With the possible exception of Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner, the Rolling Stones’s Gimme Shelter is the greatest rock song in all history. If you don’t get chills down your spine every time you hear them, I suggest you see your doctor and ask that your dosage levels be jacked up immediately.
I’m sort of busy today so beyond these remarks, I’m merely going to gift you an excerpt from this astonishing story in Open Culture about Merry Clayton’s incredible background vocals on the track:
In the fall of 1969 the Rolling Stones were in a Los Angeles recording studio, putting the final touches on their album Let it Bleed. It was a tumultuous time for the Stones. They had been struggling with the album for the better part of a year as they dealt with the personal disintegration of their founder and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, whose drug addiction and personality problems had reached a critical stage. Jones was fired from the band in June of that year. He died less than a month later. And although the Stones couldn’t have known it at the time, the year would end on another catastrophic note, as violence broke out at the notorious Altamont Free Concert just a day after Let it Bleed was released.
It was also a grim time around the world. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the Tet Offensive, the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring–all of these were recent memories. Not surprisingly, Let it Bleed was not the most cheerful of albums. As Stephen Davis writes in his book Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones, “No rock record, before or since, has ever so completely captured the sense of palpable dread that hung over its era.”
Trust me, you have nothing better to do right now than read the rest of this story, even if it means quitting your job. And remember, it’s August, it’s hot and, it’s just a shot away.