07 May 2009

Gimme Shelter

Miss Ludmilla points us at a YouTube video of John Doe and Nels Cline jamming the hell out of the Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter.”

That was a while back, when I was fighting a cold, so I discovered that YouTube is full of versions of the song and surfed around listening to them for hours. I love the Internet.

You can get the Rolling Stones doing it every which way: with virtuouso inventiveness, loose, clean and simple, almost jazzy, too fast, tight and bold at the doomed Altamont concert, gorgeously overblown at a '90s arena show like the one I saw including Lisa Fischer's amazing vocals, remixed by DJs like Danny Howells or Streetlab, and even used to score a propaganda film about Congolese refugees that Ben Affleck made for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Or you can get Keith Richards finding the bluesy backbone of the song with the help of his other big noisy band, the X Pensive Winos. Or Meat Loaf taking a run at out-arena-ing the Stones with big guitars, spandex'd backup singers, and his mighty dissipated stage presence. Or Grand Funk Railroad doing another kind of big, with a perfect '70s overproduced studio track. Or Merry Clayton with an amazing 1970 soul rendition I can't believe I've gone this long without hearing. Or Merry Clayton again, working a crowd live just last year. Or, while we're at that, Ruth Copeland & Funkadelic turning it into a funk epic and throwing in a “get down.” Or Mitch Ryder demonstrating that while White guys may not deserve to sing the blues they can sometimes make solid American music trying. Or the Sisters of Mercy making it their own; that the goth toolbox of minor key trickery doesn't make the song any scarier isn't a failure by the Sisters but a testament to the source material. Or Angélique Kidjo transforming it into a World Pop confection. Or some little band called sQuire playing it tight and crisp. Or Kenny Greenberg, David Grissom, Paul Reed Smith, and Reese Wynans cooking up a guitar jam around Ashley Cleveland's smoky vocals. (If you like the way she does it, you can also get Ashley Cleveland singing it with a country arrangement that works better than you might expect.) Or Michael Hedges making it ethereal and intricate with just an acoustic guitar and his voice. Or even Sheryl Crow mixing it with her song “Gasoline” and managing to defang it.

That's all well and good, but if you ask me, the person who sings “Gimme Shelter” the way the Devil originally intended isn't Mick Jagger, it's Patti Smith, on her album of cover songs Twelve. I can't recommend that album highly enough, and “Gimme Shelter” is the high point. YouTube has a bunch of her live performances of “Gimme Shelter,” recorded with varying quality, but I recommend that you start by checking out the cuttingly arranged studio track.


Jonathan Korman said...

Bonus: over on Dangerous Minds, there's a collection of audio tracks of the "Let It Bleed" version broken out that's absolutely fascinating.

Jonathan Korman said...

Another bonus: a version made with performances mixed together from around the world.