There’s a pretty resolute argument that The Rolling Stones peaked in the early seventies. It was a period for the band which saw Mick Taylor and Keith Richards change rock history with their sleazy and easy guitars permeating the airwaves like the decadent heavy-hitters they were.
Perhaps the epitome of that sound was the band’s seminal album from 1971, Sticky Fingers, which proved the band were streets ahead of their rivals. The Beatles had broken up and Led Zeppelin were setting a new course, meanwhile, the Stones were writing the history of the seventies before it had even begun.
It’s one of the longer songs that band have ever written, clocking in at over seven minutes and allows both Richards and Taylor to trade guitar patterns and showcase their new sound. The riff has always had a place in the hearts of Stones fans and, indeed, Richards too.
“‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ came out flying – I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we’re thinking, hey, this is some groove. So it was smiles all around. For a guitar player it’s no big deal to play, the chopping, staccato bursts of chords, very direct and sparse,” remembered the guitarist.
Taylor was equally appreciative of the track and revealed its most potent moment was organic: “‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ is one of my favourites … [The jam at the end] just happened by accident; that was never planned.
“Towards the end of the song I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing. A lot of people seem to really like that part.”
The brilliant moment at the end of the song was rumoured to be inspired by Carlos Santana but Richards put that to bed quite quickly. “The jam at the end wasn’t inspired by Carlos Santana. We didn’t even know they were still taping. We thought we’d finished. We were just rambling and they kept the tape rolling. I figured we’d just fade it off. It was only when we heard the playback that we realised, Oh, they kept it going. Basically we realised we had two bits of music. There’s the song and there’s the jam.”
Largely regarded as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time, ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ allowed The Rolling Stones to showcase a vision of the future. When you strip away the rest of the band and just focus on Keith Richards and Mick Taylor’s guitars then you can accurately reflect on the game-changing sound they provided.
Listen back to the isolated guitars on The Rolling Stones’ classic ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ below: