Brian Jones, who halfheartedly showed up to the recording sessions, was playing a far lesser role in the band by this point and had his judgment marred considerably through drug abuse. While Jones contributed a few minor instrumentals, most notably the slide guitar on "No Expectations" and sitar on "Street Fighting Man", Mick Jagger and Keith Richards largely conceived of an album which would return to a Blues-inspired, Country sound heavily associated with the working conditions of the poor. Achieving unity in structure even with diverse subjects such as underage groupies, chaotic riots, and religious symbolism, the Stones sought to reconcile these complex ideas to represent the political restlessness of the era through a more simplistic sound.
The band delayed the record's release considerably due to the ongoing conflict between the band and the record companies, who despised the cover shown on the right. While the original cover has been reinstated on reissues, this conflict speaks to the band's rapidly shifting role from a group of talented musicians to a mouthpiece for a generation. From the introductory track, which is the Trope Namer to Sympathy for the Devil and Man of Wealth and Taste, to the largely Self-Deprecating indictment of debauchery of their lifestyle, the songs both implicate society and defend the people largely undercut by privilege. Fitting for an album heavily influenced by the violence and politics of the 1960s, the cover and the album's themes are now viewed as a celebration of cultural rebels and impoverished people disenfranchised by society.
In any case, the influential recording sessions to some songs of this album were filmed in Jean-Luc Godard's One Plus One/Sympathy for the Devil from 1968. A documentary about the creative process behind the making of this album can be seen in the Classic Albums TV documentary series.
- "Sympathy for the Devil" (6:18)
- "No Expectations" (3:56)
- "Dear Doctor" (3:28)
- "Parachute Woman" (2:20)
- "Jig-Saw Puzzle" (6:06)
- "Street Fighting Man" (3:16)
- "Prodigal Son" (2:51)
- "Stray Cat Blues" (4:38)
- "Factory Girl" (2:09)
- "Salt of the Earth" (4:48)
- Mick Jagger - lead vocals, harmonica, percussion
- Brian Jones - guitar, harmonica, mellotron, sitar, tamboura, vocals
- Keith Richards - guitar, backing and co-lead vocals, bass
- Charlie Watts - drums, percussion, vocals, cowbell, clave, tabla
- Bill Wyman - bass, vocals, maracas
Please allow us to introduce these tropes...
- Abhorrent Admirer: In "Dear Doctor", the narrator laments that "the gal I'm to marry is a bow-legged sow".
- Alliterative Title: Beggar's Banquet, "Dear Doctor".
- Answer Cut: "Sympathy for the Devil".I shouted out: "Who killed the Kennedys?"When after all it was you and me.
- Badass Boast: Most of "Sympathy for the Devil" is a badass boast by someone we could assume to be an Unreliable Narrator.
- "I laid traps for troubadours/Who get killed before they reach Bombay" has caused much debate over to what it refers; the dominant explanation is the hippie trail, navigated by hippies to India, who were robbed in Afghanistan or Pakistan by drug-smugglers.
- Belief Makes You Stupid: "Sympathy for the Devil"I watched with glee as your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades for the gods they made
- Big Rock Ending: After the last verse, "Salt of the Earth" slows down for acoustic guitar strumming, then a drum fill signals the band to start up again, joined by the background singers repeating "Let's take a drink for the salt of the earth" over and over, then the tempo speeds up and they jam all the way to the fade, with the piano (played by Nicky Hopkins) dominating.
- Contemptible Cover: The original cover, depicting the album credits as Bathroom Stall Graffiti in a Disgusting Public Toilet, was rejected by Decca Records. This caused the album's release to be delayed by several months while they came up with a new design. They eventually settled on a spare white cover resembling a formal invitation card.
- The Coup: "Street Fighting Man".Hey! I think the time is right for a palace revolutionBut where I live the game to play is compromise solution
- Cover Version: "Prodigal Son" (best known for the line "that's no way to get along"), a cover of blues artist Robert Wilkins.
- Darker and Edgier: This album was a return to their more sleazy, raunchy sound from the earlier days.
- Dirty Old Man: "Stray Cat Blues", featuring a man lusting after a 15 year old groupie, reasoning "it's no hanging matter/ it's no capital crime".
- Disgusting Public Toilet: Shown on the original cover.
- Drunken Song: "Salt of the Earth" sounds a lot like a barroom shanty, even though it wasn't necessarily intended that way. A lot of critics have stated that the song sounds patronizing for this reason, though its intent may derive from the classic view of "salt of the earth" types enjoying a drink at the end of a hard day.
- Epic Rocking: "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Street Fighting Man".
- Faceless Masses: "Salt of the Earth"And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray and black and white
They don't look real to me
In fact they look so strange
- Genre Shift: "Sympathy for the Devil", while now among the Stones' proverbial anthems, is quite different from their usual fare (then and now) of angsty blues songs. Namely for the fact that the lyrics are fairly literary filled with historical allusions. Indeed Mick Jagger noted that it was more suited to Bob Dylan's style than the Stones. The song itself drew on the influences of The Master and Margarita (recommended by Marianne Faithfull) and the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. Jagger states that while it's a Ballad, the unusual Samba rhythms and African beats stopped it from departing too much from their style:Mick Jagger: 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.
- Gray-and-Gray Morality: The message of "Sympathy for the Devil" ultimately boils down to saying that every human has the capacity for good and evil, and that morality is not black-and-white as we've all been led to believe. This is illustrated by having the Devil sarcastically take credit for the worst atrocities humans have committed to each other.Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails, just call me Lucifer
Cause I'm in need of some restraint
- Heavy Meta: "Jig-Saw Puzzle"Oh the singer, he looks angryAt being thrown to the lionsAnd the bass player, he looks nervousAbout the girls outsideAnd the drummer, he was shatteredTrying to keep up timeAnd the guitar players look damagedThey've been outcasts all their lives
- Historical Rap Sheet: "Sympathy for the Devil" lists many atrocities that the titular Devil has been part of, such as being a German General during World War II, being accomplice of the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy, and the French and Russian Revolutions.
- Humans Are Bastards:
I watched with glee as your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the gods they made
- "Sympathy for the Devil" basically has the Devil wonder why he is considered evil if humans have been equally horrid over the centuries.
Let's think of the wavering millionsWho need leaders but get gamblers insteadSpare a thought for the stay-at-home voterHis empty eyes gaze at strange beauty showsAnd a parade of the grey suited graftersA choice of cancer or polio
- "Salt of the Earth"
- Intercourse with You: "Stray Cat Blues", and "Parachute Woman" too:Parachute woman, will you blow me out?
- Man of Wealth and Taste: Trope Namer in "Sympathy for the Devil".Please allow me to introduce myselfI'm a man of wealth and taste
- New Sound Album: A huge departure from the psychedelia of their previous albums, though there are still some elements of it on this album.
- One-Woman Song: "Factory Girl" and "Parachute Woman".
- Outlaw: The gangster in "Jigsaw Puzzle" is described as "an outlaw all his life".
- Packaged as Other Medium: The alternate cover makes the album look like a classy record, while it is anything but.
- Perpetual Poverty: The protagonist in "Prodigal Son" is a poor boy who goes out in the world, gets offered a job as a swine herder and returns back home where he reconciles with his father.
- Protest Song: "Street Fighting Man", which actually doesn't advocate for rebellion as "compromise is solution". "Salt of the Earth" asks for sympathy for the common man.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Street Fighting Man" was released in a very turbulent year, 1968, when globally many college students started rebelling against the system and organizing protest marches in the street. "Sympathy for the Devil" originally only referenced the murder of John F. Kennedy, but as his brother Robert F. Kennedy got assassinated too in the Spring of 1968 Jagger changed the line from "Who killed Kennedy?" to "Who killed the Kennedys?"
- Rebellious Spirit: "Street Fighting Man", which was banned from some American radio stations for possibly inciting violence.
- Record Producer: Jimmy Miller, producing the first of five consecutive studio albums for the Stones.
- Red October: Lucifer in "Sympathy for the Devil" was present during the Russian Revolution:I stuck around St. PetersbergWhen I saw it was a time for a changeKilled the Tsar and his ministersAnastasia screamed in vain
- Refuge in Audacity: Releasing a track named "Sympathy for the Devil" in an era of hippie peace and love, with many parents of Stones fans still active church goers was certainly intentionally audacious!
- Riches to Rags: "No Expectations"Once I was a rich man, now I am so poor
- Rock Me, Asmodeus!: "Sympathy for the Devil" may be the first explicitly Satanic song, despite the fact that the content is actually more about mankind denying its own obvious evilness than worshiping the devil. Even Jagger himself has acknowledged this, noting that it was the only real song of the Stones that dealt with the Satanic theme and even then it's more a Take That! to humanity in general.
- Rule-Abiding Rebel: In "Street Fighting Man" Jagger sings that a poor boy can't do much against street fighting people, or change the system for that matter, except "sing in a rock 'n' roll band". A similar lack of attempt to actually join in to change a dire situation can be heard in "Salt of the Earth".
- Runaway Bride: "Dear Doctor", the fiancé receives a note from his brideIt read, "Darlin', I'm sorry to hurt you.But I have no courage to speak to your face.But I'm down in Virginia with your cousin LouThere be no wedding today."
- Self-Deprecation: Jagger observes street violence in "Street Fighting Man", but decides:What can a poor boy do/ except sing in a rock and roll band?.
- Shot Gun Wedding: The fiancé in "Dear Doctor" is forced to wed.
- Among the graffiti on the original toilet cover are "Bob Dylan's Dream" (a song from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) and "Music from Big Brown" (a reference to The Band's Music from Big Pink).
- "Sympathy for the Devil" informs us that Satan was present when Jesus Christ was being seduced by him, the Russian Revolution, the Blitzkrieg and centuries of bloodshed between kings and queens in name of their religion.
- The line summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street in "Street Fighting Man" is similar to the refrain of "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas, except with the word "dancing" instead of "fighting".
- The independent UK music label Beggars Banquet Records takes its name from this album.
- The story collection Beggars Banquet by Ian Rankin took its title from this album.
- The track "Sympathy for the Parents" on Smells Like Children by Marilyn Manson is a shout-out to "Sympathy for the Devil".
- In The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets Hit by a Car", Satan introduces himself to Bart with the words: "Please allow me to introduce myself", in reference to "Sympathy for the Devil".
- Something Blues: "Stray Cat Blues".
- Special Guest: Record producer Jimmy Miller provides backing vocals on "Sympathy for the Devil".
- Step Up to the Microphone: Keith Richards sings lead on the first verse of "Salt of the Earth".
- Sympathy for the Devil: Trope Namer. Ironically, the song in question is a subversion of the trope, as the Devil spends the whole song bragging about how evil he is. Or rather, sarcastically confessing how evil and horrible he is, when "after all it was you and me" and that the Devil is nothing more than humanity denying their own capacity for evil. Lucifer also threatens to "lay your soul to waste" if you don't show him sympathy or respect. Yikes.
- Those Wacky Nazis: It shouldnt be surprising whose side Lucifer was on during World War II.I rode a tank, held a Generals rank
While the Blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank
- Villain Song: "Sympathy for the Devil", sung from the viewpoint of Satan himself, though Refrain from Assuming it's actually sympathetic to him. As the lyrics progress it turns out that Satan questions why people call him "evil", as they too have accomplices in his crimes over the centuries.
- Who Shot JFK?: Apparently you and me, according to "Sympathy for the Devil".I shouted out: "Who killed the Kennedys?"When after all it was you and me
- Working-Class Hero:
Let's drink to the hard working peopleLet's drink to the lowly of birth
- "Salt of the Earth"
Waiting for a girl, she has no money anywhere
- "Factory Girl".
- World Music: Brian Jones plays sitar and tamboura on "Street Fighting Man". Charlie Watts plays tabla on "Factory Girl".