The Rolling Stones was shorthand for anarchic hell-raisers in the States, and chaos ensued everywhere they went. It wasn’t an entirely unfounded concept; the group had done well to cultivate an image of danger as the perfect marketing tool. They used their music to enhance this reputation of sticking it to the man, but one of their most famous defiant anthems, Mick Jagger, no longer cares for.
The track in question that Jagger has fallen out of love with over the years is the group’s 1968 political tour-de-force, ‘Street Fighting Man‘. The song, upon release, was controversial and deemed too ‘subversive’ to gain airtime on American radio due to the progressive liberal school of thought it pursued. Something Jagger seemingly no longer aligns himself with. The track asks the listener to take stock of the establishment and, in no uncertain times, to riot about its injustices.
Jagger and the band were playing a dangerous game. It was a strong enough message to see the powers of American radio come down hard on the group and remove the record from rotation, and the song is a source of regret for the singer.
‘Street Fighting Man’ famously discusses the civil unrest in Europe and America in 1968 due to the Vietnam War and is more than clear in its direction. In 1968, student riots broke out across Europe in the metropolis’ of London and Paris as similar protests across America over the continuation of the Vietnam War—a conflict most people deemed avoidable at the very least—raged on across campuses. Jagger himself had attended a 25,000 strong crowd who took part in a demonstration at London’s Grosvenor Square on March 17, 1968; what he saw that day inspired him to write the powerful track.
The song was deliberately released at a provocative time, too, arriving on August 31, 1968, just a few days after the Democratic National Convention, which was tainted with violence that saw Chicago police brutally clash with protesters. It was a marketing ploy that the band had become known for and one which would see the furore around the new single reach fever pitch.
However, in 1995, Jagger seemingly gave up ownership of the song and spoke about why the track’s meaning was no longer relevant in the then-modern world. “I’m not sure if it really has any resonance for the present day,” he told Rolling Stone. “I don’t really like it that much. I thought it was a very good thing at the time.
“There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; De Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing. Yeah, it was a direct inspiration, because, by contrast, London was very quiet,” Jagger continued.
Although Jagger insisted in 1995 that he believes the song was very much of its time, there’s a strong case to suggest that over the 26 years since he said those words, we’ve reverted to a societal phase where songs like ‘Street Fighting Man’ are necessary once more. If you glance at the global protests that have taken place recently in support of the Black Lives Matter movement or the recent aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard in London, then perhaps the song’s essence feels more poignant today than ever before.