The Acoustic Power of "Street Fighting Man"

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic Rolling Stones political song
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On August 31, 1968, Decca Records released "Street Fighting Man" — a song inspired by Mick Jagger's experiences while attending a March 1968 anti-war demonstration at the United States embassy in London. 

With emotions running high in the U.S. over protests about the country's military action in Vietnam, the song was banned by many American radio stations — a situation that doomed the song to reach no higher than #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

When the U.S. press asked Jagger about the subversive lyrics, he reportedly sneered, "Of course, it's subversive. But it's stupid to think you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could."

However, what was somewhat revolutionary — at least regarding signal-chain gymnastics in the recording studio — was that Keith Richards presaged electronic manipulation of rock and roll guitars by cutting the driving rhythm bed with acoustic guitars toughened up by preamp overdrive. He did quite a good job of messing with reality. To this today, some listeners assume the guitars on "Street Fighting Man" are electric.

"That two acoustics—one of them put through the first Philips cassette player they made," Richards told Tom Wheeler in his April 1983 Guitar Player cover story. "It was overloaded, recorded on that, and then hooked up through a little extension speaker, and then onto the studio tape through a microphone.

"I started that song on acoustic guitar, and you have to recognize what it has to offer. But you also can't say it's an acoustic guitar sound, because with the cassette player, and then a microphone and then the tape, it's really a different process of electrifying it. You see, I couldn't have done that song in that way with a straight electric guitar, because the sustain would have been too much.

"The reason I did that one like that was because I already had the sound right there on the [acoustic] guitar before we recorded. I just loved it, and when I wrote the thing, I thought, 'I'm not going to get a better sound than this.' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is the same, too. That's acoustic guitar, as well."

[READ THE APRIL 1983 GP COVER STORY HERE]

 Happy 50th Birthday to a rousing classic track. Listen here!

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