When you’ve written and recorded as many songs as Mick Jagger has for The Rolling Stones, then you can appreciate when some of those songs don’t quite reach the levels the group had set out. One of the undeniable forefathers of modern rock and roll and one of the most successful bands of all time, The Rolling Stones haven’t had many misstepping songs over the years, but there are a few songs that Jagger really doesn’t care for.
Unlike John Lennon with The Beatles, the Stones frontman has never been one to muse on his songwriting for too long. Perhaps wanting to keep some mystique around the music, very rarely would Jagger be happy to dissect his and the Stones’ back catalogue. However, on the odd occasion that he has been corralled into giving his opinion on the band’s canon, he has noted a few songs which he felt were far from the high watermark the group had set themselves. There was one song, in particular, that now doesn’t feel as relevant as it once did.
The song, ‘Street Fighting Man,’ is often regarded as one of The Rolling Stones’ best tracks. Taken from their 1968 record Beggars Banquet the track is powerful and purposeful in equal measure, boasting both some of Jagger’s most incendiary lyrics as well as Keith Richards most ferocious riffs. If there was one guitarist ready to kick out against the establishment in 1968, it was Richards, and on Beggars Banquet, he was a regular Karate Kid. ‘Street Fighting Man’ sees Richards at his most gnarly, embodying the gruff and ready to rock protagonists within the tune.
The Rolling Stones were at the peak of their powers and songs like this, churned with the intensity of direct danger and filled with the blood, sweat and years of its bandmates, were what separated the Stones from the rest of the pop groups who were circling the clubs at the time. Richards has since noted the song as one of his favourite Rolling Stones riffs of all time.
The track was inspired by a series of riots that took place in Paris in 1968. Started by a group of students revolting against their conditions, the riots developed and evolved into a country-wide workers strike, in which ten million people refused to go to their jobs. Jagger has noted the riots as the song’s origination but has never fully explained the lyrics at hand. However, pawing through the song’s lyrics sheet, it is easy to see how the track can be seen as Jagger’s dissatisfaction with the political regime.
Such a landmark track is likely to feature on every list of the band’s greatest tracks. However, when Jagger was speaking about performing the song for a new audience to Rolling Stone in 1995, it was clear that Jagger’s appreciation for the track had withered and died. “I’m not sure if it really has any resonance for the present day,” he said. “I don’t really like it that much. I thought it was a very good thing at the time.”
Of course, there’s a good chance that Jagger’s opinion on the song has changed over the last 25 years. Equally, it’s worth noting that The Rolling Stones did continue to play the track across their numerous tours since. But, given Jagger’s propensity to avoid commenting on any of his songs, it’s clear that ‘Street Fighting Man’ had certainly fallen from grace for its writer.
No matter Jagger’s opinion on the song, whether it remains indifferent or has risen once again to the top of his internal pile, the track remains one of The Rolling Stones’ undeniable classics.