Midnight Rambler

Album: Let It Bleed (1969)

Songfacts®:

  • In this song, Mick Jagger takes on the persona of killer who is stalking his victim. This character calls himself the "midnight rambler" and he seems to relish his notoriety - much like many real-life serial killers.

    A likely inspiration for the lyric is the case of the Boston Strangler. Thirteen women were found dead (many had been sexually assaulted) in and around Boston from 1962-1964. Most of the victims had been strangled and were found with their nylon stockings tied in a bow around their necks.

    In 1965, Albert DeSalvo, who was serving time in a mental institution on rape charges, confessed to the murders and was later sentenced to life in prison. There was no clear physical evidence that DeSalvo committed the crimes, however, and his confession has been questioned, with some forensic experts stating that there may have been multiple killers. DeSalvo died in prison in 1973; new evidence has come up in the case from time to time.

    As for the song, while the lyrics do not directly relate to the case, Jagger implies it when he sings, "Well you heard about the Boston..." before an instrumental stab cuts him off.
  • The Stones played this in 1969 and throughout the '70s at their concerts, and when they did, it was a showstopper. Mick Jagger created a morbid atmosphere as he took the role of the killer, spastically whipping the floor toward the end of the song as the audience would scream along.

    These performances were enhanced by a custom light rig that their lighting director, Chip Monck, created for the band's 1969 US tour. This was the first lighting system to travel with a rock band, and The Stones used it to great effect on this song. At the climax, the lights would shine red on Jagger in a very theatrical moment.
  • Mick Jagger: "That's a song Keith and I really wrote together. We were on a holiday in Italy. In this very beautiful hill town, Positano, for a few nights. Why we should write such a dark song in this beautiful, sunny place, I really don't know. We wrote everything there - the tempo changes, everything. And I'm playing the harmonica in these little cafés, and there's Keith with the guitar." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Brian Jones is credited on percussion. Even though he died before this album was released, a few of the songs were recorded during the Beggar's Banquet sessions in 1968. "Midnight Rambler" was one of them. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Joel - Chicago, IL
  • Mick Taylor added an extra guitar to the live performances of this. The live version can be heard on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out.
  • When Mick Jagger performed this in character on stage, it was good preparation for his acting career. In 1970, he appeared in two films: Ned Kelly and Performance. He would later appear in Freejack (1992) and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001).
  • Keith Richards: "When we did Midnight Rambler, nobody went in there with the idea of doing a blues opera, basically. Or a blues in four parts. That's just the way it turned out. I think that's the strength of the Stones or any good band. You can give them a song half raw and they'll cook it."
  • This was used in The Office episode "Pam's Replacement" from season 8. Robert California and his friends play it when they take over Andy, Kevin, and Darryl's band.

Comments: 19

  • Dav from Woburn, MaWhile the version on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out showcases some amazing guitar weaving by Keef and Mick Taylor, I gotta say the studio version is immensely better. It is so much darker and scarier (well, not really, but you get the idea) than the live one. The harmonica in the middle of the song is purely haunting.
  • Lovelyrita from Pepperland, VtLove the song. One of their best and one of my favorites. Ever noticed around the 3:48 mark of the album version of the song during the "Oh don't do that", someone sounds like they either burped or passed gas and Mick sounds like he asks "did you do that?" Then, he and Keith proceed to laugh. Oh those crazy kids!
  • Joe from Adelaide,The lyrics suggest that de salvo was not responsible eg.'u heard bout the boston shh...its not one of those'
  • Heather from Los Angeles, CaThe Blues sound in this song is what makes it haunting and the harmonica lends a dark, southern sound. Which is odd because it's about a northeastern serial killer. I liked the sound before I knew what the lyrics were about. There's not too much comment here on what it actually means, which is pretty horrific. In a way it's like a Broadside Ballad, telling a ghastly tale by way of a song. Think of the old ballad, "Pretty Polly"....
  • Craig from Melbourne, AustraliaThe Ya-ya's version is great, until you realise it's severely edited. The Brussels Affair version is quite simply the most powerful thing you will ever hear. They did this song in Melbourne in 2003 and i could not beleive the power! I even said to my wife "I cannot believe a band could rock so hard". This song is a musical lesson!
  • Steven Cooper from Sheboygan, WiThe Stones when I was in the 11th grade were wonderful. I saw them from 10 rows back in Baltimore. Mick Jagger performed Midnight Rambler, whipping the stage with his thick, silver-studded leather belt. Twas a wonderful performance. It was just days before Let It Bleed, the album containing it was released ....
  • Andrew from New York, United StatesLove this one. Capo at the 7th fret and go nuts with blues bass figures followed by open D and A chord forms, pulling off each to their sus2 and 7th forms...great fun to play!
  • Rob from Queens, NyI think the best version of Midnight Rambler I've ever heard is off the bootleg album "A Brussels Affair." It's 13 minutes of pure genius.
  • Brent S from Salem, OrAbsolutely the best song the Stones ever have done, at least the live version on "Ya-Ya's". I've worn out 3 albums, 5 tapes, and am on my 2nd CD of that album. Amazing and still holds up after all these years. It's too bad that it was cut from the movie, would love to see it.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIs the version on "Hot Rocks" the same as the one on "Yayas." It must be, because one of you mentioned someone said "...Love Jesus" or "We love Jesus" or something at the beginning of that track. The "love Jesus" bit also appears at the beginning of this song on 'Hot Rocks." Just to be sure though, I'm asking you guys. Is it the same?
  • Rob from Glendale, NyMy favorite song ever, this song live
    is even better that on the album "Let it Bleed"
  • Lucy from Wellington, New Zealandi went to the rolling stones concert in wellington, new zealand a week ago and this song blew my mind away. it was an amazing concert. midnight rambler was definately one of the stand out songs. they also did a great sympathy for the devil and the whole crowd was going..."woo woo"....before mick even started singing. the last song was satisfaction and i couldnt even hear mick jagger singing because the whole crowd was singing along.
  • Homero from Monterrey , MexicoThis was the best song in the Monterrey concert serlist. Jagger do it very good...
  • Shaun from Carlisle England, Englandi have a 15 minute bootleg version of rambler and it is quite simply the most frightening bit of music i have heard.The evil that is present is mindblowing. Shaun England.
  • Keith from Front Royal, VaThe "Ya-Yas" version of this is the single greatest live recording I've ever heard.
  • Emily from Philadelphia, PaGreat song. The audience starts chanting "Mick!" at the beginning of the live version on Hot Rocks; the whole track is filled with the maniacle screaming of fans.
  • Rick from Fort Worth, TxAt the beginning of this song on the live album "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out" a girl in the audience shouts "We Love Jesus!"
  • Damiano from Sasso Marconi, ItalyThis is my favourite song. After some concerts I finally heard it live the first time in Hartford, CT in 1999 on the B stage and I went crazy! You know, we are talking about a pretty demanding song, and "the guys" are not bubblegummers.... but they shocked me once more! I saw them playing it also in Milan in 2003, another great performance! Beautiful dirty scathing song, extraordinary group, simply the best in the Rock history...
  • Eric from Franklin, MaI love this stones song. It's got a lot of dark imagery in it.Made me actually think more of Jack The Ripper than DeSalvo but that could be because of the timing of the song. The killer does this stuff at night so it made me think of The Ripper.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

P.F. SloanSongwriter Interviews

P.F. was a teenager writing hits and playing on tracks for Jan & Dean when he wrote a #1 hit that got him blackballed.

Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"They're Playing My Song

It wasn't her biggest hit as a songwriter (that would be "Bette Davis Eyes"), but "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" had a family connection for Jackie.

Yoko OnoSongwriter Interviews

At 80 years old, Yoko has 10 #1 Dance hits. She discusses some of her songs and explains what inspired John Lennon's return to music in 1980.

Randy NewmanSongwriting Legends In Their Own Words

Newman makes it look easy these days, but in this 1974 interview, he reveals the paranoia and pressures that made him yearn for his old 9-5 job.

Yacht Rock!Song Writing

A scholarly analysis of yacht rock favorites ("Steal Away," "Baker Street"...) with a member of the leading YR cover band.

Booker T. JonesSongwriter Interviews

The Stax legend on how he cooked up "Green Onions," the first time he and Otis Redding saw hippies, and if he'll ever play a digital organ.