Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil
"Sympathy for the Devil"
Song by The Rolling Stones from the album Beggars Banquet
Released 6 December 1968
Recorded June 1968
Genre Rock
Length 6:18
Label ABKCO, Decca, London
Writer Jagger/Richards
Producer Jimmy Miller
Beggars Banquet track listing
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"No Expectations"
"Sympathy for the Devil Remix"
Single by The Rolling Stones
Released 16 September 2003
Recorded March - June 1968
Genre Rock
Length 38:24
Producer Jellybean Benitez
The Neptunes
Fatboy Slim
Full Phatt
The Rolling Stones singles chronology
"Don't Stop"
"Sympathy for the Devil" Remix
"Streets of Love" / "Rough Justice"
"Sympathy for the Devil"
Single by Guns N' Roses
from the album Interview with the Vampire soundtrack
B-side "Escape to Paris" (by Elliot Goldenthal)
Released 13 December 1994 (US)
January 1995 (UK)
Recorded October 1994
Genre Hard rock
Length 7:36
Label Geffen
Producer Guns N' Roses
Mike Clink
Matthias Gohl
Guns N' Roses singles chronology
"Since I Don't Have You"
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"Oh My God"

"Sympathy for the Devil" is a song by The Rolling Stones which first appeared as the opening track on the band's 1968 album Beggars Banquet. It was written by Mick Jagger credited to Jagger/Richards. Rolling Stone magazine placed it at #32 in their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.



"Sympathy for the Devil" was written by singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, though the song was largely a Jagger composition.[1] The working title of the song was "The Devil Is My Name", and it is sung by Jagger as a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer.[2]

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger said, "I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think, but I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song."[1] It was Richards who suggested changing the tempo and using additional percussion, turning the folk song into a samba.[3][4] Additionally, the song has some similarities to Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita.[3] Jagger's philosophy of the devil states that "Just as every cop is a criminal/ and all your sinners saints."

Backed by an intensifying rock arrangement, the narrator, with chilling narcissistic relish, recounts his exploits over the course of human history and warns the listener: "If you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste; use all your well-learned politesse, or I'll lay your soul to waste." Jagger stated in the Rolling Stone interview: ". . . it's a very long historical figure — the figures of evil and figures of good — so it is a tremendously long trail he's made as personified in this piece."[1]

At the time of the release of Beggars Banquet the Rolling Stones had already raised some hackles for sexually forward lyrics such as "Let's Spend the Night Together" [5] and for allegedly dabbling in Satanism [3] (their previous album, while containing no direct Satanic references, had been titled Their Satanic Majesties Request), and "Sympathy" brought these concerns to the fore, provoking media rumours and fears among some religious groups that The Rolling Stones were devil-worshippers and a corrupting influence on youth.[3] The lyrics' focus, however, is on atrocities in the history of mankind, including the trial and death of Jesus Christ where "Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate". Also, including European wars of religion ("I watched with glee while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the Gods they made"), the violence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the 1918 massacre of the Romanov family ("I stuck around St. Petersburg when I saw it was a time for a change, killed the Tsar and his ministers — Anastasia screamed in vain") and World War II ("I rode a tank, held a general's rank when the Blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank").[6]

The lyrics also refer to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The recording sessions for the track were in progress when the latter was killed, and the words were changed from "Who killed Kennedy?" to "who killed the Kennedys?"

The song may have been spared further controversy when the first single from the album, "Street Fighting Man", became even more controversial in view of the race riots and student protests occurring in many cities in the U.S.[7]


The recording of "Sympathy for the Devil" began at London's Olympic Sound Studios on 4 June 1968 and continued into the next day; overdubs were done on 8, 9 and 10 June.[8] Personnel included on the recording include Nicky Hopkins on piano; Rocky Dijon on congas; Bill Wyman on maracas.

It is often mentioned that Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, producer Jimmy Miller, Wyman and Richards performed backup vocals, singing the "WOO WOOS", repeatedly, as this can be seen in the film Sympathy for the Devil (see below) by Jean-Luc Godard. In reality the backup 'whoo whoo' vocals were overdubbed at a later stage in Los Angeles by Richards, Jagger and Jimmy Miller. Richards plays bass on the original recording,[citation needed] and also the song's electric-guitar solo. Jones is seen playing an acoustic guitar in the film, but it is not audible in the finished mix.

Jagger sings the ending code in a high falsetto.

In the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts said: "'Sympathy' was one of those sort of songs where we tried everything. The first time I ever heard the song was when Mick was playing it at the front door of a house I lived in in Sussex... He played it entirely on his own... and it was fantastic. We had a go at loads of different ways of playing it; in the end I just played a jazz Latin feel in the style of Kenny Clarke would have played on 'A Night in Tunisia' - not the actual rhythm he played, but the same styling."[4]

On the overall power of the song, Jagger continued in Rolling Stone: "It has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music. It doesn't speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove. Plus, the actual samba rhythm is a great one to sing on, but it is also got some other suggestions in it, an undercurrent of being primitive—because it is a primitive African, South American, Afro-whatever-you-call-that rhythm (candomblé). So to white people, it has a very sinister thing about it. But forgetting the cultural colors, it is a very good vehicle for producing a powerful piece. It becomes less pretentious because it is a very unpretentious groove. If it had been done as a ballad, it wouldn't have been as good."[1]


In an interview with Creem, Jagger said, "[When people started taking us as devil worshippers], I thought it was a really odd thing, because it was only one song, after all. It wasn't like it was a whole album, with lots of occult signs on the back. People seemed to embrace the image so readily, [and] it has carried all the way over into heavy metal bands today." [3]

Of the change in public perception the band experienced after the song's release, Richards said in a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, "Before, we were just innocent kids out for a good time, they're saying, 'They're evil, they're evil.' Oh, I'm evil, really? So that makes you start thinking about evil... What is evil? Half of it, I don't know how much people think of Mick as the devil or as just a good rock performer or what? There are black magicians who think we are acting as unknown agents of Lucifer and others who think we are Lucifer. Everybody's Lucifer."[9]

Contrary to a widespread misconception, it was "Under My Thumb" and not "Sympathy for the Devil" that the Rolling Stones were performing when Meredith Hunter was killed at the Altamont Free Concert.[3] Rolling Stone magazine's early articles on the incident misreported that the killing took place during "Sympathy for the Devil",[10] but The Rolling Stones in fact played "Sympathy for the Devil" earlier in the concert; it was interrupted by a fight and re-started, Jagger commenting, "We're always having--something very funny happens when we start that number." Several other songs were performed before Hunter was killed.[8]

After being omitted from the Rolling Stones' 1972/73 tours, "Sympathy for the Devil" was played occasionally as the encore in 1975/1976, and has been performed regularly on all of their tours since 1989. Concert renditions have been released on the albums The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, Love You Live, Flashpoint and Shine a Light.

Prior to the opening bars of "Sympathy" on Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, a female audience member pleads with Keith Richards to play "Paint it Black". She can be heard saying, 'Paint it black, paint it black you devil.'

The studio version has been featured on the Rolling Stones compilation albums Hot Rocks and Forty Licks.

In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at #32 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The fourth track, "A Good Idea at the Time", on American band OK Go's 2005 album Oh No is a response to the song.[citation needed]

In Tropic Thunder, the song is played during the scene following Tugg Speedman's departure from the group.

The song is played repeatedly during the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops, including during an early mission when the player's squad is attempting to kill Fidel Castro, and during the end credits. The song's inclusion in the level is an anachronism, as the game is actually set several months before the song's release.

1968 film

cover art for DVD release

Sympathy for the Devil is also the title of a producer's edit of a 1968 film by Jean-Luc Godard whose own original version is called One Plus One. The film, a depiction of the late 1960s American counterculture, also featured the Rolling Stones in the process of recording the song in the studio. On the filming, Jagger said in Rolling Stone: "... [it was] very fortuitous, because Godard wanted to do a film of us in the studio. I mean, it would never happen now, to get someone as interesting as Godard. And stuffy. We just happened to be recording that song. We could have been recording 'My Obsession.' But it was 'Sympathy for the Devil,' and it became the track that we used."[1]

Notable cover versions

The song has been widely covered since its release, including renditions by Sandie Shaw, on her album Reviewing the Situation (1969); Blood, Sweat & Tears, whose version entitled "Symphony for the Devil" appeared on their third album (1970); Bryan Ferry, on his solo album These Foolish Things (1973); "Weird Al" Yankovic on his Rolling Stones polka medley "The Hot Rocks Polka" (1989); and Jane's Addiction, on their 1987 self-titled live debut album (1987). The Jane's Addiction version was also featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 film Alien Nation. In 1989, the Slovenian band Laibach released an EP of seven different versions of the song, interpreted as everything from a Wagnerian symphony to a light techno number.

In 1990, Brazilian actress Claudia Ohana recorded the song as the main theme for her character Natasha in soap opera Vamp. The song went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year in that country.

Guns N' Roses recorded a cover in 1994 which reached #55 on the Billboard Hot 100; it was featured in the closing credits of Neil Jordan's film adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and was included on their Greatest Hits album. This cover is notable for causing an incident within the group that was partially responsible for guitarist Slash departing from the band in 1996. Slash has described the Guns N' Roses version of the song as "the sound of the band breaking up".[11]

In 1996 Natalie Merchant released the song as a bonus track on the commercial CD single of her single "Jealousy". The song was later quietly re-released as a bonus track on Merchant's 1999 re-release of Tigerlily. The song is a fused version of two live recordings, one at The Meadows in Hartford, Connecticut and The Mid Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York.

At their 2000 Halloween Concert at UNO arena in New Orleans, Louisiana, Widespread Panic covered Sympathy for the Devil as their show opener. While not the first time they played the song, it was the 1st time since 1989 and 1497 shows since the last time played.

Pearl Jam's concert renditions of "The Water Pouring Song" included an instrumental section of "Sympathy for the Devil". Bon Jovi often covers it[clarification needed] during the piano break in their concert performances of "Keep the Faith". A snippet of the song is often sung by Bono along with "Ruby Tuesday" during performances of "Bad" at U2 concerts, for example at Live Aid in London and in the concert film Rattle and Hum. In 2005, Ozzy Osbourne released a cover on his box set Prince of Darkness and the related Under Cover release.

The Swedish metal band Tiamat covered the song on their album Skeleton Skeletron, released in 1999. Indie rock bands Band of Skulls and John & Jehn covered the song for the French TV show Taratata broadcasted in March 2010.[12]

In 2005, Cuban drummer and percussionist Horacio Hernandez ("El Negro") recorded a Latin Jazz version of the song, sung by Latin great Rubén Blades.[13]

Freedom Dub recorded a "Bossa 'n' Stones" version of "Sympathy for the Devil" that enjoyed much success in Italy thanks to airplay on Radio Monte Carlo's Nick the Nightfly program in the late 2000s.

The song was also sampled by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult in the track "The Devil Does Drugs" on their WaxTrax! EP release Some Have to Dance, Some Have to Kill (Wax 055).

In 1984, Marius Percali, Piero Fidelfatti, Raff Todesco, Sergio Bonzanni and George Aaron recorded italo version and released in Italy with their own songs as Time project (title: Prime Time, label: Fly Music – TPF 005/84).


  • Mick Jagger – lead and backup vocals
  • Keith Richards – electric guitar, bass guitar, backup vocals
  • Brian Jones – acoustic guitar (not audible in final mix), backup vocals
  • Bill Wyman – maracas, backup vocals
  • Charlie Watts – drums, percussion, backup vocals
  • Nicky Hopkins – piano
  • Rocky Dijon – congas
  • Jimmy Miller – backup vocals
  • Anita Pallenberg – backup vocals
  • Marianne Faithfull – backup vocals


  1. ^ a b c d e Wenner, Jann (14 December 1995). "Jagger Remembers". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2006-06-25. 
  2. ^ McPherson, Ian. "Track Talk: Sympathy for the Devil". Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Cruickshank, Douglas. "Sympathy for the Devil". Retrieved 2006-06-25. 
  4. ^ a b Jagger, Mick; Richards, Keith; Watts, Charlie; Wood, Ronnie (2003). According to the Rolling Stones. Chronicle Books. p. 119. ISBN 0-8118-4060-3. 
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Let's Spend the Night Together". allmusic. 2007 . Retrieved 26 June 2007.
  6. ^ Jagger/Richards (20 June 2004). "Sympathy for the Devil". Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  7. ^ Wyman, Bill (2002). Rolling With the Stones. DK Publishing. p. 309. ISBN 0-7894-9998-3. 
  8. ^ a b Zentgraf, Nico. "The Complete Works of the Rolling Stones 1962–2008". Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  9. ^ Greenfield, Robert (19 August 1971). "The Rolling Stone Interview: Keith Richards". Rolling Stone 
  10. ^ Burks, John (7 February 1970). "Rock & Roll's Worst Day". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  11. ^ Bozza, Anthony; Slash (2007) (Paperback) Slash New York: Harper Collins p. 480 ISBN 0007257775  (German paperback is ISBN 0007257767)
  12. ^ "video BAND OF SKULLS / JOHN JEHN : Sympathy for the devil - bande of skulls, band of skull, band skulls - videos MYTARATATA.COM". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  13. ^ "La timba no es como ayer". Retrieved 2010-11-28. 

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  • Sympathy for the Devil (chanson) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Sympathy for the Devil. Sympathy for the Devil Chanson par The Rolling Stones extrait de l’album Beggars Banquet Pays …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sympathy for the devil (chanson) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Sympathy for the Devil. Sympathy for the Devil Chanson par The Rolling Stones extrait de l’album Beggars Banquet Pays …   Wikipédia en Français

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