In Praise of Satan: The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”



Beggars Banquet cover

Beggars Banquet cover



It’s hard to believe that it took me so many years to become a Rolling Stones fan.  Not just because they’re one of the world’s greatest rock and roll bands, but man do they have a dark side.  Whether it’s “Under My Thumb” discussing relationship cruelty and ownership;  or “Brown Sugar” with its take on master-slave sex;  or “Stray Cat Blues” trying to justify statutory rape;  the Stones have always had a darkness to their lyrics that casual fans may miss if all they think is “Jumping Jack Flash” or “Honky Tonk Women.”  Given my leanings toward darkness, I should’ve been a Stones fan ages ago.  What’s not hard to believe is that even back in high school, long before I learned to love Jagger and Richards, I loved “Sympathy for the Devil.”


One doesn’t have to look hard to see the evil in this song.  “Sympathy” chronicles the devil’s work over the millennia and does so with style and aplomb.  Lines such as “I rode a tank in a general’s rank/ When the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank” cut right to Satan’s core.  And listen to that line about the Kennedy’s.  To this day, my head starts to buzz every time I hear it.  And that guitar solo rips my soul with every listen.


I’ve never seen the Stones live, but below is a clip from a 2006 show in Austin, Texas.  It’s full of all the spectacle you’d expect from the Stones.  They’ve turned “Sympathy for the Devil” into a huge party song, full of excess, and Richard’s solo isn’t quite as biting as it was on the studio track.  But hey, if I ever get to see the Stones live, I won’t be complaining.




For those who want to hear the song at its darkest, check out this clip of the original studio track.





“Sympathy for the Devil” has been my favorite Stones tune since day 1, and it always will be.  In praise of Satan and great music from the Stones, you can’t do much better than this.


-Phil Fasso

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