Mick Jagger Said The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ Wouldn’t Have Been as Good if He Made This Creative Decision

During an interview, Mick Jagger discussed why he felt The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” was a good song. Notably, he said “Sympathy for the Devil” would not have been as good if he had taken it in another direction. Listeners in the United States and the United Kingdom had very different reactions to the song.

The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger with a microphone
The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger | Evening Standard/Getty Image

How Mick Jagger initially reacted to 1 of The Rolling Stones’ most famous songs

“Sympathy for the Devil” has some of The Rolling Stones’ most distressing lyrics. The song is narrated from the point of view of Lucifer. In the song, Lucifer takes credit for a multitude of historical tragedies, including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The Rolling Stones released the song the same year as the latter assassination.

During a 1995 interview with Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone, Jagger discussed many of The Rolling Stones’ most famous songs with the benefit of hindsight. He spent quite a bit of the interview discussing “Sympathy for the Devil.” “I knew it was a good song,” Jagger recalled. “You just have this feeling. It had its poetic beginning, and then it had historic references and then philosophical jottings and so on.”

Wenner asked Jagger why “Sympathy for the Devil” is so powerful. “It has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music,” Jagger replied. “It doesn’t speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove.”

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Mick Jagger said this aspect of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is ‘very unpretentious’

Jagger had an explanation for the power of “Sympathy for the Devil.” “It is a very good vehicle for producing a powerful piece,” he said. “It becomes less pretentious because it’s a very unpretentious groove. If it had been done as a ballad, it wouldn’t have been as good.”

Wenner claimed “Sympathy for the Devil” was completely Jagger’s work. Jagger agreed before seemingly contradicting himself and saying Keith Richards influenced the rhythm of “Sympathy for the Devil.” He cited Richards’ input on the song as an example of how being part of a band has its perks.

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The way the world reacted to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

“Sympathy for the Devil” became a minor success — regardless of why it was a success. Remixes of the track reached No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for a week. The original song’s parent album, Beggars Banquet, became a hit. It reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and lasted on the chart for 32 weeks.

On the other hand, The Official Charts Company reports “Sympathy for the Devil” reached No. 14 in the United Kingdom. It lasted seven weeks on the chart. Meanwhile, Beggars Banquet hit No. 3 and stayed on the chart for 12 weeks. The song remains one of the most famous musical depictions of Satan.