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This is about the political and social unrest at the time. There was the war in Vietnam, race riots, and Charles Manson. Mick Jagger sings of needing shelter from this "Storm."
Keith Richards wrote most of this song. He strummed the opening on an electric-acoustic guitar modeled after a Chuck Berry favorite. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
Merry Clayton is the female vocalist. She was a Gospel singer who did backup vocals for various artists, including Ray Charles. She had a regular role on the '80s TV show Cagney and Lacey, and played a maid in the movie Maid To Order. She released her own version of this song.
At about the 3:04 mark, when Merry Clayton sings the high note on "Murder," you can hear Mick Jagger in the background saying "Whoo!" (thanks, Ben - Hilton, NY)
Jagger: "That song was written during the Vietnam War and so it's very much about the awareness that war is always present; it was very present in life at that point. Mary Clayton who did the backing vocals, was a background singer who was known to one of the producers. Suddenly, we wanted someone to sing in the middle of the night. And she was around. She came with her curlers in, straight from bed, and had to sing this really odd lyric. For her it was a little odd - for anyone, in the middle of the night, to sing this one verse I would have been odd. She was great." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
"Gimme Shelter" is the title of the movie that documented The Stones 1969 tour, including the Altamont concert where a fan was stabbed by a Hell's Angels security guard. The movie was rush released in 1970 to come out before the Woodstock documentary. It was released on video in 1992, and re-released in theaters in 2000 for the 30th anniversary. George Lucas of Star Wars fame was on the crew for the movie. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
The Stones recorded this using old, worn out Triumph amplifiers to get a distinctive sound.
This has been covered by the Goo Goo Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad, and the Sisters of Mercy (who swapped the locations the words "kiss" and "shot" - "War, children, it's just a kiss away" and "Love, sister, it's just a shot away"). Patti Smith recorded it for her 2007 album Twelve. (thanks, christopher - vienna, Austria and Greg - Calgary, Canada)
Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese has used this song in 3 of his films: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed. (thanks, Matthew - Hawthorne, NJ)
Keith Richards stated in his memoir Life (2010): "I wrote 'Gimmie Shelter' on a stormy day, sitting in Robert Fraser's apartment in Mount Street. Anita (Pallenberg) was shooting Performance at the time, not far away... It was just a terrible f--king day and it was storming out there. I was sitting there in Mount Street and there was this incredible storm over London, so I got into that mode, just looking out of Robert's window and looking at all these people with their umbrellas being blown out of their grasp and running like hell. And the idea came to me... My thought was storms on other people's minds, not mine. It just happened to hit the moment." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust
The Sevendust frontman talks about the group's songwriting process, and how trips to the Murder Bar helped forge their latest album.