About The Song

Background

Released in 1969 as the opening track on The Rolling Stones’ album Let It Bleed, “Gimme Shelter” is a raw and powerful song that confronts the violence and anxieties of the late 1960s. The decade began with a spirit of optimism and social change, but by 1969, the Vietnam War raged on, the idealism of the Civil Rights Movement had been challenged by riots and assassinations, and the counterculture movement was fracturing.

The song’s writing reflected this turbulent time. Mick Jagger, inspired by headlines and a violent incident at a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, California, penned the lyrics. Altamont, a free concert intended to be a “Woodstock West,” descended into chaos when a Hells Angels motorcycle gang, hired for security, stabbed and killed a concertgoer. Keith Richards, the band’s guitarist, contributed the song’s bluesy riff and menacing atmosphere.

Musical Style

“Gimme Shelter” is a blues-rock song driven by Richards’ distorted guitar riff, which sets the song’s dark and ominous mood. Charlie Watts’ drumming provides a steady and propulsive beat, while Bill Wyman’s bass line lays down a solid foundation. Mick Jagger’s vocals are raw and impassioned, conveying a sense of desperation and paranoia.

The song features a memorable gospel-influenced bridge sung by Merry Clayton, an American gospel singer. Jagger initially requested a backing vocal, but Clayton’s powerful and emotional performance, recorded late at night after a break-up, became a central element of the song. Her vocals add a layer of desperation and pleading to the lyrics, mirroring the anxieties of the era.

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Lyrics

The lyrics of “Gimme Shelter” are bleak and apocalyptic. The opening lines, “Oh, a storm is threat’ning / My very life today,” set the tone for the song’s exploration of violence, fear, and the search for safety. The constant repetition of the phrase “Gimme Shelter” creates a sense of urgency and desperation. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a world on the brink, where violence is ever-present and love seems out of reach.

However, the song’s meaning is open to interpretation. Jagger has stated that the lyrics are not specifically about Altamont, but rather a commentary on the general atmosphere of violence and social unrest of the time. Lines like “Rape, murder – it’s just a shot away” are shocking in their directness, highlighting the brutality that can erupt beneath the surface of society.

Cultural Impact

“Gimme Shelter” became an instant classic and one of The Rolling Stones’ most enduring songs. Its dark and gritty sound captured the disillusionment of a generation and the song’s themes of violence and social unrest resonated with audiences.

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The song’s association with the Altamont concert further cemented its place in rock history. The documentary film “Gimme Shelter,” which chronicled the concert and its tragic events, used the song as its title track, further solidifying the connection.

“Gimme Shelter” has been covered by numerous artists, including Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, and Santana, a testament to its lasting influence. The song has also been featured in countless films and television shows, solidifying its place in popular culture.

Conclusion

“Gimme Shelter” is more than just a rock song; it’s a powerful snapshot of a tumultuous time in history. The song’s raw energy, bleak lyrics, and haunting vocals continue to resonate with listeners today. It serves as a reminder of the darkness that can lurk beneath the surface of society and the constant human desire for safety and security.

While written in a specific historical context, the song’s themes of violence, fear, and the search for shelter remain relevant, making “Gimme Shelter” an enduring and powerful piece of music.

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Video

Lyrics

🎵 Let’s sing along with the lyrics! 🎤

Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade awayWar, 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 awayOoh, see the fire is sweepin’
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost your way

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

Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

The floods is threat’ning
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
Kiss away, kiss away

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