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Sympathy for the Devil

"Sympathy for the Devil" is a song by English rock band the Rolling Stones, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It is the opening track on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet.

"Sympathy for the Devil"
Sympathy for the Devil cover.jpg
German single picture sleeve (1973)
Song by the Rolling Stones
from the album Beggars Banquet
Released6 December 1968 (1968-12-06)
Recorded4–5, 8–10 June 1968
StudioOlympic, London
GenreSamba rock
Producer(s)Jimmy Miller
Audio sample

Rolling Stone magazine placed it at number 32 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".


"Sympathy for the Devil" is credited to Jagger and Richards, though the song was largely a Jagger composition.[1] The working title of the song was "The Devil Is My Name", having earlier been called "Fallen Angels". Jagger sings in first person narrative as the Devil,[citation needed] boasting his role in each of several historical atrocities. The singer then ironically demands our courtesy towards him, implicitly chastising the listener for our collective culpability in the listed killings and crimes. In the 2012 documentary Crossfire Hurricane, Jagger stated that his influence for the song came from Baudelaire and from the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita (which had just appeared in English translation in 1967). The book was given to him by Marianne Faithfull.

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.[2]

Furthermore, 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] By the time Beggars Banquet was released, the Rolling Stones had already raised some hackles for sexually forward lyrics such as "Let's Spend the Night Together",[3] or after their reprise of the Willie Dixon's blues "I Just Want to Make Love to You" etc. and for allegedly dabbling in Satanism[4] (their previous album, while containing no direct Satanic references in its music or lyrics, was titled Their Satanic Majesties Request), and "Sympathy" brought these concerns to the fore, provoking media rumours and fears among some religious groups that the Stones were devil-worshippers and a corrupting influence on youth.[4]

The lyrics focus on atrocities in the history of mankind from Satan's point of view including the trial and death of Jesus Christ ("Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands to seal his fate"), 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 shooting of the Romanov family during World War I ("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"). The song was originally written with the line "I shouted out 'Who killed Kennedy?'" After Robert F. Kennedy's death on 6 June 1968, the line was changed to "Who killed the Kennedys?".[5] And the answer is "when after all it was you and me", which is a way of saying that "the devil is not the other one, but eventually each one of us."[6]

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 Europe and in the United States.[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 and Bill Wyman on maracas. Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, producer Jimmy Miller, Wyman and Richards performed backup vocals, singing the "woo woos".[citation needed] Richards plays bass on the original recording,[citation needed] and also electric guitar. Brian Jones plays a mostly mixed out acoustic guitar, although in isolated tracks of the studio cut, it is audible playing along with the piano.

In the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones, Watts commented:

"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 at 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.[2]

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]

The backing "who who-woo-woo' vocals, which helped to make the song's sound stand out, came about by accident thanks to Jimmy Miller and Anita Pallenberg. Pallenberg was in the engineering booth with Miller while Jagger was belting out an early vocal take of the song. According to Pallenberg, Miller was half talking to himself as Jagger sang, saying stuff like "Come on Mick, give it your all, who are you singing about? - Who, who?" He then repeated "Who who" several times after that as Jagger sang on, and Pallenberg realized how wonderful that all sounded. After the take, she told Jagger what transpired in the booth and suggested that "who who" be used in the song as a backing vocal chant. The Stones then gave it a go and after the first take, 'Who who" became "woo-woo", with most of this caught on film by director Jean-Luc Godard for his One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil) movie.[citation needed]


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. Some people have made a living out of doing this; for example, Jimmy Page."[4]

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 many 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."[6]

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.[4] Rolling Stone magazine's early articles on the incident typically misreported that the killing took place during "Sympathy for the Devil",[9] but the Stones in fact played "Sympathy for the Devil" earlier in the concert; it was interrupted by a fight and restarted, 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]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Germany (BVMI)[12] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[13] Platinum 50,000 
United Kingdom (BPI)[14] Gold 500,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone
 sales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Appearances in mediaEdit

The song was featured in the video games Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, Mafia 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops. The Fatboy Slim remix was featured in the music video game Just Dance 2. The song also appears in the 2016 DC Comics superhero film Suicide Squad. It plays when the character of Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) is first introduced. Also played in the film Fallen (1998 film).

In the Vertigo graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the character "V" quotes the opening lyrics to the song as he confronts a paedophile bishop who is later murdered by him.

The title of the first episode of season 5 of the CW series Supernatural is named after the song, but the song does not actually play in the episode. Similarly, the song's name serves as the title for the sixth episode, or "session" of the Sunrise anime television series Cowboy Bebop, though the song itself does not play in the episode.

The song also appears as the trailer song in the 3rd season of the hit YouTube Premium show Escape The Night. Escape The Night S3 Uses The Song Since The Theme Is 1970.

In 1990, the song was used in the Season Two episode of the TV series Midnight Caller entitled "Nighthawk's Got the Blues".

In 2015, the song was used in the Focus (2015 film) and appeared on Track #7 of the soundtrack.

The 1968 film and othersEdit

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]

During the several days of recording the Stones as they played, a film lamp set up by Godard's crew, started a major fire in the studio that caused substantial damage to the studio and laid waste to some of the band’s equipment. However, the song's tapes were saved by producer Jimmy Miller before he fled the studio, and Godard kept his cameras rolling capturing the fire on film as it roared on.

Guns N' Roses versionEdit

"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)
Released13 December 1994 (1994-12-13)
RecordedOctober 1994
GenreHard rock
Guns N' Roses singles chronology
"Since I Don't Have You"
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"Chinese Democracy"

Guns N' Roses recorded a cover in 1994 which reached number 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 (except the 4K cut of the film) and was included on their Greatest Hits album. This cover is noteworthy for causing an incident involving incoming guitarist, Paul "Huge" Tobias, that was partially responsible for guitarist Slash departing from the band in 1996.[15] Slash has described the Guns N' Roses version of the song as "the sound of the band breaking up".[16]

Rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke, who does not appear on the recording, noted that the recording foreshadowed his departure from the band:

They did that while I was on the road touring for my solo record. […] I knew that that was the ending because nobody told me about it. Officially I was in the band at that time, and they did that song without me. That was one of the last straws for me, because nobody had said anything to me, and they recorded a song by one of my favorite bands. It was pretty clear I'm a big Rolling Stones fan, and they recorded the song without me. So I knew that was it.[17]



Chart (1994–1995) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[18] 12
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[19] 17
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[20] 18
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[21] 40
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[22] 48
Canada (The Record)[23] 9
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[24] 2
France (SNEP)[25] 15
Germany (Official German Charts)[26] 20
Ireland (IRMA)[27] 5
Italy (Musica e dischi)[28] 5
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[29] 10
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[30] 9
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[31] 13
Norway (VG-lista)[32] 5
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[33] 8
Spain (AFYVE)[34] 4
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[35] 7
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[36] 15
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[37] 9
US Billboard Hot 100[38] 55
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[39] 10

Sales and certificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Japan (RIAJ)[40] Gold 50,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Other recorded versionsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Wenner, Jann (14 December 1995). "Mick Jagger Remembers". Rolling Stone.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Let's Spend the Night Together". allmusic. 2007 . Retrieved 26 June 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d Cruickshank, Douglas. "Sympathy for the Devil". Retrieved 25 June 2006.
  5. ^ Jagger/Richards (20 June 2004). "Sympathy for the Devil". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
  6. ^ a b Greenfield, Robert (19 August 1971). "The Rolling Stone Interview: Keith Richards". Rolling Stone.
  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 23 February 2008.
  9. ^ Burks, John (7 February 1970). "Rock & Roll's Worst Day". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  10. ^ a b One Plus One - Jean-Luc Godard
  11. ^ Margotin, Philippe; Guesdon, Jean-Michel, 2016. The Rolling Stones All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal. p. 256.
  12. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (The Rolling Stones; 'Sympathy For The Devil')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  13. ^ "Italian single certifications – The Rolling Stones – (Sympathy for the devil)" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 28 October 2019. Select "2019" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "(Sympathy for the devil)" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli online" under "Sezione".
  14. ^ "British single certifications – The Rolling Stones – (Sympathy for the devil)". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 22 June 2018. Select singles in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type (Sympathy for the devil) in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  15. ^ Gary Graft (January 1997). "Total Guitar-Slash, Rock and Roses 1997".; Total Guitar. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  16. ^ Bozza, Anthony; Slash (2007). Slash (Paperback). New York: Harper Collins. p. 480. ISBN 0-00-725777-5. (German paperback is ISBN 0-00-725776-7)
  17. ^ "Gilby Clarke Opens Up About His Final Guns N' Roses Gig". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  18. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  19. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  20. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  21. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  22. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 2701." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  23. ^ "HITS OF THE WORLD". Billboard. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  24. ^ Pennanen, Timo. Sisältää hitin: levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972. Otava Publishing Company Ltd, 2003. ISBN 951-1-21053-X
  25. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  26. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  27. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Guns N' Roses". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  28. ^ "Top 10 Sales in Europe" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 12 no. 2. 14 January 1995. p. 11. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  29. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 2, 1995" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  30. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  31. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  32. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil". VG-lista. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  33. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  34. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  35. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil". Singles Top 100. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  36. ^ " – Guns N' Roses – Sympathy for the Devil". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  37. ^ "Guns N' Roses: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  38. ^ "Guns N' Roses Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  39. ^ "Guns N' Roses Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  40. ^ ""RIAJ > The Record > June 1995 > Page 5 > Certified Awards (April 1995)"" (PDF). Recording Industry Association of Japan (in Japanese). Retrieved 14 February 2014.
  41. ^ "Laibach - Sympathy For The Devil". Discogs. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  42. ^ "La timba no es como ayer". Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  43. ^ "Science & Nature". Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  44. ^ "video BAND OF SKULLS / JOHN JEHN : Sympathy for the devil – bande of skulls, band of skull, band skulls – videos MYTARATATA.COM". Archived from the original on 28 February 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  45. ^ "Motörhead To Release 'Bad Magic' In August". 4 June 2015. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  46. ^ "Sandie Shaw – Reviewing The Situation". Retrieved 16 June 2017.

External linksEdit