Released in November 1969, Rolling Stone continued their bluesy rebirth they had begun on Beggars Banquet with Let It Bleed. It was an album that found them in transition, with doomed original guitarist Brian Jones playing on a few tracks and his replacement Mick Taylor doing the same. Many guest stars also contributed, Let It Bleed was really a record that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards willed into existence.
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It was also an album whose lyrical content revolved heavily around the Vietnam War. Tumult and turmoil are evident throughout the album. The apocalyptic album opener, “Gimme Shelter,” conveys a pretty bleak outlook on the world compared to the song’s rhythmic core.
On the other hand, it’s the closing track on Let It Bleed, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” that actually tries to make sense of the Vietnam conflict. The track turned out somewhat more ambivalent yet no less anthemic than the album’s other songs.
It’s also notable that the song tacked on to the end of a decade where much of the younger generation’s idealism had ended in frustration and disillusion. Mick Jagger was the song’s primary writer, and if he was trying to sum up the zeitgeist, well, he’s far too coy to cop to it.
And it’s undeniable that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” tapped into the same vein as other decade-ending songs like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “Let It Be” in that it served as a balm of sorts for wounded hearts and souls.
Mick Jagger Finally Speaks About the Line
Driving the point home, Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in December 1995: “Well, [it was] a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage, and burning.” Jagger also remarked that Let It Bleed was partially inspired by images of the war he saw on television.
“It’s got a very sing-along chorus,” he responded. “And people can identify with it: No one gets what they always want.”
Its lyrics are too extensive to present in full, but the most salient lines are most likely: “But if you try sometime you’ll find/ You get what you need.”