The Rolling Stones song Keith Richards said was “built to last a lifetime”

There may not be a single rock and roll musician on Earth who hasn’t taken some inspiration from The Rolling Stones in some form. Starting as the edgy alternative to The Beatles, the partnership between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards made the genre more sinister across tracks like ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’. Although ‘Keef’ could pump out one incredible riff after another, he wrote something timeless with one of their protest tunes.

In the wake of the summer of love, The Stones were starting to see the darker side of flower power. After dealing with Brian Jones succumbing to his demons, albums like Their Satanic Majesties Request featured Richards taking a more prominent role, coming up with one riff after the next to create a beautiful tapestry of sound.

As it looked like things weren’t getting better, Beggars Banquet saw the band return to what they loved more than anything: the blues. Crafting tales of dejected men scorned by their lovers or just lost in the world, the song ‘Street Fighting Man’ stood out for every edgy rock and roller as various protests began.

Considering the fallout and backlash of the Vietnam War, young music fans were looking to turn up songs that rallied against those who sent innocent people off to die. As if to comment on the proceedings, ‘Street Fighting Man’ was a look at what The Rolling Stones’ role was in the world now — there’s nothing left for a poor boy to do except sing in a rock and roll band.

When talking about the song’s construction, Richards thought that the acoustic/electric hybrid gave the song a world of its own, saying, “You had this very electric sound, but at the same time, you had that curious and beautiful ring that only an acoustic guitar can give you”.

While the cutting sound of the guitar in open-G tuning is the sonic personification of The Stones, Richards thought that the key behind the song was being able to work off of Charlie Watts’s drum figure, explaining, “I’m the rhythm player. I’m not a virtuoso soloist or anything like that. To work together with the drummer that’s my joy. This record, to me, is one of the examples of what can happen when two cats believe in each other”.

Despite not having a proper solo, the song works because of how much it grooves. Rather than structure the tune after a knockout riff or an intricate vocal line, the power behind ‘Street Fighting Man’ is its simple appeal, sounding like a motto that any average rock and roll fan could sing about when preparing for a scrap in the streets.

That didn’t do anything to endear The Stones to the establishment, though. In a handful of cases, any performance of the song was banned in certain factions of the US for fear that it would incite riots in the streets.

While The Rolling Stones were never ones to advocate for violence, ‘Street Fighting Man’ remains a staple of classic rock history because of its message of standing up for what one thinks is right. As Richards said of the song retrospectively, “These riffs were built to last a lifetime”.

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