The Rolling Stones

Shine a Light

Composed by Mick Jagger / Keith Richards

Song Review by

Taking the direct route from gospel to soul music, "Shine a Light" is based around the organ/piano combination of Billy Preston and the call-and-response vocals of Mick Jagger and a group of backup singers -- Vanetta Field, Clydie King, Joe Green, and Jesse Kirkland -- who Preston assembled, layered like a church choir, all lending the song the authentic feel of an American gospel-based soul song. "Shine a Light" begins with an ambient sound that sounds like a guitar/tape effect. Preston begins the song on piano while Jagger sings a lyric about a decadent party girl "stretched out in room ten-o-nine/With a smile on (her) face and a tear right in (her) eye." Like many of the characters and protagonists peopling the genius double record Exile on Main St., this subject seems to be a rough-around-the-edges, live-fast type, Jagger admittedly taking influence from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground in his portrayal of the seedier side of urban life. But like Reed's subjects, this character is romanticized even in her miserable state: "Drunk in the alley, baby, with your clothes all torn/And your late-night friends leave you in the cold, gray dawn." Jagger compares the flies on her to "angels beating all their wings in time." She's a pitiful sight that Jagger cannot "get a line on" or "get high on," but on whom he nevertheless bestows the blessing of the chorus: "May the good Lord shine a light on you." The rest of "Shine a Light"'s instrumentation is played by a loose assortment of personnel, typical for the Exile sessions: Mick Taylor plays a blistering guitar solo, as usual, but also doubles on the bass guitar, as Bill Wyman was late arriving to the sessions at Keith Richard's villa in the south of France. In addition, the record's producer, Jimmy Miller, again displays his gospel drumming chops (he also played on "You Can't Always Get What You Want.") Surely the presence of Americans Miller, Preston, and the background singers helped, but the Stones always had come across as confident in interpreting American-rooted musical forms. On Exile, they were at their peak, taking on soul, gospel, country, hard rock, folk, and blues with equal bravura and aplomb. Very few bands of their generation seemed to possess so broad an understanding of the roots and components of rock & roll. The Stones dusted the song off for their mid-'90s tours, much to the delight of hardcore fans of Exile. It can be heard on their 1995 Stripped, not as atmospheric or moody, but kind of nice and vibrant in a so-old-it's-new-again way. As opposed to many of the up-tempo songs in their live repertoire that were stalwarts of tours stretching back decades, the band seemed to relish digging into a soul chestnut like "Shine a Light."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Exile on Main St. 1972 Virgin 4:17
LP Sleeve Box Set 2005 Toshiba EMI