The Rolling Stones

Street Fighting Man

Composed by Keith Richards / Mick Jagger

Song Review by

Other than, possibly, "Sympathy for the Devil," "Street Fighting Man" was the best song on the Rolling Stones' 1968 album, Beggars Banquet, and a classic single, although exposure problems kept it on the fringes of the Top 40. "Street Fighting Man" is one of the most political of all Stones songs, even if it is, like much of their material in general, pretty ambivalent in stance. Lyrical content aside, it's a great track, gripping the listener immediately with its sudden, springy guitar chords and thundering, offbeat drums. That unsettling, urgent guitar rhythm is the mainstay of the verses. Mick Jagger's typically half-buried lyrics seem at casual listening like a call to revolution: summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the streets. That was a particularly trenchant message in 1968, when there actually was a lot of fighting in the streets: in American race riots, at the Chicago Democratic convention, and as students and workers went on strike in Paris. This is qualified, however, by the anthemic chorus, in which Jagger declares there's nothing for a poor boy to do but sing in a rock & roll band, and that sleepy London -- where the Stones lived at that time -- was no place for a street fighting man. Perhaps they were saying they wished they could be on the front lines, but were not in the right place at the right time; perhaps they were saying, as John Lennon did in the Beatles' "Revolution," that they didn't want to be involved in violent confrontation. Or perhaps they were even declaring indifference to the tumult. As for his musical contribution, Jagger makes particularly effective use of his slurring style on the verses, elongating the ends of lines with a drawling insouciance. The noise that sounds like an electronic drone at parts (particularly on the instrumental fadeout) is actually a tamboura, played by Brian Jones in one of his most ingenious (and little-noticed) additions of an Eastern influence on a Stones recording. Actually released as a single in the U.S. (though not in the U.K.) in mid-1968, in advance of Beggars Banquet and at the peak of American sociopolitical unrest, the record was banned by many singles-oriented radio stations, the primary reason it did not rise above the middle of the Top 100. It has, nonetheless, been accepted as a core Stones classic by both listeners and classic rock radio.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Beggars Banquet 1968 Digital 3:15
Through the Past, Darkly: Big Hits, Vol. 2 1969 Universal Music 3:15
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! 1970 Time Life
Sticky Fingers 1971 Polydor / Rolling Stones Records 4:52
No Image 1971 Decca
Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 1972 Universal Music 3:15
Ladies & Gentlemen 1972 Eagle Vision
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 ABKCO Records 3:15
No Image 1975 Berkeley
Stones Story 1976 Decca 3:16
No Image 1977 Arcade Music
No Image 1979 Excitable
Hot Rocks 2 [Disc 2] 1985 Decca/london 3:18
The Brussels Affair '73 1988 Promotone 5:13
The  Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 Universal Music 3:08
No Image 1990 Swingin' Pig
No Image 1991 ABKCO Records
Live at the Max [Video] 1995 Universal Distribution / Universal
Stripped 1995 Polydor / Universal / Universal Music 3:41
No Image 1995 Totonka
No Image 1996 Midnight Beat 8:04
No Image 1997 Midnight Beat 4:48
No Image 1999 Dandelion Records 4:40
Forty Licks 2002 Virgin
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 3:16
Live Licks 2004 Universal 3:43
Singles 1968-1971 2005 ABKCO Records / Universal Distribution 3:08
GRRR! 2012 Universal Distribution 3:15
Crossfire Hurricane [Video] 2013 Eagle Rock
Hyde Park Live 2013 Universal Music 5:22
Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live 2013 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision
Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live 2013 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision 5:22
From the Vault: L.A. Forum (Live in 1975) 2014 Eagle Vision 4:05
Totally Stripped [Video] 2016 Eagle Rock 4:51
From the Vault: The Complete Series, Vol. 1 Eagle Vision
No Image SCRO
No Image Scorpio Distribution
No Image
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