Street Fighting Man

The Rolling Stones

Song Review by Richie Unterberger

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 ABKCO Records 3:16
Through the Past, Darkly: Big Hits, Vol. 2 1969 ABKCO Records 3:15
Sticky Fingers 1971 Virgin 0:00
Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 1972 ABKCO Records / Universal Music 3:15
Goats Head Soup 1973 Interscope / Polydor 0:00
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 Universal Distribution
Stones Story 1976 Decca
Get Stoned 1977 Arcade Music
Digital Dreams [Video] 1985 Classic Pictures
Hot Rocks 2 [Disc 2] 1985 Decca / london 3:18
The Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 ABKCO Records 3:09
Headin' for an Overload 1995 Totonka
The Best of Knebworth Fair 1996 Midnight Beat 8:04
Down to the Wire 1997 Colosseum
The Stars in the Sky, They Never Lie 1997 Midnight Beat 4:48
12 X 5/Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! 1999 CD Maximum
Beggar's Banquet/Black & Blue 1999 Rolling Stones Records
Forty Licks 2002 ABKCO Records 3:16
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 4:03
Singles 1968-1971 2005 ABKCO Records 3:09
Fantastic Mr. Fox [Original Soundtrack] 2009
Original Soundtrack
ABKCO Records 3:14
GRRR! 2012 ABKCO Records 3:16
Gimme Shelter 2015 ABKCO Records 3:49
In Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 3:16
Rock 2021 Universal 4:52
Protest 2022 Universal 3:15
Class of '68
Various Artists
Universal 3:15
Street Fighting Man/No Expectations Eagle Rock 5:10