“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”
— Mick Jagger & Keith Richard, You Can’t Always Get What You Want 1968, songwriters, song quotes, song lyrics
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a song by the Rolling Stones on their 1969 album Let It Bleed. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was named as the 100th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in its 2004 list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
Of the song, Jagger said: “‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was something I just played on the acoustic guitar—one of those bedroom songs. It proved to be quite difficult to record because Charlie couldn’t play the groove and so Jimmy Miller had to play the drums. I’d also had this idea of having a choir, probably a gospel choir, on the track, but there wasn’t one around at that point. Jack Nitzsche, or somebody, said that we could get the London Bach Choir and we said, ‘That will be a laugh.'”
In his review of the song, Richie Unterberger of Allmusic said: “If you buy John Lennon’s observation that the Rolling Stones were apt to copy the Beatles’ innovations within a few months or so, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is the Rolling Stones’ counterpart to ‘Hey Jude’.” Jagger said in 1969, “I liked the way the Beatles did that with ‘Hey Jude’. The orchestra was not just to cover everything up—it was something extra. We may do something like that on the next album.”
The three verses (along with the varied theme in the fourth verse) address the major topics of the 1960s: love, politics, and drugs. Each verse captures the essence of the initial optimism and eventual disillusion, followed by the resigned pragmatism in the chorus.
Unterberger concludes, of the song,
- Much has been made of the lyrics reflecting the end of the overlong party that was the 1960s, as a snapshot of Swinging London burning out. That’s a valid interpretation, but it should also be pointed out that there’s also an uplifting and reassuring quality to the melody and performance. This is particularly true of the key lyrical hook, when we are reminded that we can’t always get what we want, but we’ll get what we need.”