Gimme Shelter is a song by the rock and roll band The Rolling Stones. It first appeared as the opening track on the band's 1969 album Let It Bleed. Although the first word was spelled "Gimmie" on that album, subsequent recordings by the band and other musicians have made "Gimme" the customary spelling.
Inspiration and recording
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "Gimme Shelter" was created from the combined efforts of both the singer and the guitarist. Richards had been working on the song's signature opening in London while Jagger was working on the film Performance. The song takes the form of a churning mid-tempo rocker. It begins with a rhythm guitar intro by Richards, followed by Jagger's lead vocal. On the recording of the album, Jagger said in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, "Well, it's a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense..." On the song itself, he concluded, "That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that."
The lyrics of the song speak of seeking shelter from a coming storm, painting a picture of devastation and social apocalypse while also talking of the power of love:
“ Oh, a storm is threat'ning, My very life today; If I don't get some shelter, Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away ” “ War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away; War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away ”
A much higher-pitched second vocal track is sung by guest vocalist Merry Clayton. On her inclusion, Jagger said in the 2003 book According to... The Rolling Stones, "The use of the female voice was the producer's idea. It would be one of those moments along the lines of "I hear a girl on this track - get one on the phone." Clayton gives her solo performance, and one of the song's most famous pieces, after a solo performed by Richards, repeatedly singing "Rape, murder; It's just a shot away, It's just a shot away," and finally screaming the final stanza. She and Jagger finish the song with the line, "Love, sister, it's just a kiss away." To date it remains one of the most prominent contributions to a Rolling Stones track by a female vocalist.
Recording of the song took place at London's Olympic Sound Studios. in February and March 1969. Clayton's piece was recorded at Los Angeles' Sunset Sound & Elektra Studios in October and November of that same year. Nicky Hopkins performed pianos for the song while the Stones' producer Jimmy Miller provided percussion. Charlie Watts performed drums while Bill Wyman performed bass. Jagger performed harmonica for the piece and sang backup vocals with Richards and Clayton. Guitarist Brian Jones was absent from these sessions. An unreleased version features only Richards providing vocals.
Although popular, "Gimme Shelter" was never released as a single. It quickly became a staple of their live show, first featuring throughout their 1969 American Tour. It has been included on many compilation releases, including both Hot Rocks 1964-1971 and Forty Licks, and concert versions appear on the Stones' albums No Security and Live Licks.
"Gimme Shelter" was placed #38 on the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.
The Rolling Stones
- Mick Jagger – lead vocals, harmonica
- Keith Richards – lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals
- Bill Wyman – bass
- Charlie Watts – drums
- Nicky Hopkins – piano
- Jimmy Miller – percussion
- Merry Clayton – co-lead vocals (credited as "Mary Clayton")