The Story Behind The Song: ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, The Rolling Stones’ rock anthem about a gardener
On May 24th 1968, The Rolling Stones released their timeless anthem ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. It’s arguably one of the band’s greatest achievements, which, considering their career is full of momentous highs, really says something.
The zealous track epitomises everything we all love about The Stones and there is a reason why it is their most performed song of all time, being played over 1,100 times over the last 42 years.
‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was the return of the real Rolling Stones. It signalled a return to their trademark blues sound which the band had deviated from on their previous release Their Satanic Majesties Requestin 1967. On that record, the Stones had followed the trend and delved into the world of psychedelia. The album was rather hit and miss but there was no missing the target on their return.
Mick Jagger revealed in 1995 to Rolling Stone that the essence of the song is about snapping out of that previous period and returning to their sonic home. He said that the song arose “out of all the acid of Satanic Majesties. It’s about having a hard time and getting out. Just a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things.”
The track would immediately fly straight to the top of the UK charts as fans welcomed The Stones returning to the sound which had reaped such handsome rewards for them in the years gone by. It captures both Keith Richards and Jagger, AKA the Glimmer Twins, at the peak of their powers, with that opening riff being one of the purest sonic delights in existence whilst Jagger performs a searing vocal performance that acts as the perfect accompaniment.
The visceral energy that the song creates when the and perform live makes it one of the most legendary rock and roll tracks in existence. Johnny Marr revealed in Simon Goddard’s Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of the Smiths, that he wanted ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again‘ be The Smiths equivalent to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, he said: “I wanted something that was a rush all the way through, without a distinct middle eight as such. I thought the guitar breaks should be percussive, not too pretty or cordial.”
Detailing how he managed to create this piece of pure magnificence, Richards is on record as stating: “I used a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic tuned to open D, six-string. Open D or open E, which is the same thing — same intervals — but it would be slackened down some for D. Then there was a capo on it, to get that really tight sound. And there was another guitar over the top of that, but tuned to Nashville tuning. I learned that from somebody in George Jones’ band in San Antonio in 1964. The high-strung guitar was an acoustic, too. Both acoustics were put through a Philips cassette recorder. Just jam the mic right in the guitar and play it back through an extension speaker.”
Richards would also reveal to Rolling Stone in 2010 that Jack is actually a real person, called Jack Dyer who was his gardener at the time, he explained how Dyer inspired the band to write the song: “The lyrics came from a grey dawn at Redlands. Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside, and there was the sound of these boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.'”
He then added: “I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.”
The riff is something that still feels Richards with an immense amount of pride today as he divulged in the same interview: “When you get a riff like ‘Flash,’ you get a great feeling of elation, a wicked glee,” he said. “I can hear the whole band take off behind me every time I play ‘Flash’ – there’s this extra sort of turbo overdrive. You jump on the riff and it plays you. Levitation is probably the closest analogy to what I feel.”
Take out a few minutes out and enjoy this electric performance from their legendary Glastonbury set in 2013.