The way the Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy for the Devil” was developed in the studio is well-known, with an almost real-time documentation (at least it feels like real-time) of the recording sessions shown in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 film, One Plus One AKA Sympathy for the Devil. The film featured long, uninterrupted takes of the Stones working the song up in the studio and the number’s basic structure is changed several times over before they finally hit on the sound they want (The rest of the film shows scenes of supposed Black Panthers, newsreel footage of the Vietnam War, pans across a bookstore’s comic, girlie magazine and political book covers and features hefty doses of Marxism and Maoism in the voice-over, this being Godard in the 60s, after all.)
The original sessions took place in Olympic Studios in London, between June 4th to the 10th, 1968. The working title of the song was “The Devil Is My Name.” In the film, the group goes through several iterations of the song, from almost a bluesy, folky ballad (similar to “Jigsaw Puzzle”) to the freaked-out samba it ultimately became. During the session, the words were changed from “who killed Kennedy?” to “who killed the Kennedys?” after the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Although the song was primarily a Jagger composition, its lyrics inspired by the great Russian novel, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, it was Richards who came up with the song’s samba arrangement, playing both bass and lead guitar. The druggy dissolution of Brian Jones is seen unvarnished in Godard’s film, his usefulness in the studio coming to an end (he is not heard on the finished track). Rocky Dijon played the congas, Bill Wyman is heard on maracas, and frequent Stones sideman, Nicky Hopkins is on piano. (In the Godard film, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, producer Jimmy Miller, Wyman and Richards are seen recording backup vocals, but the “whoo whoo” backing vocals were overdubbed in Los Angeles by Miller, Jagger and Richards alone).
Charlie Watts told the authors of 2003’s According to the Rolling Stones: “‘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.”
The Stones in the studio from Jean Luc-Godard’s One Plus One AKA Sympathy for the Devil. This is all of their bits from the film minus the Maoist sloganeering and Black Power sermonizing of the rest of it.
After the jump, the isolated tracks…