Madeline Bell / London Bach Choir / Nanette Newman / The Rolling Stones / Doris Troy

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Song Review by

If you buy John Lennon's observation that the Rolling Stones were apt to copy the Beatles' innovations within a few months or so, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is the Rolling Stones' counterpart to "Hey Jude." Both songs last about seven minutes, an almost unheard of length for a pop tune used on a single (although "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was just a B-side, to "Honky Tonk Women"). Both songs swell from simple beginnings to orchestral crescendos; both use choral backing vocals; and both have very long, gradual fadeouts that repeat a key musical motif of the composition. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is not a mere "Hey Jude" imitation, however, being quite worthy, even classic, in its own right. The real shock was the opening verse, sung unaccompanied by the London Bach Choir -- it sounds like a straight classical recording, not a rock one, let alone a Rolling Stones one. The classical mood is continued by the stately piano and brief, sad French horn solo (played by Al Kooper) on the following instrumental section. Mick Jagger sings the first verse without drums; up to this point, the song is a ballad. When he gets to the end of the chorus, though, the piano becomes more forceful, the drums and backing voices kick in, an organ comes along, and the song changes into a mid-tempo rock number. As 1960s Rolling Stones originals go, there's not much, not any really, blues involved. It's a classy pop tune, actually, with some folk (especially in the guitar strum), gospel (especially in the singalong chorus vocals), and classical elements. It sounds inspirational, despite the somewhat downcast subject matter; and had it been released as an A-side, it would have stood a chance of being a substantial hit. Much has been made of the lyrics reflecting the end of the overlong party that was the 1960s, as a snapshot of Swinging London burning out. That's a valid interpretation, but it should also be pointed out that there's also an uplifting and reassuring quality to the melody and performance. This is particularly true of the key lyrical hook, when we are reminded that we can't always get what we want, but we'll get what we need. It's a philosophical rumination, such as the one the Beatles offered around the same time (in "The End") about the love you make being equal to the love you take, that's simple but enduring. As with "Hey Jude," "You Can't Always Get What You Want"'s endless fade manages to be hypnotic rather than boring, as the London Bach Choir reenters and the organ improvises nicely, adding an appropriate varnish of grandeur to a great song and performance.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Let It Bleed 1969 ABKCO Records 7:28
Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 1972 ABKCO Records / Universal Music 7:29
No Image 1972 Swingin' Pig
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 Universal Distribution
No Image 1977 Blank Records
No Image 1984 EMI Music Distribution
The Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 ABKCO Records 4:49
Greatest Rarities, Vol. 1 1991 [Bootleg]
No Image 1995 Totonka
No Image 1997 Colosseum
No Image 1997 Midnight Beat 11:59
Forty Licks 2002 ABKCO Records 7:29
No Image 2002
Various Artists
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 6:52
Singles 1968-1971 2005 ABKCO Records 4:49
Temptation: Music From The Showtime Series Californication 2007
Original Soundtrack
ABKCO Records 6:30
Middle Men [Original Soundtrack] 2010
Original Soundtrack
ABKCO Records 7:28
The Singles: 1971-2006 2011 Polydor 7:06
GRRR! 2012 ABKCO Records 4:51
The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1964-1971 2013 ABKCO Records 7:30
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 7:30