The Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil

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Sympathy for the Devil is one of the few Stones songs which Mick Jagger wrote alone, without the help of his buddy Keith Richard. At first, he said it was based on a poem of Baudelaire. But later he said it was inspired by The Master and Margarita, which Marianne Faithfull would have offered to him as a present. Faithfull, who was Jagger's girlfriend at that time, said during an interview with Sylvie Simmons from the magazine Mojo in 2005: «I got Mick to read 'The Master and Margarita' and out of that, after discussing it at length with me, he wrote that song».

There are many remarkable similarities between Sympathy for the Devil and Bulgakov's novel. The song starts with «Please allow me to introduce myself , I'm a man of wealth and taste», which parallels strongly the introduction of Woland to Ivan and Berlioz in Michael Glenny's translation: «Please excuse me, for permitting myself, without an introduction...» And then follow more references to sentences from The Master and Margarita. It starts with the first stanza matching perfectly with the feelings described by Woland when he talks about Pilate:

«And I was around when Jesus Christ had His moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed His fate.»

And it continues at the beginning of the second stanza with famous events from Russian history which are explicitly or indirectly commented by Bulgakov in the novel.

«I stuck around St. Petersburg when I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Tzar and his ministers, Anastasia screamed in vain.»

For your information: Anastasia is youngest daughter of the czar presumed to have been murdered with her family in July, 1918. Rumors have persisted of her possible escape. In February 1920 she would have been dredged up from the river in Berlin, totally ragged, and suffering from amnesia...

The atmosphere and the construction of the song fit also perfectly with the book. The band worked with rather unusual instruments for a rhytm & bluesband - like congas and maracas - and after a long process of (re)working it became a samba, which Jagger called "hypnotic" and Richards even «insane». Like in the novel Satan dances a cheerful victory dance on the ruins of human civilization. Charlie Watts, the drummer of the band, described it as follows: «The combination of instrumental colors is pretty awe-inspiring. Start with the basic rhythm section - congo rhythms and maracas and such, then add some honky tonk piano. Then there is Keef expressing Satan's personal joy through the famous razor sharp shards of guitar solo. And don't forget the frenzied, high pitched 'woo-wooooo' vocal harmonies from the natives. On top of all this is Mick as an exceptionally articulate and expressive devil who, let us say, really enjoys his work. He is articulate not just in his choice of words, but in the melodic development and precision, the care taken in picking the exact right phrases and pauses to tell the tale for maximum impact. You know, when a magic man like this comes along, the only thing you can really do is follow him and become his willing servant.»

How the song was created starting from a blues ballad can be seen in the movie picture One Plus One made by Jean-Luc Godard in 1968 during the recording of Sympathy For The Devil. The growth process of the song is shown in combination with wayward images of a Black Power demonstration and an interview with Eve Democracy.

And finally another cute trivia: Ray Manzarek, member of the legendary band The Doors, but trained as a movie maker, had for a long time hoped - just like Roman Polanski - to make a movie picture based on The Master and Margarita. He wanted Mick Jagger to play the role of Professor Woland. Jerry Hall, Jagger's girlfriend at that time, said to Manzarek: «Don't make the movie until he's finished with the tour. It's his favorite book! The part is his! He is Professor Woland.»

Technical details

The Rolling Stones - Sympathy For The Devil

Sympathy For The Devil (CD Single remixed in 2003)

Mick Jagger (vocals)
Keith Richard (guitar, bass guitar, backing vocals)
Brian Jones (guitar, backing vocals)
Bill Wyman (maracas)
Charlie Watts (drums)
Nicky Hopkins (piano, backing vocals)
Rocky Dijon (congas)
Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, Jimmy Miller (backing vocals)

Decca/Amkco Records


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