Gimme Shelter

This article is about the song by the Rolling Stones. For other uses, see Gimme Shelter (disambiguation).
"Gimme Shelter"
Song by The Rolling Stones featuring Merry Clayton from the album Let It Bleed
Released 5 December 1969
Recorded 23 February and 2 November 1969
Genre Hard rock,[1] blues rock, psychedelic rock, soul
Length 4:37
Label Decca Records/ABKCO
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer(s) Jimmy Miller
Let It Bleed track listing
Audio sample
file info · help

"Gimme Shelter" is a song by the Rolling Stones. It first appeared as the opening track on the band's 1969 album Let It Bleed. Although the first word was spelled "Gimmie" on that album, subsequent recordings by the band and other musicians have made "Gimme" the customary spelling. Greil Marcus, writing in Rolling Stone magazine at the time of its release, said of it, "The Stones have never done anything better."[2]

The recording features Richards playing in his new open tuning;

The recording also features powerful vocals by Merry Clayton, recorded at a last-minute late-night recording session during the mixing phase, arranged by her friend and record producer Jack Nitzsche.[3] Lisa Fischer was later recruited to perform the song during their concerts.

Inspiration and recording

"Gimme Shelter" was written by the Rolling Stones' lead vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, the band's primary songwriting team. Richards began working on the song's signature opening riff in London whilst Jagger was away filming Performance. As released, the song begins with Richards performing a guitar intro, soon joined by Jagger's harmonica and subsequent lead vocal. Of Let It Bleed's bleak world view, Jagger said in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone:

"Well, it's a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense. The thing about Vietnam was that it wasn't like World War II, and it wasn't like Korea, and it wasn't like the Gulf War. It was a real nasty war, and people didn't like it. People objected, and people didn't want to fight it..." As for the song itself, he concluded, "That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that."[4]

Similarly, on NPR in 2012:

"It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit...When it was recorded, early '69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that's reflected in this tune. It's still wheeled out when big storms happen, as they did the other week [during Hurricane Sandy]. It's been used a lot to evoke natural disaster."[5]

After the first verse, guest vocalist Merry Clayton enters and shares the next three verses. A harmonica solo by Jagger and guitar solo by Richards follow, then with great energy, Clayton repeatedly sings "Rape, murder. It's just a shot away. It's just a shot away," almost screaming the final stanza. She and Jagger then repeat the line "It's just a shot away" and finish with repeats of "It's just a kiss away." (Of her inclusion, Jagger said in the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones: "The use of the female voice was the producer's idea. It would be one of those moments along the lines of 'I hear a girl on this track – get one on the phone.'" ) Summoned - pregnant - from bed around midnight by the producer Jack Nitzsche, Clayton made her recording with just a few takes then returned home to bed.[3] It remains the most prominent contribution to a Rolling Stones track by a female vocalist.[6]

At about 2:59 into the song, Clayton's voice cracks under the strain; once during the second refrain on the word "shot", then on the word "murder" during the third refrain, after which Jagger is faintly heard exclaiming "Woo!" in response to Clayton's powerful delivery. Upon returning home she suffered a miscarriage, attributed by some sources to her exertions during the recording.[7] Merry Clayton's name was erroneously written on the original release, appearing as 'Mary'. Her name is also listed as 'Mary' on the 2002 Let It Bleed remastered CD.

The song was first recorded in London at Olympic Studios in February and March 1969; the version with Clayton was recorded in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound & Elektra Studios in October and November of that same year. Nicky Hopkins played piano, the Rolling Stones' producer Jimmy Miller played percussion, Charlie Watts played drums, Bill Wyman played bass, Jagger played harmonica and sang backup vocals with Richards and Clayton. Guitarist Brian Jones was present during the early sessions but did not contribute, Richards being credited with both rhythm and lead guitars on the album sleeve. An unreleased version features only Richards providing vocals, while an extended remix version has also been created by British DJ Danny Howells[8][9] using isolated tracks ripped from the Rock Band video game, it features the bass much more in the forefront of the mix and the original unfaded outro.[10]

Releases on compilation albums and live recordings

"Gimme Shelter" quickly became a staple of the Rolling Stones' live shows. It was first performed sporadically during their 1969 American Tour and became a regular addition to their setlist during the 1972 American Tour. Concert versions appear on the Stones' albums No Security (recorded 1997, released 1998), Live Licks (recorded 2003, released 2004), Brussels Affair (recorded 1973, released 2011), and Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (2013). A May 1995 performance recorded at Paradiso (Amsterdam) was released on the 1996 "Wild Horses" (live) single and again on Totally Stripped (2016).

The song appears in the 2010 official DVD release of the 1972 Rolling Stones tour film, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. It is also featured on Bridges to Babylon Tour '97–98 (1998), Four Flicks (2003), The Biggest Bang (2007), and Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (2013).

The female contributor to the song live is Lisa Fischer, the only woman to appear in all their tours since 1989.

In their 2012 50th anniversary tour, the Rolling Stones sang this song with Mary J. Blige, Florence Welch and Lady Gaga.

"Gimme Shelter" was never released as a single. Nevertheless, it has been included on many compilation releases, including Gimme Shelter, Hot Rocks 1964–1971, Forty Licks and GRRR!.

Music video

Michel Gondry, an Academy Award-winning French filmmaker, directed a music video for the song, which was released in 1998. The video features a sixteen-year old Brad Renfro, playing a young man escaping with his brother from a dysfunctional home and the abuse they suffered at the hands of their abusive alcoholic father, and then from society as a whole.[11]



"Gimme Shelter" was placed at #38 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004. Pitchfork Media placed it at number 12 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s".[12] Ultimate Classic Rock put the song at #1 on their Top 100 Rolling Stones songs [13] and #3 on their Top 100 Classic Rock Songs [14]

The 1970 documentary film Gimme Shelter, directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, chronicling the last weeks of the Stones' 1969 US tour and culminating in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, took its name from the song. A live version of the song played over the credits.

The song was used in the TV Movie Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987).

The song was played in a commercial for the American Red Cross' "Play Your Part" public service advertising campaign in 1989. This particular commercial featured popular music artists such as Carly Simon, Branford Marsalis, and Randy Travis providing service in an effort to attract more young people to serve.[15]

Martin Scorsese has used the song as a theme in his crime films Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) (used the Grand Funk Railroad cover), and The Departed (2006), though not in his documentary Shine a Light (2008) about the Stones.

It was also used in the films Adventures in Babysitting (1987), Air America (1990), Wild Palms (1993), The War (1994), The Fan (1996), Layer Cake (2004), and in both Flight (2012) and its trailer.

The song was used in a commercial for the game Call of Duty: Black Ops and during the closing moments of the second season of Entourage.

The song was used on The Simpsons episode "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays", in a scene parodying Woodstock.

The song was used in the fifth episode in the second season of Showtime series Dexter.

The song was used in the closing scene of episode 10 in season 4 of Showtime's series Masters of Sex.

The song was used in season 4/episode 5 ("Dawn Budge") of the FX television series Nip/Tuck, which aired on October 3, 2006. It begins during the final scene of the episode and continues over the closing credits.

The song is used in the Life series, episode 10, season 1 (season finale) in 2007.

The song was also used in a Heineken beer commercial featuring Brad Pitt in 2008.

Gimme Shelter is also the title of a 2013 drama film, starring Vanessa Hudgens.

It is used at the end of Person of Interest, season 2, episode 10, 13 December 2012, titled "Shadow Box" as Reese, and three other men in suits, are arrested by the FBI. The episode's plot line concerns an effort by a disabled veteran to steal and return money stolen from other veterans.

The song was used in a February 2013 episode of The Daily Show spoofing the Scorsese uses of the song in a news segment by Jason Jones "exposing" the underground maple syrup criminal organization in Quebec, Canada.[16]

In June, 2013, Hockey Night in Canada used the song as a part of the closing montage for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.[17]

The story of Merry Clayton's contribution to the song is discussed in the documentary film, 20 Feet from Stardom.

During 2014, it was used on the Universal Channel UK promos for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

The song was used in the 10th episode of the 2nd season of Covert Affairs.

The song was used for ABC's coverage of the 2014 Indianapolis 500.

The song was used in the trailer for the 2014 Rupert Wyatt film The Gambler.[18]

According to, the song is ranked 9 among the "Top 10 Overused Songs In Movies And TV".[19]

Cover versions

"Gimme Shelter"
Single by Grand Funk Railroad
from the album Survival
Released 1971
Recorded 1971
Genre Hard rock
Length 6:29
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer(s) Terry Knight
Grand Funk Railroad singles chronology
"Feelin' Alright"
"Gimme Shelter"
"People, Let's Stop the War"
"Gimme Shelter"
Single by Patti Smith
from the album Twelve
Released 2007
Format Digital download
Recorded 2007
Genre Rock
Length 4:32
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer(s) Patti Smith
Patti Smith singles chronology
"Gimme Shelter"

"Putting Our House in Order" project

In 1993, a Food Records project collected various versions of the track by the following bands and collaborations, the proceeds of which went to the Shelter charity's "Putting Our House in Order" homeless initiative. The versions were issued across various formats, and had a live version of the song by the Rolling Stones as a common lead track to ensure chart eligibility.

"Gimme Shelter" (pop version – cassette single)

"Gimme Shelter" (alternative version – CD single)

"Gimme Shelter" (rock version – CD single)

"Gimme Shelter" (dance version – 12" single)

See also


  1. v.d. Luft, Eric (21 September 2009). Die at the Right Time!: A Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties. Gegensatz Press. p. 410. ISBN 978-1-933237-39-8.
  2. Marcus, Greil (27 December 1969). "Let It Bleed The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  3. 1 2 Springer, Mike. "Mick Jagger Tells the Story Behind 'Gimme Shelter' and Merry Clayton's Haunting Background Vocals Open Culture". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  4. Wenner, Jann. "Jagger Remembers" at the Wayback Machine (archived 18 May 2007), Rolling Stone (14 December 1995). Accessed 20 May 2007.
  5. "Mick Jagger On The Apocalyptic 'Gimme Shelter'". November 16, 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  6. Unterberger, Richie. "Gimme Shelter". (2007). Accessed 20 May 2007.
  7. Snowden, Don (13 March 1986). "For Clayton, The Gloom Is Gone". Los Angeles Times.
  8. Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" (Danny Howells Unreleased Extended Mix) on YouTube
  9. "Gimmie Shelter". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  10. "The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (1998)" (Requires IE7 or newer to display with scrollbar; Gecko-based browsers (Firefox et al) do not show the scrollbar, although the page is scrollable with navigation keys). Michel Gondry: Pleasure of the Unknown. 31 December 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  11. "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork. 2006-08-18. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  12. "No. 1: 'Gimme Shelter' – Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs". 2012-07-12. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  13. "No. 3: Rolling Stones, 'Gimme Shelter' – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs". 2012-04-30. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  14. "The Paley Center for Media". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  15. "The Canadian Maple Syrup Syndicate-The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Video Clip | Comedy Central". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  16. "June 24, 2013 - Hockey Night in Canada (HNiC) - Playoff Closing Montage". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  17. "The Gambler Official Trailer #1 (2014) - Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange Movie HD". YouTube. 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  18. "Top 10 Overused Songs In Movies And TV". YouTube. 2014-10-12. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  19. Koda, Cub. "Dead Man". Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  20. "Patti Smith: Gimme Shelter". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 March 2008.
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