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Hear the rare alternate take of The Rolling Stones song 'Gimme Shelter'

The Rolling Stones perch atop a mountain of success that wasn’t always promised to them from the early days during their rise to fame. Instead, their humble beginnings saw them as a rhythm and blues band in a sea of rhythm and blues bands littering the London venues of the early 1960s.

The Rolling Stones, originally led by multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, were initially rather weak on their feet as songwriters and instead huddled to the easy warmth of tried and tested covers. Their early singles were mostly covers and included ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, a song that their friendly rivals over the years to come, The Beatles, would gift them to aid their pursuit of chart success. 

The group’s first two albums were swamped with covers and it wasn’t until Aftermath in 1966 that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had finally found the confidence, likely fueled by the 1965 number one chart success with ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, to ditch the blues covers for an entirely original album. They would seemingly rise to fame thereafter in the slipstream of The Beatles while maintaining their more marked allegiance to classic blues compositions. The release of Their Satanic Majesties Request in December 1967 saw the Stones attempt to deviate from their tried and tested formula in a bid to parallel The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released earlier that year. The ultimate failure of the album would seemingly not falter the confidence of the band but did push them back onto the rails of their blues-inspired sound. 

While their mid-1960s hits had secured their stardom, it was the period over the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that would secure their title as creative legends. Following the strange and underwhelming yet colourful Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones entered what I, and likely almost everyone else like to call, their golden era. The release of Beggars Banquet in 1968 seemed to mark a significant moment in the Rolling Stones’ history as the album that waved goodbye to Brian Jones who left his immortal touch in the beautiful slide guitar on ‘No Expectations’, but also as the album that featured ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. With this first track on the record, the Stones knew they had something special, something groundbreaking. The bongo-inspired percussion, cascading keys and 124 ‘woo woos’ in the backing vocals showed the band begin to meld with a range of musical influences that had once been on the horizon but now appeared well within reach allowing them to create something truly original.

After this turning point, the group seemed to have the wind in their sails moving into 1969 when they released one of their best albums of all time and certainly the best of the 1960s in Let it Bleed. This album seemed to present all the highlights of Beggars Banquet in a more even and refined collection of tracks. The album seemed to have it all, from slower melancholy tracks like ‘Love in Vain’, to pacey rock classics like ‘Monkey Man’ and an anthemic classic in ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. But the song that seemed to stand out was ‘Gimme Shelter’; the Vietnam war inspired masterpiece has stood the test of time and is a go-to song for introducing new generations to The Rolling Stones, the cream at the top of their massive and quite impressive discography. 

The undeniable magic of ‘Gimme Shelter’ is hard to pin down; all aspects of the song seem to marry perfectly from the fervid guitar riff, courtesy of Richards, to the overwhelming beauty of Merry Clayton’s backing vocals that, at times, reach a shriek that sends shivers down the spine. If, like me, you enjoy mixing things up every now and then, you should enjoy the rare and slightly rough around the edges studio outtake below, despite the absence of Clayton’s supporting vocals.

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