The Rolling Stones gave the world a raucous blend of rock, blues, and even some country, and as a result, we continue to listen to many of their most well-known hits today. Today we’ll dive into a fun and user-friendly music theory analysis of three of their most popular songs: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the mechanics that make rock music tick.

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Music Theory Analysis of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Released in 1965, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is perhaps the quintessential Rolling Stones hit that features a riff so iconic it’s almost its own hook. The song is based around a three-note riff, played by Keith Richards on an overdriven electric guitar. Theoretically, the song is in the key of E major, but its riff employs a perfect fourth and a minor seventh, which gives it a gritty, unresolved feel. This riff uses notes that imply an E7 chord, which in blues terms, is both edgy and dissonant, perfect for the song’s themes of frustration and disillusionment.

The structure of the song is classic verse-chorus form, common in rock music, which helps in crafting a catchy and memorable melody. The verses stick to a minimalistic melody, underscoring Mick Jagger’s vocal delivery of the lyrics—a monotone that speaks to the monotony and dissatisfaction expressed in the song. The chorus breaks this pattern with a slightly more melodic rise, giving musical lift to the titular line, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” before dropping back into the iconic riff.

Music Theory Analysis of “Paint It Black”

“Paint It Black,” released in 1966, opens with a sitar introduction by Brian Jones, marking one of the first uses of the instrument in a rock context. The song is set in a minor key, specifically B minor, which instantly sets a darker, more introspective tone. This use of minor tonality is perfect for the song’s themes of mourning and loss. The sitar not only adds an exotic texture but also complements the song’s scale usage, which flirts with both Western and Eastern musical influences.

Structurally, “Paint It Black” utilizes a repetitive verse-chorus form, but the lines between verses and choruses blur, driven by the relentless, driving rhythm. The melody is simple but effective, with the vocal line following a narrow range that adds to the song’s feeling of obsessive compulsion. The drone of the sitar and the rock rhythm section creates a hypnotic effect, enhancing the song’s dark and moody aesthetic.

Music Theory Analysis of  “Sympathy for the Devil”

“Sympathy for the Devil” from their 1968 album “Beggars Banquet” is a brilliant showcase of the Stones’ ability to blend musical complexity with lyrical storytelling. The song is in the key of E major and is built on a samba rhythm, which was quite innovative for a rock band at the time. This choice of rhythm adds a layer of allure and seduction to the narrative, which is fitting given the song’s narrator—the devil.

The structure of “Sympathy for the Devil” is more progressive than the standard verse-chorus form, with the music continuously building throughout the song. The piano plays a repetitive ostinato motif that adds a sense of impending doom while the congas and maracas drive the samba rhythm forward. Each verse introduces new elements of the story, while the chorus “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” becomes increasingly chilling with each repetition, mirrored by the growing intensity in the instrumentation.

Key Takeaways

In all three songs, The Rolling Stones use music theory to amplify their themes and emotions, not necessarily to structure their music. The dissonant, gritty riffs of “Satisfaction,” the mournful tonalities of “Paint It Black,” the seductive rhythms of “Sympathy for the Devil” – the Stones’ music is fun to analyze because of how intricate and structured it really is, despite “only being rock songs.” Perhaps this analysis will encourage you to analyze music on your own, take voice lessons in Columbia, MD, or join one of our awesome rock band programs at Soundcheck Rock Academy.

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