Gimme Shelter has had a seriously profound effect on me – to the extent that I have the lyrics from the first verse tattooed on my thigh. What makes it such a big deal to me is the fact that it can be relevant and applicable to anything you want. Now, I know that it was originally written about the tumultuous, war-stricken world everyone was living in in 1969, but I really do believe that the indirect nature of the lyrics allow it to become far more personal to each individual listener than it may first seem.
The reasons towards my great love of this song are two-fold, firstly I adore the backing vocals of Merry Clayton – the moment her voice cracks due to the strain and emotion she is putting into each note always gives me chills and her voice compliments Mick Jagger’s perfectly too. The strength of her emotions when singing the line “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” is to this day, incredibly powerful. This line is one of many in Gimme Shelter that is sadly, just as relevant today as it was in ’69. It’s lines like that one, that force you to reflect on the world and what is going on in it – and to me that makes it one of the most intelligent and thoughtful songs ever made. Not only because of its longevity, but because no matter what generation you’re from, you can connect the lyrics to the uncertainties and fear of what’s happening in the world around you.
The first lines of the song “Oh, a storm is threat’ning, my very life today, If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away,” exudes anxiety and gives the impression that the band and most likely a lot of people felt a great sense of foreboding when thinking of the future. To me it also represents the notion that you have to be able to get away from it all every now and again; otherwise you’ll just burn out. Therefore, on a more micro level, I identify with it because for as long as I can remember, not knowing how things will pan out has always majorly stressed me out, often to the point where I feel like I’m going to break. So Jagger’s plea for respite rings home in a big big way.