Robert Christgau

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

For the first year and a half of Beatlemania, the Stones were No. 2 only in publicity—their sales lagged beyond the Dave Clark Five's and barely stayed ahead of the Kinks' and the Animals'. Then came "Satisfaction." It was the perfect Stones paradox—the lyrics denied what the music delivered—and it dominated the summer of 1965. Driving home from rainy retreats, vacationing parents and their children shouted out "I can't get no" in unison, while older brothers and sisters decided that the middle verse was about a girl who won't put out because it's her period. A whole country was brought together, sort of, by Mick and Keith's anthem of frustration.

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Suddenly, the Stones' project of radical self-definition was becoming a mass movement—against everything that kept the world within our reach and out of our grasp, everything that stopped us from making felt possibilities real. Mick and Keith now wrote most of the material. They voiced the enthusiastic hostility of the new mass bohemianism more directly than the rhythm-and-blues artists, who usually muted the hostility because they were too busy just surviving to pursue hopeless battles. The Stones and their constituency were sure enough of their own survival to covet something better, but the Stones at least, were much too realistic to expect to achieve it. Their anger was just part of a vicious circle.

In the end, in fact, their anger was directed not at the cruelties of politics and economics so much as at a metaphysical joke. The Stones wanted what they couldn't have and felt detached even from their own desire….

The Stones' attitude toward women was especially ambiguous. All their realism stemmed from the tough anti-romanticism of rhythm-and-blues which asserted that sex was good in itself ("I'm a king bee buzzin' 'round your hive" and "I just want to make love to you") and connected to love ("we got a good thing goin'") and that love involved pain that was deeper and more complex than pop heartbreak. But almost as soon as Jagger and Richard began to compose they created a persona whose hostility to women rose above and beyond the call of realism. The protagonist of "Heart of Stone" wasn't just a little red rooster strutting his stuff, or a heart-pained lover for whom blue had turned to gray, and he wasn't just tough, either. He was hard, bearing the same relationship to the blues stud that the metallic incursions of the Stones' music did to real rhythm-and-blues. It's almost as if women in their contradictory humanity symbolized the conditions of life that were the ultimate target of the Stones' anger. Or maybe it worked the other way 'round. (p. 34)

Robert Christgau, "Can't Get No Satisfaction," in Creem (© copyright 1973 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 4, No. 3, January, 1973, pp. 30, 32-5, 84.

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