‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’: Who did it better, The Rolling Stones or David Bowie?
The romping and sexually charged classic, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, was released as a single by The Rolling Stones as part of a double A-side in 1967. The song, unfortunately for the band, would struggle to match the popularity of its single twin, ‘Ruby Tuesday’, but it did still cement itself into the hearts of many avid followers of the group. The single came out in anticipation of the Stones’ fifth album, Between the Buttons, a record which is considered to be an integral part of the band’s psychedelic phase. In the end, the two singles would also go on to appear on the American edition of Between The Buttons, replacing the omitted tracks ‘Please Go home’, and ‘Back Street Girl’.
Mick Jagger, when discussing the album, famously stated that while he liked the songs, he thought the album was “more or less rubbish”. ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and the other recordings from this period suffered from “generation loss” because the band was using four-track machines at the time, forcing them to bounce the tracks multiple times just so they could do overdubs, a factor that would hinder the quality. “The songs sounded great, but later I was really disappointed with it, it felt like it lost a lot of the clarity,” Jagger commented.
The song was written during a period of heavy drug use for the Stones, which resulted in some close calls with the law. Keith Richards, helming the track, wrote it mostly on the piano and within the same musical guidelines as he penned ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Lately?’. The song, which was intended to be a hit, is a peculiar case and spent much of its life in obscurity.
The driving force of the song is resolutely banged out on the piano, partly by Richards and mostly by the session player Jack Nitzsche. Backing vocals are provided by Jagger and Richards while Charlie Watts keeps the backbeat steady while giving the impression he’s about to fall behind any minute.
During the recording session for the song, the Stones left the side door open to the main street when two police officers came walking by. In a bid to avoid issues, the group’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was able to provide a distraction and convince the police officers to use their truncheons as percussive instruments on the song. At around one minute and 40 seconds of the track, when the band goes into the quieter breakdown, you’ll be able to hear the truncheon providing the claves-like sound.
In most countries, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ would prove to chart significantly better than ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’. This was because radio stations worldwide were reluctant to spin the song in question due to the sexually loaded innuendos. Along these lines, The Stones would play the famous Ed Sullivan Show, but not before having to change the lyrics to ‘Let’s Spend Some Time Together’ at the behest of Sullivan himself. The band would oblige but roll their eyes every time they belted out the chorus’s revised line. Consequently, the Stones would be banned from playing the show — until the next time they played it in 1969, of course.
A couple of years later, in 1972, friend of the band David Bowie would pick the song up and cover it live for his homecoming show to Britain at the Rainbow Theatre. Eventually, after enjoying the response from the crowd, he would cut it and include the number on his 1973 Ziggy Stardust sequel, Aladdin Sane.
With his version of the song, Bowie would pick the speed up, offering a vastly different edge and truly making the track his own. Some have described Bowie’s version as a “gay liberation of The Stones’ heterosexual original.” Bowie was never afraid to cross those lines and, in fact, very much enjoyed doing so. With the song too, he supercharged the sexuality, added a little bit of intrigue and shot the track into the straosphere with the kind of confidence that only David Bowie possessed.
It’s difficult to pick a definitive winner in this battle. Both offer a very different experience and are equally compelling in their own ways. The Stones’ version is 1960s psychedelic garage at its best, while Bowie’s effort is a kind of ‘Suffragette City’ meets Elton John. Still, there is even more sexual innuendo created — as is expected with Bowie — and is therefore thrilling and action-packed and probably the winner of this deadly dancefloor duel.