Study Guide

Street Fighting Man

Street Fighting Man Introduction

In a Nutshell

In 1968, a lot of people were not happy—not happy at all. The year has gone down in history as a year of protests, against everything from poor student living conditions to the Vietnam War.

Mick Jagger found himself at one of those very protests, in London, in March of that year. That experience, combined with what he was hearing about similar events around the world, was the inspiration for one of the Rolling Stones' most enduring hits: "Street Fighting Man." 

Despite its clear origins, though, this song is still a little bit of a mystery. The title seems straightforward, but the rest of the lyrics are a little more ambivalent. Keep reading to learn more about this iconic piece of music, which tackles the social issues of the 1960s as only rock and roll can.

About the Song

ArtistRolling Stones, The
Year1968
LabelDecca Records (UK), London records (U.S.)
Writer(s)Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producer(s)Jimmy Miller
Musician(s)Mick Jagger (lead vocals, back-up vocals), Brian Jones (sitar, tamboura), Keith Richards (acoustic guitar, bass guitar, back-up vocals), Charlie Watts (drums), Nicky Hopkin (piano), Dave Mason (shehnai)
Learn to playChords
AlbumBeggars Banquet

Music Video

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Influences on Rolling Stones, The

Jimmy Reed
Muddy Waters
Little Walter
T-Bone Walker
Chuck Berry
Earl Phillips
Bo Diddley
Fats Domino
Elmore James
Howlin' Wolf

Influenced by Rolling Stones, The

Sex Pistols
David Bowie
Aerosmith
Guns & Roses
Foo Fighters
The Flamin Groovies

Street Fighting Man Resources

Books

Stanley Booth, The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (2000)
This book traces the band from its beginnings, but the real center of this book is 1969, when rock journalist Booth traveled with the Stones on their tour. That pivotal year, which included both Brian Jones’ death and the disastrously violent Altamont Speedway Free Festival concert, gets the star treatment in this volume. Although the book may focus on a later period than some readers would like, it is far and away the best book on the Stones.

Robert Greenfield, S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones (2002)
First published almost thirty years ago, this book chronicles the Stones on their first American tour after the epic events at Altamont. Effectively chronicles both the over-the-top excess of the high-flying Stones as well as the tedium of touring.

Albums

The Rolling Stones (1964)
The band’s first album and a clear reflection of the Stones’ R&B convictions. Includes songs by a catalog of who’s who in American blues and R&B history—Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Slim Harper, Chuck Berry, and Rufus Thomas.

Aftermath (1966)
The Stones’ first album that contained all original songs, including the hit singles “Paint it Black” and the classic “Under My Thumb.” It's something of a crossroads album: the band’s R&B/Blues roots are still evident, but there’s an indication of the psychedelia to come in 1967 with Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Beggars Banquet (1968)
After a misstep with Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones rediscover themselves with what some consider to be their best album. Includes "Street Fighting Man" and “Sympathy for the Devil." "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was pulled from the album and released as a single. This was the last album on which Brian Jones contributed significantly.

Let it Bleed (1969)
The Stones close a tumultuous year (Brian Jones’ death, the chaotic Altamont concert) with this December release. A characteristically smart-alec response to the Beatles' Let it Be, the album includes “Gimme Shelter," "Midnight Rambler," and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Exile on Main Street (1972)
Rolling Stone magazine considers it the Stones’ best album and the seventh greatest album of all time. Rock, blues, country, boogie, and even calypso find a place in this wide-ranging double album. The album draws its name from the Stones’ flight to the south of France after they were unable to pay their taxes in England. Sort of a lame exile, but a great album.

Video & Audio

"Street Fighting Man"
The Stones' response to political events in 1968.

"We Love You"
Jagger's and Richards' response to their arrest and conviction on drug charges.

"Sweet Neo Con"
Jagger's 2005 commentary on American politics.

Movies & TV

The Rolling Stones: 1963-1969: Music in Review (1963-69)
There are lots of Rolling Stones documentaries and concert films. This is not one of the best, but if you are interested in the early years, this offers nice footage.

Gimme Shelter (1970)
Filmmakers set out to make a standard tour movie and ended up chronicling the disaster at Altamont. The documentary includes footage from the Stones Madison Square Garden concert, but Altamont, both the negotiations leading to it and the concert itself, receive most of the attention.

Rolling Stones: Rock and Roll Circus (1968)
A television special that never made it on air, this circus-themed concert included guest appearances by Jethro Tull, The Who, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Marianne Faithful. Great music as well as a classic snapshot of the 1960s.

Websites

Official Stones Website
This is a slick site with videos, music, news and images. The only drawback is the annoying pop-up inviting the visitor to shop at the nearest official store.

Rolling Stone "Ultimate" Fansite
This fansite provides everything from images to guitar tabs to band member family trees. Put together by meticulous, hardcore admirers, Stones fans will be thrilled with this treasure trove.

Images

The Rolling Stones, ca. 1968
Mick Jagger Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, and Bill Wyman.

Busted
Mick Jagger's mug shot after his 1967 drug arrest.

French Street Fighting Men
Students and workers battle the police in Paris.

British Street Fighting Men
London protestors prepare to storm the U.S. embassy.

Mick Jagger as Street Fighting Man
Jagger joins the protestors at Grosvenor Square in March 1968.

American Street Fighting Men
Students at Columbia University seize a campus building.