The Rolling Stones

Gimme Shelter

Composed by Keith Richards / Mick Jagger

Song Review by

"Gimme Shelter" is the Rolling Stones song most apt to be called apocalyptic, and was, aside perhaps from "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the best track on their 1969 album Let It Bleed. The most striking feature of the cut makes itself known right away: the shaky, shimmering guitar leads, whose catchiness nonetheless is imbued with a feeling of impending doom. The eerie, high, wordless vocals and dramatic piano that preface the verse add to the feeling that something dreadful is approaching just over the horizon. The verses are rather ordinary and workmanlike in comparison to the chorus, another great catchy Stones chorus that can be half-shouted and half-sung along with. The words, as in many Jagger/Richards songs, are ambivalent and ambiguous, not to mention sometimes difficult to understand even literally. The group might be seeking shelter from an oncoming disaster, or they might be seeking shelter in the escape offered by someone's love, or they might be seeking both. Sex and death: they can be strong bedfellows, and that's the coupling conveyed by "Gimme Shelter," even if that coupling is more implied by the mood than definitely spelled out by the words. To further establish the sense of uneasy tension that pervades the song, the Stones took the unusual step of having some of the backup vocals, and even some of the lead vocals, sung by African-American session singer Merry Clayton, who was able to reach full, high notes that Mick Jagger could not have. "Gimme Shelter" is sometimes assumed to have been written by the band about their disastrous free concert at Altamont in December 1969, but that wasn't the case. Let It Bleed was released that very month, as it happens, but of course "Gimme Shelter" had been written and recorded sometime before that. Some pundits have mused that "Gimme Shelter" presciently foresaw the demise of the 1960s and all that decade stood for, but if it foresaw any catastrophe, one could say that was Altamont itself.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Let It Bleed 1969 Digital 4:31
No Image 1971 Decca
Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 1972 Universal Music 4:31
Ladies & Gentlemen 1972 Eagle Vision
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 ABKCO Records 4:32
No Image 1975 Berkeley
Stones Story 1976 Decca 4:30
No Image 1977 Arcade Music
No Image 1979 Trademark Of Official Quality
Hot Rocks 2 [Disc 2] 1985 Decca/london 4:36
The Brussels Affair '73 1988 Promotone 5:31
No Image 1990 Swingin' Pig
No Image 1991 ABKCO Records
Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones [Radio Edits] 1994
Various Artists
RCA Victor 3:46
No Image 1995 Totonka
Wild Horses 1996 EMI Music Distribution / Virgin
No Image 1997 Midnight Beat 5:36
No Security 1998 Virgin 6:22
No Image 1998 RSP Records 6:04
No Image 1999 Dandelion Records 5:43
As It Happened: The Classic Interviews 2001 Chrome Dreams 1:36
No Image 2001 Decca Bootleg
Forty Licks 2002 Virgin
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 3:33
Live Licks 2004 Universal 6:50
The Biggest Bang 2007 Universal Distribution / Universal Music
The Rolling Stones 1964-1969 [Vinyl Box Set] 2010 ABKCO Records / Universal Distribution 4:30
GRRR! 2012 Universal Distribution 4:32
The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1964-1971 2013 ABKCO Records 4:32
Hyde Park Live 2013 Universal Music 7:16
Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live 2013 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision
Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live 2013 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision 7:16
From the Vault: L.A. Forum (Live in 1975) 2014 Eagle Vision 6:12
From the Vault: Live at the Tokyo Dome 2015 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision
Totally Stripped [Video] 2016 Eagle Rock 6:58
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 4:32
Havana Moon 2016 Eagle Rock
No Image Shaved Disc
Bridges to Bremen 7:36
From the Vault: The Complete Series, Vol. 1 Eagle Vision
No Image Scorpio Distribution
No Image
blue highlight denotes editor's pick