :


Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith

And I was 'round when Jesus Christ Had his moment of doubt and pain. Made damn sure that Pilate, Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name But what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game

Stuck around St. Petersburg When I saw it was a time for a change Killed the Tsar and his ministers Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank Held a general's rank When the blitzkrieg raged And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name, oh yeah Ah, what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game, oh yeah

I watched with glee While your kings and queens Fought for ten decades For the gods they made

I shouted out Who killed the Kennedys? When after all It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself I'm a man of wealth and taste And I laid traps for troubadours Who get killed before they reached Bombay

Pleased to meet you Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah But what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby

Pleased to meet you Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah But what's confusing youIs just the nature of my game

Just as every cop is a criminal And all the sinners saints As heads is tails Just call me Lucifer' Cause I'm in need of some restraint

So if you meet me Have some courtesy Have some sympathy, and some taste Use all your well-learned politnesse Or I'll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah

Pleased to meet you Hope you guessed my name, mm yeah But what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game, mm mean it, get down

Woo, who Oh yeah, get on down Oh yeah Aah yeah

Tell me baby, what's my name? Tell me honey, can ya guess my name? Tell me baby, what's my name? I tell you one time, you're to blame

What's my name Tell me, baby, what's my name? Tell me, sweetie, what's my name?

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