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Music

The Story Behind The Song: Mick Jagger's ode to sex, 'Let's Spend The Night Together'

The Beatles were romantic, The Who were saucy, but The Rolling Stones, they were sexy. And unlike the equally red-blooded Beatles, The Stones never made any attempt to downplay their overt sexiness but catered to an entirely different audience: girls. 

It didn’t hurt that they had a strikingly good-looking vocalist Mick Jagger, and an even more handsome bass player in Bill Wyman. Guitarist Brian Jones wasn’t exactly bad-looking either, and although Charlie Watts could not compete with the others for looks, he compensated by arriving in a selection of natty suits, each one more impressively buttoned than the one he played in the day before. And then there was Keith Richards, who was happy to play the part of a brooding guitar player, making him seem as cryptic, yet as professional, as George Harrison was

Sex made its way into their work, and it’s possible to discern a flavour of Jagger’s sexual appetite from ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. But no matter how much they distanced themselves from The Beatles orbit, journalists were determined to compare The Stones unfavourably to the band from Liverpool. There was some overlap, not least because Paul McCartney penned one of The Stones’ earliest tracks, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, but even then there were distinctions between the more playful recording issued by The Beatles, versus the faster and raunchier vocal Jagger performed on it. 

Sultriness came at a price for the band, and although it won them notoriety in the short term, it was harder for The Stones to prove their credentials much in the same way The Beatles did. One sympathises with Keith Richards, who had little to no interest in salacious gossip, yet was now steering a ship that was slowly becoming the dictionary definition of “scandal”. 

This leads us on to ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together`’, a punchy, piano-heavy rocker that bore the hallmarks of a Beatle single, yet it was sung with libidinous abandon, and driven by a swampy guitar line played with the urgency of a male lover reaching for that glorious emotional climax. 

The song is believed to Jagger’s alone, which ex-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull has corroborated, which makes sense considering Richards’ disdain for boastful trysts. He makes his views very clear in Life, querying the competition Jagger and Wyman enjoyed as to who slept with the most women, feeling that a conversation with a fan could have deeper impact and meaning. Richards was always more soulful than the singer, and a more accomplished bassist than Wyman, so the backing grooves along with the might of a person aching to return to the live stage. But for Jagger, it was all part of his life’s tapestry: “I’m hungry for new experiences, the same things that everyone else wants out of life. Thrills. New things. Continuations of relationships or new ones, all those mixed-up feelings that go towards making up a full emotional life.”

Naturally, ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ raised eyebrows across the globe, and Irish entertainment board RTE made the curious decision to highlight B-side, ‘Ruby Tuesday‘, on its playlists. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ was the stronger track of the two, and certainly the more impactful, but ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ deserved better treatment than it ultimately received. 

American audiences weren’t ready for the song’s overtly sexual nature, leading The Stones to alter the lyrics on The Ed Sullivan Show. Changing “night together” to “some time together”, the band plunged forwards as best as they could, but Jagger’s disdain is apparent from the opening note, and he even performs an eye-roll at one critical juncture. If Sullivan was hoping that his audiences would miss out on the sentiment, he was sorely mistaken, as is evident from the incessant line of whoops and roars heard from the audience. The clip is also notable for being the last time they performed with Jones in public, as the guitarist/organist was asked to leave the band by 1969. 

If the song has a legacy, it’s the sexual liberation that it favoured. From then on, artists were allowed to speak out about their bodies, and how they wanted to use them. Women could recount their many sexual exploits, as Charlene did on ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’, and men could thrust themselves onto other members of the band or audience, as David Bowie did in the early 1970s. 

 But the song is still a controversial one, especially in countries where the act of sex is preserved for procreation. ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ was one of four songs The Stones were prohibited from performing in China in 2003. The others were ‘Honky Tonk Women,’ ‘Beast Of Burden,’ and ‘Brown Sugar’. These songs were also removed from the Chinese versions of their greatest hits compilation 40 Licks. Clearly, the album title in question wasn’t an issue!