Meaning Behind The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”

Coming to life in a barrage of cutting strums and thundering drums like shots from heavy artillery, the Rolling Stones’ 1968 searing rock classic “Street Fighting Man” perfectly encapsulates a specific moment in time.

The tune came to be during an age of socio-political unrest, inspired by the sounds of a violent period that bore outrage and outrage that bore violence. The song’s meaning was shaped by such upheaval, becoming the song that would forever trap in amber the spirit of the late 1960s.

Behind the Song
Before “Street Fighting Man,” the Rolling Stones’ music never had much of a political bent. However, riots condemning the Vietnam War had erupted across Europe and North America, and it wasn’t until the band’s frontman Mick Jagger attended an anti-war demonstration in London’s Grosvenor Square that suddenly changed.

Everywhere I hear the sound of marchin’, chargin’ feet, boy, the song opens against an earth-quaking arrangement, ‘Cause summer’s here and the time is right / For fighting in the street, boy. The summer single from the group’s acclaimed 1968 album Beggars Banquet, “Street Fighting Man” mirrored the chaos Jagger had witnessed during the protests. The demonstrators marched on the American embassy building, which resulted in a clash between protestors and police, ending with hundreds hospitalized or arrested.

Well now, what can a poor boy do? / ‘Cept to sing for a rock-n-roll band, Jagger asks in his theatrical croon. He expresses a feeling of helpless in the fight, singing ‘Cause in sleepy London Town / There’s just no place for street fighting man.

He adds that the time is right for revolution, But where I live, the game to play is compromise solution. The song makes powerful, rallying statements, but also harbors some reservations, almost weary of rattling cages.

Hey, said my name is called disturbance, one verse plays, promising I’ll shout and scream / I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants just to again ask Well now, what can a poor boy do? / ‘Cept to sing for a rock-n-roll band and insist that There’s just no place for street fighting man.

Fearing that the song would further the tensions already bubbling over, several U.S. radio stations refused to play the song. “The radio stations that banned the song told me that ‘Street Fighting Man’ was subversive,” Jagger once noted. “‘Of course it’s subversive,’ we said. It’s stupid to think you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *