On more than a few occasions, music has meddled with the darkest macabre details of the real world to disturbing effect. ‘Midnight Rambler’ from The Rolling Stones legendary album Let It Bleed is the band’s covert attempt to get in on the gruesome real events scene.
Despite the fact the band have never publicly acknowledged the inspiration behind the song, it is widely speculated that the track is about the notorious serial killer known as the Boston Strangler. The song itself nearly declares as much word for word, as Jagger yells: “Well, did you hear about the Boston…” just before ‘Strangler’ is cut off by a great surging guitar chord. From there on the lyrics descent into ever-darkening detail as Jagger croons outlines to make your skin crawl with, “jumping the garden wall,” and “sticking a knife right down your throat.”
This throat obsession is another hint at the serial killer the song pertains to. The modus operandi of the killer who terrorised the Boston area between June 1962 and January 1964 was to tie a bow around the victims’ necks, using their nylon stockings. Lines in the song such as “Did you hear about the midnight rambler? / The one that shut the kitchen door,” document an unsettling fact that confounded police at the time – there never seemed to be a sign of a struggle at the crime scenes, the killer just casually shutting the door behind him.
Further disturbing details within the song reveal a connection to the unfolding true-crime case with lines like, “I’m called the hit-and-run raper in anger,” relating to the fact the Boston Strangler would sexually assault his victims prior to the murder. These particulars within the lyrics, as well as the brooding blues guitar stylings, mirror the utterly unsettling crimes and paint a similar picture of the character that detectives were hunting. As the police surmised at the time, they were targeting a white male who hated his mother and was acting out his loathsome maternal rage repeatedly. Just as The Rolling Stones have done – whether intentionally or not – there is no cause to gratify the despicable actions with a name.
Whilst the song might not explicitly state it, the character crafted by Jaggers wordplay mirrors the case closely, and where a poetic license is taken, it is done so to chilling effect.
At the height of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles rivalry, 1969 also saw the Fab Four release a disturbing murderous anthem of their own with ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, both songs focus on the darker elements of one of pop culture’s most formative decades.
Part rock song part Netflix-esque true crime documentary, ‘Midnight Rambler’ was never released as a single for obvious reasons, but has often been a firm fixture within the live-set offering up a twisted narrative piece between the soaring smash hits. ‘Midnight Rambler’ is a very effectual piece of grotesque rock art, and sadly the morbid story behind the song is even more heinous.