and here, under the cut, all you want to know about the song’s meaning and background
There are 2 theories as to the identity of “Mr. Jimmy,” who appears in the third verse. It could be a reference to Jimmy Miller, who was The Stones’ producer at the time, but it might also refer to Jimmy Hutmaker, a local character that wandered the business district in Excelsior, Minnesota, a trendy artist community outside Minneapolis near Lake Minnetonka. Hutmaker, who is known as “Mr. Jimmy,” had some disabilities but seemed mentally sharp most days, although he would talk to himself a lot. He walked miles every day and was cared for by the local shop owners until his death on October 3, 2007.
The Stones performed in Excelsior on their first US tour in 1964, and were not well received. Mick Jagger went into a local drugstore to get a Cherry Coke. Back then a cherry coke was a coke with real cherries in it and drug store soda fountains were the place you usually found them. The store didn’t have cherry cokes and Mr. Jimmy, standing in line behind Jagger, commented, “Well, you can’t always get what you want.” Mr. Jimmy was at the Stones next show in Minneapolis. Legend has it that Jagger sent a limo to pick him up, but it is more likely that a local businessman worked it out so he could go. (thanks, Chris Hall – Athens, GA, and the good people at the Excelsior chamber of commerce)
The chorus of children is the London Bach Choir. Their 60 voices were double-tracked to make it sound like there were even more of them.
The London Bach Choir tried to have their name removed from the album when they found out it was called Let It Bleed and contained “Midnight Rambler,” a song about a serial killer.
The lyrics are about how hard it is to find happiness. No matter what you have, you always want more.
The “Chelsea Drugstore” was in Chelsea; the King’s Road, in fact, which “Swung” just as much as Carnaby Street in its day. But it wasn’t a drug store (not officially anyway), it was a pub. Stanley Kubrick filmed part of A Clockwork Orange there. But the most devastating fact about the Chelsea Drugstore is that the place is now a McDonalds. (thanks, Kevin – london, England)
This was released as the B-side of “Honky Tonk Women.” The version on this single is shorter than the one on the album. It was released July 3, 1969, the day after Brian Jones died.
A version without the choir appears on Rock and Roll Circus, a British TV special The Stones taped in 1968, but never aired. Featuring music and circus performers, it was released on video in 1995.
The Stones first recorded this in 1968 as part of the Beggars Banquet sessions.
Al Kooper was brought in to play the organ and French horn. These instruments would have been played by Brian Jones, but he was having severe drug problems and was unavailable. That’s Kooper playing the long horn note at the beginning.
This was used in the movie The Big Chill. It plays at Alex’ funeral.
One of the backup singers was Doris Troy, who had a hit in 1963 called “Just One Look.”
Marrianne Faithful, who was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, said this was about her drug use.
Jagger: “It’s a good song, even if I say so myself. It’s got a very sing-along chorus, and people can identify with it: No one gets what they always want. It’s got a very good melody. It’s got very good orchestral touches that Jack Nitzsche helped with. So it’s got all the ingredients.” (thanks, Bertrand – Paris, France)
The band’s drummer, Charlie Watts, did not play on this track for the simple reason he was technically unable to figure out the beat for this unusual groove and rhythm. Their producer, Jimmy Miller, played on it instead. Watts eventually modified a way of playing along to it as shown in the Rock And Roll Circus video. Miller was very particular about drumming. He also played on “Happy” and contributed cowbell to “Honky Tonk Woman.” (thanks, mark – tucson, AZ)
In an interview with NPR, Al Kooper said he observed Jimmy Miller and Charlie Watts working on the drum piece. Watts wasn’t getting it quick enough so Miller said, “Here, let me show you.” At that point Watts said, “Why don’t you play it then” and walked out. Miller stayed and the song was cut. (thanks, Egon – Southbury, CT)
In 2004, Coke used this in commercials for C2, a lower calorie, lower carb version of their regular soda.
In December, 2008, we received this note, which while impossible to confirm, does make an interesting read:
Forty years ago I had just returned to London from India and Nepal. I was broke, dirty and jonsing pretty badly. One night in hopes of gaining access to a drug store I was on the roof of the building above it. In truth, I wasn’t much of a thief and my rooftop escapade was a sort of adventure to keep me from jumping out of my skin. As I passed a skylight I suspected someone saw me but chalked it up to paranoia and searched on.
When I saw a black Jaguar (police cruiser) snake into the courtyard my glands overdosed me with adrenaline. I had been fairly athletic before drugs but it surprised me that I was able to fly down the fire escape and scale the huge barbed wire gate with energy (but little time) to spare. The Jag was on my heels as I made the jump onto the fence. I ran like a demon for as long as I figured it’d take for other cops to respond to their radio call and then slowed to what I thought was a casual walk. By then I was feeling pretty sick and I ducked into the Chelsea Drugstore. This was a very fashionable shopping mall which included a few pubs and I slipped into line with the crowd that was waiting for admission.
I was sweaty and unkempt and imagined that I stood out, so, in hopes to blend in with the crowd I started a conversation with the guy closest to me. He was eating life savers and was very friendly. He was noticing a much overdressed couple and I used one of my conversation openers: “Real Circus around her isn’t it,” I pulled that line out of a Donavan song that ended with ‘there’s only one catch to the fun, to hell if you’re willing, your names on the billing and it seems you’re wanted in ring number one.’
He looked at me with a curious smile. “Oh yea, I know what you mean, costumes and all.”
I went on, “Great performances but the billing probably includes both of us” I said hoping for some irony or humor. He sifted through his life savers and popped one in his mouth, looked up and gave me a big smile, “I know a bit about performances.”
OK, I should have recognized him immediately or at least by then, but it was a little beyond belief and I was in a bit of a situation. When he looked back to his life savers I asked him if he saved his favorite flavor for last. “Nope” mischievous smile again, “I always eat the red ones first,” and he displayed it as he popped it in his mouth.
By then he was in full control of the conversation; I was 20 and he was older and had the attitude of a man who is very much in charge of his life and being the center of things. I was a scruffy little junky. He asked what an American like me was doing in London. I told him I had just been on an overland journey including Vienna and Istanbul along with Bombay, Delhi and Katmandu. He said he didn’t know a thing about Istanbul and that the only thing he knew about Vienna was the Choir boys and, finding another red one he flashed his grin. By then we were involved in a very fluent conversation. He was very easy to talk to despite his status as a star. He even listened to a few of my stories about the east. At one point when I implied that I was trying to get something that night that I couldn’t seem to locate he knew exactly what I was talking about. “You can’t always get what you want but…” Which sounded like sage advice to me. He was really very charming and extremely clever, not to say an entertaining conversationalist.
I am terrible at face recognition and usually only thinking of the next thing I could add to the conversation. But by then his identity was penetrating my thick scull. I introduced myself as Jim and asked him his name. He said Mick, of course, and we had a bit of small talk about a dealer I knew that was named Mick before he asked me my surname. Now, where I am from they call it your last name and I didn’t really know what a surname was. I remembered that when you called someone ‘sir’ you usually used his first name. So I said James… thinking he wanted to know my proper first name. “No, no, I mean your family name,” he clarified. I figured he meant the nickname that my family called me and I said, “Jimmy” This cracked him up; I suppose by then he thought me a complete idiot. He said “so you’re Mr. Jimmy, huh, that’s great… Mr. Jimmy” laughing loudly.
I figured it out. Normally I am not so terribly obtuse but, understand, I was not well at all. I told him my last name, he said, “O God, forget it, I’ll never remember that, I can barely pronounce it. Mr. Jimmy is fine.”
Just then a man came out and very politely tapped on his shoulder. Before he was lead through the long line into the club he turned to invite me to join him. By then I was getting really ill; I thanked him and left. It had been a while and I knew I would be safe.
I was very stoned on acid the first time I heard the song and made a big thing about it. No one believed me and a close friend said that even if the story was true I should just forget it, telling it would just make me look foolish. I didn’t tell anyone else for 25 years at which time I told a few good friends I was drinking with. They laughed and turned the conversation elsewhere. I didn’t bother to insist on the veracity of the story and was happy to just let it go. The only person who can verify the story is Mick.