What makes a great song? It is a question that confounded musicians and music lovers alike for countless years. It’s much the same as asking ourselves why we like a certain song more than another; there’s no real way of telling. Perhaps the melody glides down a scale in a particularly pleasing way, or maybe the rhythm is especially metrical and groove-worthy. But at the end of the day, it’s all subjective. Not for Mick Jagger though. He’s got a theory as to why The Rolling Stones hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ is the group’s signature song. During an interview, he described this theory, breaking down the “ingredients” that helped make the song a mainstay in The Stones’ set.
In 1995, The Rolling Stones frontman took part in an interview in which he was asked if there was anything left to say about ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’ Much to the interviewer’s surprise, the answer turned out to be yes. According to Jagger, the song was very nearly held back as a B-side because Keith Richards didn’t think the song should be a single.
Thankfully, however, Richards was overruled and the song subsequently transformed The Rolling Stones from a middling rock outfit into the “monster band” we know today. “We weren’t American, and America was a big thing, and we always wanted to make it here,” Jagger said “It was very impressive the way that song and the popularity of the band became a worldwide thing. You know, we went to playing Singapore.”
It is Jagger’s belief that the success of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ was down to a few key ingredients: “It has a very catchy guitar riff,” he said. “It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kind of songs.”
He also added that the song owed some of its success to one of the other great bands of the age: “The Beatles really opened all that up,” he said. “But to do that you needed the song; otherwise you were just a picture in the newspaper, and you had these little hits.”
As Jagger noted, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ perfectly encapsulated the youthful exuberance and defiance of the swinging ’60s, celebrating the energy and vitality of a new generation of young people for whom cultural upheaval was an absolute necessity. On release, it became a huge hit. You can trace its influence around the world by listening to the songs that came out in the following years. In France, for example, its intoxicating main riff was adopted by Jacques Duttronc for his 1969 track ‘Les Responsable’.
Its popularity meant that the track stayed in the US Billboard charts for 14 weeks. In the UK, meanwhile, the song reached number one and held the spot for 12 weeks. Since then, it has been covered by everyone from Otis Redding to Devo, making it one of the most enduring classics of the 1960s. Indeed, even today, few songs evoke that riotous decade strongly as ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. It’s funny to think, that – at the end of the day – it’s all down to one killer riff.