Why Mick Jagger Wrote the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

One of the Rolling Stones’ most controversial hits is “Sympathy for the Devil” — which is fitting since controversial writers inspired the track. “Sympathy for the Devil” is among the greatest rock songs about the devil. Fittingly, Mick Jagger cited two authors known for writing about the Satanic as influences on the track. 

The Rolling Stones standing in a row
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The poet who inspired the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

From the beginning, some saw rock ‘n’ roll as Satanic. “Sympathy for the Devil” goes the extra mile by actually being about the devil. Interestingly, the song’s origins are very highbrow.

“I think that was taken from an old idea of [Charles] Baudelaire’s, I think, but I could be wrong,” Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. “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.”

“Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones

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Baudelaire was a French author who translated some of Edgar Allan Poe’s works into French. In addition, Baudelaire wrote a controversial book of poems called The Flowers of Evil. One of the poems in the book is called “The Litanies of Satan,” a poem which twists elements of Catholicism into something Satanic. Baudelaire also wrote a poem called “The Generous Gambler” which features the devil as a character. The book Beggars Banquet and the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Revolution says Jagger cited this poem as an inspiration for “Sympathy for the Devil.”

The novel about Satan which inspired ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

However, Baudelaire was not the only writer to influence “Sympathy for the Devil.” Mikhail Bulgakov, another famous author who wrote about the devil, is most famous for his novel The Master and Margarita. The book concerns Satan visiting the officially atheistic Soviet Union.

The Rolling Stones standing in front of a curtain
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According to the book A Reader’s Companion to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Marianne Faithfull gave Jagger a copy of The Master and Margarita in 1966. The novel had only recently been published in English at that point. The book Beggars Banquet and the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Revolution says The Master and Margarita influenced Jagger as he wrote “Sympathy for the Devil.” Both The Master and Margarita and “Sympathy and the Devil” portray Satan as a wealthy gentleman. 

The film role Mick Jagger never played

Jagger later had a girlfriend named Jerry Hall. Hall heard of a possible film adaptation of The Master and Margarita. Hall felt that Jagger should have a role in it as The Master and Margarita was his favorite book. Jagger never appeared in such a film, but he certainly drew more attention to the classic writings of both Baudelaire and Bulgakov.

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