Meaning of Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones

When The Rolling Stones recorded Sympathy for the Devil, the band was attacked by religious zealots and moral zealots. Musicians have had occasion to shock the venerable audience before with sexual allusions and slight flirting with satanic themes, but the song called “Sympathy for the Devil” was a real shock to the conservative society.

However, as the subsequent story of the team showed, the Rolling Stones only benefited from this.

The story of creation and the meaning of Sympathy for the Devil

The official co-authors of Sympathy for the Devil are Jagger and Richards, although Mick, of course, did most of the work on it.

At first, he hesitantly claimed that he wrote the song, which is performed on behalf of Satan, under the influence of the classics of French literature:

I think it came from an old Baudelaire idea. I think so, but I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look into my Baudelaire books, I don’t see her in them. But I got this idea from French literature. And I just took a couple of lines and developed them. I wrote it in the style of Bob Dylan songs.

Rolling Stone 1995

But later, Jagger admitted that the main source of inspiration for him was Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. The book, translated into English in 1967, was allegedly given to him by Marianne Faithfull. However, anyone who carefully read Bulgakov’s creation will find several obvious references to the plot of the work in the text of Sympathy for the Devil.

In the song, the devil tells how he initiated various important historical events. It recalls the crucifixion of Christ, the inaction of Pontius Pilate, the Hundred Years War, the revolution in Canada, the murder of the royal family and the Second World War.

Most of all, the lines about the troubadours who died on the way to Bombay raise questions. It is most likely that Jagger was referring to the so-called “hippie route”, or “hippie trail” (Overland Hippie Trail). This is a once popular destination for hitchhiking from Europe to India or Nepal. Many wanderers who went on such a dangerous trip were killed by drug dealers and just bandits.

Keith Richards explained what Sympathy for the Devil is about:

Sympathy is a life-affirming song. She simply offers to look the devil in the face. It’s always around somewhere… Evil – people tend to hide it and hope it goes away on its own and doesn’t rear its ugly head… You can accept the fact that evil is around and deal with it however you like. Sympathy for the Devil is a song that says, “Don’t forget about him. If you resist him, he will be out of work.”


Recording and release

Musically, the final version of the composition differs significantly from the original version, which was called The Devil Is My Name. Word to Richards:

Sympathy for the Devil started out as an acoustic folk song, but it ended up being a kind of crazy samba where I played bass and then overdubbed guitar.

Jagger later said that the song would not have been as good if it had remained a ballad.

Sympathy for the Devil was recorded in June 1968 at London’s Olympic Sound Studios. Interestingly, even Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull took part in the recording, who acted as backing vocalists. The song became one of the tracks on the Beggars Banque album, released in December 1968.

Sympathy for the Devil was named one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone in 2004.

Video of Sympathy for the Devil

Check out the music video for Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones.

accusations of satanism

After the release of the song, the members of The Rolling Stones, as expected, began to be accused of worshiping the devil, which caused them bewilderment. Here’s what Keith Richards had to say about it:

Before, we were just innocent kids who decided to have a good time. And now they say: “They are evil, they are evil.” Oh, I’m evil, right? So it makes you start thinking about evil… What is evil? Moreover, I don’t know how many people think Mick is the devil or just a good rocker or whatever. There are black magicians who think we are Lucifer’s unknown agents and others who think we are Lucifer.”

Rolling Stone 1971

Mick Jagger claimed that this is a song about the dark side of the human soul, but not a praising of the devil. He stated the following about the allegations made against them:

When people started talking about us as Satanists, it seemed really weird to me, because after all, it was just one song. It was not a whole album with an abundance of occult signs on the back. People seemed to accept this image very willingly, and it gradually carried over to modern heavy metal bands.


Be that as it may, this whole story definitely contributed to the popularity of The Rolling Stones, and the song became one of the band’s main hits.

Sympathy for the Devil cover versions

The song was recorded by Guns N’ Roses, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Bryan Ferry, Sandy Shaw, Ozzy Osbourne and other musicians.

Interesting Facts

  • After the murder of a fan at the Altamont Festival, the band barely played Sympathy for the Devil for several years, although the tragedy occurred while playing another song.
  • The National Review magazine included Sympathy for the Devil in the list of the 50 most conservative rock songs and called it an anti-communist composition in which the devil personifies the USSR.
  • Steve McGeedy, vice president of Intel, quoted one verse from the song when he testified in an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.

Sympathy for the Devil Lyrics The Rolling Stones

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Hold a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stand

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

I shouted out
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reach Bombay

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah

Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame

What’s my name
Tell me, baby, what’s my name
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name

Lyrics Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones Alternate

Please allow me to introduce myself:
I am a rich man with good taste
I’ve been known for many, many years
During which he stole and destroyed many souls

I was already when Jesus Christ
Had doubts and suffered pain
I tried to Pilate
I washed my hands and sealed my fate

Nice to meet you
I hope you guessed my name
But whatever puzzles you
This is the essence of my game

I wandered around St. Petersburg,
When I saw it was time for a change
Killed the king and ministers,
And Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Had the rank of general
When the blitzkrieg raged
And bodies stink

I watched with glee
Like your kings and queens
Fought ten decades
For the gods they made

I called out:
“Who killed Kennedy?”
Although in the end
It was you and me

Let me introduce myself,
I am a rich man with good taste
And I set traps for the troubadours
Who were killed before they got to Bombay

Like all cops are criminals
All sinners are saints
And the eagle is tails,
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I need to be held back a little

So if you meet me
Be courteous
Be courteous and elegant
Show all your learned courtesy
Otherwise I will ruin your soul

Tell me baby what’s my name
Tell me honey, you guessed my name
Tell me baby what’s my name
I’ll only say once and only blame yourself

What is my name,
Tell me baby what’s my name
Tell me sweetie what’s my name

Song quote

I knew it was a good song. There is such a feeling. It has a poetic beginning, historical references, philosophical remarks, and so on. It’s very good to write this in poetry, but turning it into a pop song is something special. Especially in England, where you’ll be skewered on the altar of pop culture if you get pretentious.

Mick Jagger, 1995

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