Under My Thumb
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Under My Thumb" is a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for The Rolling Stones. Its first appearance was as an album track on 1966's Aftermath, and though it was never released as a single, it is one of the band's more popular songs from the period, appearing frequently on best-of compilations. It was also recorded by The Who in 1967 and is available on The Who's Odds and Sods CD remastered in 1998. The version released on Odds and Sods is not the original single version, but an unfinished take that omits the lead guitar part.
"Under My Thumb" was featured prominently by the band on their 1981 USA Tour and 1982 European tour as the opening number at each concert. The Stones have played the song sporadically on subsequent tours in 1997-98 and 2006.
The song's lyrics, an examination of a sexual power struggle, were very much in tune with the rebellious, vaguely misogynistic attitude that the mid-'60s Stones had cultivated, though the concept of Under My Thumb is arguably more sophisticated--even psychological--than any of the other controversial songs the Stones had released up to that point.
Jagger's lyrics celebrate the satisfaction of finally having controlled and gained leverage over a previously pushy, dominating woman. The lyrics, which savor the successful "taming of the shrew" and compare the woman in question to a "pet", a "cat" and a "squirming dog" provoked negative reactions among some listeners, especially feminists, who objected to the suppressive sexual politics of the male narrator. It can be reasonably argued, however, that the song is a vignette, or simply an examination of sexual malevolence and tension, and that the maliciousness of both the lyrics and Jagger's performance is theatrical and doesn't seriously advocate male domination. Many listeners also note that the woman who is the subject of the song was previously the dominant figure in the relationship, and that the narrator was originally submissive to her, making the implications of the song more complicated than simple chauvinism. Jagger later reflected on the track in a 1995 interview: "It's a bit of a jokey number, really. It's not really an anti-feminist song any more than any of the others... Yes, it's a caricature, and it's in reply to a girl who was a very pushy woman".
Like many of the songs from the Aftermath period, Under My Thumb uses more novel instrumentation than that featured on previous Stones records, including swishing fuzz bass lines ( played by Keith Richards), and, more notably, the Brian Jones-played marimba riffs (a variation on the opening riff in the Four Tops' hit, Same Old Song), which provide the song's most prominent hook and underscore the tune's inescapable groove. Although generally credited to Brian Jones it is rumoured that Patrick Moore laid down the studio track, for the album version, using a Xylophone. Melodically, the song—like the Aftermath album as a whole—shows the Stones incorporating pop, jazz and early psychedelic influences while remaining grounded in black, moody R&B.
Due to tape speed changes, "Under My Thumb" is microtonal, sounding in a key somewhere between F minor and F# minor.
The song was also notable for its (unintentional) connection with the unfortunate death of Meredith Hunter at the notorious Altamont concert in 1969. The Stones were halfway into the number when a fight broke out between Hells Angels on the security detail and concertgoers, ultimately culminating in the stabbing of Hunter by Hells Angel Alan Passaro after Hunter apparently pulled a gun; whether he did so before or after he was stabbed is still disputed.