"Gimme Shelter" is a song by the English rock band 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. The Rolling Stones first played the song live at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO on 7 November 1969. Greil Marcus, writing in Rolling Stone, once said of it, "The Stones have never done anything better."[1]

The song features female vocals by Merry Clayton.


 [hide*1 Inspiration and recording

Inspiration and recording[edit]Edit

"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 at the song's signature opening riff in London during the period when Jagger was away acting in the film Performance. As released, the churning mid-tempo rocker begins with Richards performing a brooding instrumental guitar intro, soon joined by Jagger's wailing harmonica and subsequent lead vocal. On 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."[2]

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."[3]

As the song builds past its first verse, a higher-pitched second vocal part enters, sung by guest vocalist Merry Clayton. 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.'" Clayton gives her solo performance, and one of the song's most famous pieces, after a solo performed by Richards, repeatedly singing "Rape, murder; It's just a shot away, It's just a shot away," and finally screaming the final stanza. She and Jagger finish the song with the line, "Love, sister, it's just a kiss away." To date it remains one of the most prominent contributions to a Rolling Stones track by a female vocalist.[4]

At about 2:59 into the song, Clayton's voice cracks twice from the strain of her powerful singing; once during the second refrain, on the word "shot" from the last line, and then again during the first line of the third and final refrain, on the word "murder", after which Jagger can be heard saying "Woo!" in response to Clayton's emotional delivery. She suffered a miscarriage upon returning home, attributed by some sources to the strain involved in reaching the highest notes.[5] Merry Clayton's name was erroneously written on the original release, appearing as 'Mary'.

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 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[6][7] 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.[8]

Releases on compilation albums and live recordings[edit]Edit

"Gimme Shelter" quickly became a staple of the Rolling Stones' live show, first performed during their 1969 American Tour. Concert versions appear on the Stones' albums No Security (1998), Live Licks (2004), Brussels Affair (2011), and Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (2013), as well as on the 1996 "Wild Horses" (live) single.

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), Rolling Stones – Four Flicks (2004), 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. BligeFlorence Welch and Lady Gaga.

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

Music video[edit]Edit

Michel Gondry, an Academy Award-winning French filmmaker, directed a music video for the song, which was released in 1998. The video features Brad Renfro, who plays a young man escaping with his brother first from a dysfunctional home, and then from society as a whole.[9]



"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".[10]

Movies and TV[edit]Edit

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 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 SimonBranford Marsalis, andRandy Travis providing service in an effort to attract more young people to serve.[11]

Martin Scorsese has used the song as a signature theme in his crime films Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) 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), The Fan (1996) and Layer Cake (2004).

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 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.

The song is also used in the 2012 Robert Zemeckis film Flight as well as its trailer.

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, Dec. 13, 2012, titled "Shadow Box" as Reese, and three other men in suits, are arrested by the F.B.I. 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.

The story of Merry Clayton's contribution to the song is discussed in the documentary film20 Feet from Stardom.

Cover versions[edit]Edit

"Gimme Shelter"
Single by Grand Funk Railroad
from the album Survival
Released 1971
Recorded 1971
Genre Hard rockheavy metal
Length 6:29
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer 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 Patti Smith
Patti Smith singles chronology


"Gimme Shelter"


"Putting Our House in Order" project[edit]Edit

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)

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