The Rolling Stones are rightly regarded as untouchable monoliths of the rock and roll landscape. The group stood taller than most on the horizon of popular culture in the 20th century. With a reem of intensely danceable rock tunes, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, and Billy Wyman have been adored for decades. Arriving in the boom of the genre in the sixties, the band quickly asserted themselves as the dangerous side of the British invasion.
The Beatles may well have been the biggest sellers for a while, but the Stones always carried a sense of authenticity with them that made them a shoo-in for the rebels of the music scene. For being a major focal point of the decade’s hedonistic scene, The Rolling Stones have still always managed to infiltrate the mainstream, largely down to their ubiquitous rock and roll anthems, which have never really left the collective consciousness. It means that, more so than most bands, The Rolling Stones have been subjected to countless covers. But, which is the band’s favourite?
Well, we have a little inkling as provided to us by the band’s chief riff maker, Keith Richards. Having founded the group alongside Jagger and Jones, Richards is integral to everything that made the Stones such an immovable force over the last years: the partying, the rebellion, the riffs, all of them can be traced back to Richards. It means that he should also have a pretty good grip of the greatest cover of one of the band’s songs.
There have been some serious contenders for the accolade. From Aretha Franklin to DEVO to David Bowie and everyone in between, The Rolling Stones can not only boast some of the most covered songs of all time but some of the best artists to cover them too. But while there are certainly some serious performers on the list of Stones admirers, there is only one man who took their song to a brand new level and, seemingly in doing so, completed a piece of the puzzle that had always been missing from the original song. That man is Otis Redding and his sensational cover of ‘Satisfaction’.
The singer recorded a rendition of ‘Satisfaction’ for his album Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, released in 1965. While he nailed the song’s energy, with help from Steve Cropper’s arrangement, he did seemingly miss a lot of Jagger’s lyrics. Redding once confessing, “That’s because I made them up.”
Cropper, the man largely credited with the inception of the horn-led arrangement, confirmed this by stating: “If you ever listened to the record, you can hardly understand the lyrics, right? I set down to a record player and copied down what I thought the lyrics were, and I handed Otis a piece of paper, and before we got through with the cut, he threw the paper on the floor, and that was it.” According to Jagger, it’s the best one out there: “I think Otis Redding’s ‘Satisfaction’ has got to be in there.”
It’s something that Keith Richards confirms in the clip below, as he notes his favourite Rolling Stones cover, “That’s a hard one,” the guitarist admits with a knowing smile. As Richards tends to do, the guitarist meanders his way through his affection for the cover “First off, Otis’ version of ‘Satisfaction’ — I’m right with ya, pal. What I was doing on that little fuzz box… I made that record, and it was supposed to be like a demo, and we just finished making Aftermath, we went back on the road, and ten days later, I’m hearing it on the radio, and I’m in somewhere like Iowa… and I guess, what I’m trying to say is that little line on the guitar, which has become so bloody famous, was really my sketch of what I thought the horns should be doing. My idea was to use horns.”
It was something that Redding would pick up and turn into the focal point of his own cover. “The record company and the management slipped it out,” continued Richards as he notes the different variations of the song, “and said ‘this is a hit’ and ‘why talk to them if they’re on the road’. I couldn’t argue with that. Otis interpreted it brilliantly.”
There have been plenty of covers of ‘Satisfaction’ over the years, with some landing as incredible pieces all on their own. However, none have seemingly seen the very intent with which the song was constructed and not only implemented it but built on it too. Otis Redding clearly saw the vision of Keith Richards’ miraculous conception and knew exactly how to improve it.