Sometimes misunderstood as a putdown, this is a rare Stones song that treats women as equals. Jagger sings that he "Don't need no beast of burden."
Ron Wood: "That's another one that just came very naturally in the studio. And I slipped into my part and Keith had his going. It may have appeared as though it was planned. We can pick it up today and it will just naturally slip into the groove again with the guitars weaving in a special way. It's quite amazing really. Ever since Keith and I first started to trade licks, it was a very natural thing that, for some unknown reason, if he's playing up high, I'm down low and the other way around. We cross over very naturally. We call it an ancient form of weaving-- which we still are impressed by it to this day. Unexplainable, wonderful things happen with the guitar weaving. There's no plan." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
This isn't about a specific woman. Most women in Stones' songs are composites of many.
A live version from their 1981 US tour was used as the B-side of their "Going To A Go-Go" single.
A beast of burden is an animal that labors for the benefit of man, like an ox or a pack mule.
Keith Richards wrote this, but a lot of the lyrics were improvised in the studio. While the band played, Jagger came in with different lines to fit the music. As a result, some of the lyrics are less than meaningful and a little repetitious.
This song could be allegorical - it was written by Keith as a kind of homage to Mick for having to carry the band while Keith was strung out on heroin: "All your sickness I can suck it up, throw it all at me, I can shrug it off." (thanks, Eric - London, England)
Bette Midler covered this in 1983. Jagger appeared in the video.
The Chinese ministry of culture ordered The Stones not to play this when they performed there in 2003. It was going to be the first time The Stones played in China, but they canceled because of a respiratory disease that was spreading through the country.
Whilst Richards spent much of the '70s insulating himself with drugs, former London School of Economics student Jagger was running the band. However, by the time of Some Girls, Richards wanted to share the workload. Mojo magazine January 2012 asked Richards how much this song was about his relationship with Jagger? He replied; "Mick wrote a lot of it but I laid the general idea on him. At the time Mick was getting used to running the band. Charlie was just the drummer, I was just the other guitar player. I was trying to say, 'OK I'm back, so let's share a bit more of the power, share the weight, brother."