Writer Stanley Booth once suggested to Keith Richards that “Sympathy for the Devil” was cut from the same cloth as bluesman Robert Johnson’s haunting “Me and the Devil Blues.” “Yeah,” Richards replied. “All of us pursued by the same demon.” But while “Sympathy’s” lyrics reflect the Stones’ attraction to the dark side and allegiance to Johnson, the music is a prime example of how in a real band, composition is a group effort.
“It started as sort of a folk song with acoustics and ended up as kind of a mad samba, with me playing bass and overdubbing the guitar later,” says Richards. “That’s why I don’t like to go into the studio with all the songs worked out and planned beforehand. Because you can write the songs, but you’ve got to give the band something to use its imagination on as well. That can make a very ordinary song come alive into something totally different. You can write down the notes being played, but you can’t put down the X Factor—so important in rock and roll—which is the feel.”