In early 1964 singer Lesley Gore charted at number 2
with "You Don't Own Me." The tune's minor chords and high-drama Quincy Jones
arrangement stand out on their own. Remarkable, however, is the determined and definitively feminist
tone of the lyrics. Two and a half years later The Rolling
Stones' tune "Under My Thumb" featured a melody and rhythm line just as catchy,
albeit in a much more upbeat way. The lyrics, however, are controversial and the
polar opposite of Gore's hit. Singer Mick Jagger tells a story of male
domination of a female significant other.
The image in the title "Under My Thumb" certainly flirts with, or even
embraces, dominance and sadism. The song is a celebration of a lover who has
been tamed, and if that sounds rather more like housetraining a dog than
establishing a rapport with a woman, well, the Stones bring that comparison
on themselves by referring to the girl as a dog who's had her day. It's not
enough for the group to celebrate the taming of the shrew; at the end of the
verses, they also complain about the way she does just what she's told, as
if the thrill is gone from the chase.
— Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
Lyrics: Mick Jagger
Music: Keith Richards
Performed by: The Rolling Stones
Release Album: Aftermath (June 2, 1966, ABKCO)
This amazing tune sadly was never released as a single. The album was the
number two pop release in the summer of 1966, however. Another cut from
Aftermath, "Paint it Black," hit number one on the Billboard pop charts.
More than one critic has noted that if "Under My Thumb" had been released as a
single, the bouncy, catchy, danceable rock piece with jazz overtones would've
been a number one hit as well.
The Rolling Stones' most popular tunes all have a "hook," a riff that
identifies the song immediately upon hearing it. While nearly all of their most
popular songs rely on a guitar for the hook, "Under My Thumb" is unique in that
Brian Jones plays the hook on the marimbas. The marimbas are a close relative of
the vibraphone, or "vibes." The elegant hook continues in proper chord
progression with the melody, turning this rock tune into a piece any jazz player
would be pleased to perform. The riff is also infectious because it's played
with the rhythm and adds to the danceability of the song. Even though the song
was never left to chart on its own as a single, it's been included in virtually
all "greatest hits" collections which address the Stones' early period.
The funky, "ambling along" drum beats combined with a very distinctive fuzz
bass riff in addition to the usual bass adds to the exotic feel of the tune. The
entirety of this song's effect brings the Stones towards Grateful Dead territory, or perhaps the realm of Dave Matthews.
Aftermath was a turning point for the Stones, and arguably one of
their finest albums. Jones explores a wide variety of instruments beside the
marimbas; sitar and dulcimer, for example. This expanded the Stones' sound
and the pure musicality of Jones's contributions added greatly to their success
toward the later part of the '60s and into the early '70s.
Leslie Gore's Feminism and Mick Jagger's S&M
And don't tell me what to do
And don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display, 'cause
You don't own me, don't try to change me in any way
You don't own me, don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay
— Lyric excerpt, "You Don't Own Me"
Under my thumb
The scurvy dog who's just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways
It's down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she's told
Down to me, the change has come
She's under my thumb
— Lyric excerpt, "Under My Thumb"
"You Don't Own Me" (John Madara and Dave White Tricker),
produced by Quincy Jones and sung by Lesley Gore was a daring feminist statement
in 1964. It shocked Gore's fans because they'd become accustomed to her
saccharine songs about teenage angst. The song was pushed out of the number one
slot on the charts by The Beatles hit "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."
While Gore's hit made a definitive statement, the Stones play
down any significant meaning in their song, and rightfully so. "Under My Thumb"
is a rock tune and as rock tunes go, the lyrics aren't really as
edgy as most can be, particularly when they address relationships, machismo and
femininity. Both tunes are musically very interesting, and this writer would
posit that if the idea behind the lyrics of each song were exchanged with one
another, it wouldn't make a difference. The music of "You Don't Own Me," with
its haunting minor chords and high drama would be an excellent background for a
story of a man's conquering of the will of a woman. The danceable yet
delightfully elegant jazz sensibility of "Under My Thumb" could sustain feminist
The song has become legendary for a number of reasons other than its catchy
music and controversial lyric. To furious feminists who found the lyrics
distasteful, Jagger commented in a 1984 interview "The whole idea was that I was
under her, she was kicking me around. So the whole idea is absurd,
all I did was turn the tables around. So women took that to be against
femininity where in reality it was trying to 'get back' against being a
repressed male." Jagger was dating model Chrissie Shrimpton at the time the
song was written and recorded. One is hard-pressed not to wonder how this all
feels to her.
The Who slapped together a cover of the tune, in support of the Rolling
Stones, shortly after Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested in Sussex,
England for drug possession. The A-side of the single was the Stones tune "The
Last Time." Richards ended up with charges dismissed and Jagger received an
unconditional release. The English police were accused of engaging in a
protracted, costly investigation which turned up drugs but far less than was
expected. The Who's single didn't do very well on the charts, staying under 100
on the Billboard chart for Summer, 1967. (The Who's 1974 Odds & Sods is a good place to find the tune.)"Under My Thumb" turned out to be a
song that belongs to The Rolling Stones; nobody's done a cover that is at
all remarkable. A Del Shannon cover which preceded the Who's benefit single by
a few months was also a flop.
On a tragic note, "Under My Thumb" was the last thing Meredith Hunter, a
Stones Fan, heard before he was stabbed to death by Hell's Angels at the
notorious Altamont rock concert. The Angels had been hired as security by
either the Stones or their festival co-stars The Grateful Dead. Eventually, it
turned out that the presence of the Angels caused more trouble than the
concert-goers. Hunter's killer, Hell's Angel Allan Passaro, was acquitted of
murder because he acted in self-defense; Hunter was brandishing a large handgun
and was high on methamphetamine.
Emulation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
Great music begets many versions of the same song. Fifty-one artists or bands
have covered "Under My Thumb." Most are rock covers (the most popular being The
Who's version). R&B singer Terrence Trent D'Arby and "Twist" legend Chubby
Checker both had minor hits with the tune. It's even been included on a London
Philharmonic Orchestra recording of popular Stones songs. Three Country artists have recorded the tune.
Danceable, bouncy and infectious, "Under My Thumb" belongs on any upbeat mix
disc regardless the genre.
UPDATE 23.05.08: The play of the original vinyl LP as well as the very good digital re-master reviewd has revealed that when the LP was mastered, a harmonic flaw was included by way of minute flutter, on the slow or "flat" side, in the master tape, over a long time span resulting in the very distinctive tonal fluctuation that sets this performance of the tune apart from the others, and far apart from its rock and roll peers.
- All Music Guide: www.allmusic.com
- Rolling Stones fan site: www.rollingstones.com
- Songfacts website: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=463
- Anecdotes from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_My_Thumb. Yes, against my better