ON THIS DATE (43 YEARS AGO)
May 24, 1968 – The Rolling Stones: Jumpin’ Jack Flash is released in the UK. (June 1 in the US)
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a song by English rock and roll band, The Rolling Stones, released as a single in 1968. Called “supernatural Delta blues by way of Swinging London” by Rolling Stone, the song was perceived by some as the band’s return to their blues roots after the psychedelia of their preceding albums Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. One of the group’s most popular and recognizable songs, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” has been featured in many films and on the Rolling Stones compilation albums Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2), Hot Rocks, Singles Collection and Forty Licks.
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, recording on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” began during the Beggars Banquet sessions of 1968 (although it was not released on that album). Regarding the song’s distinctive sound, guitarist Richards has said:
“I used a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic tuned to open D, six string. Open D or open E, which is the same thing – same intervals – but it would be slackened down some for D. Then there was a capo on it, to get that really tight sound. And there was another guitar over the top of that, but tuned to Nashville tuning. I learned that from somebody in George Jones’ band in San Antonio in 1964. The high-strung guitar was an acoustic, too. Both acoustics were put through a Philips cassette recorder. Just jam the mic right in the guitar and play it back through an extension speaker.”
Richards has stated that he and Jagger wrote the lyrics while staying at Richards’ country house, where they were awoken one morning by the sound of gardener Jack Dyer walking past the window. When Jagger asked what the noise was, Richards responded: “Oh, that’s Jack – that’s jumpin’ Jack.” The rest of the lyrics evolved from there. Humanities scholar Camille Paglia speculated that the song’s lyrics might have been partly inspired by William Blake’s poem “The Mental Traveller”: “She binds iron thorns around his head, / And pierces both his hands and feet, / And cuts his heart out of his side / To make it feel both cold & heat.”
Jagger said in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone that the song arose “…out of all the acid of Satanic Majesties… It’s about having a hard time and getting out. Just a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things.”In his autobiography, Stone Alone, Bill Wyman has claimed that he came up with the song’s distinctive main guitar riff on an organ without being credited for it.”
On the studio version of the number, Jagger provided the lead vocals and maracas, Richards played acoustic guitars, electric bass guitar and the floor tom, Brian Jones played electric guitar, Charlie Watts was on drums and Bill Wyman was on organ. Either Nicky Hopkins or Ian Stewart contributed piano, and producer Jimmy Miller joined in on the backing vocals.
Released on 24 May 1968, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (backed with “Child of the Moon”) reached the top of the UK charts and peaked at number three in the United States. Some early London Records US pressings of the single had a technical flaw in them: about halfway through the song’s instrumental bridge, the speed of the master tape slows down for a moment, then comes back to speed. The first Rolling Stones album on which the song appeared was their 1969 compilation album, Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2), one year after the single was released.
The Rolling Stones have played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” during every tour since its release; it ranks as the number the band has played in concert most frequently, and has appeared on the concert albums Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, Love You Live, Flashpoint, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (featuring the only released live performance of the song with Brian Jones). Jones is heard clearly, mixing with Richards’ lead throughout the song. Two promotional videos were made in May 1968: one featuring a live performance, another showcasing the band lip-syncing, with Jones, Jagger, and Watts donning makeup. The intro is not usually played in concert; instead the song begins with the main riff. The open E or open D tuning of the rhythm guitar on the studio recording has also not been replicated in concert (with the possible exception of the 1968 NME awards show, no recording of which has ever surfaced). In the performance filmed for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in December 1968, Richards used standard tuning; and ever since the band’s appearance at Hyde Park on 5 July 1969, he has played it in open G tuning with a capo on the fourth fret.
In March 2005, Q magazine placed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” at number 2 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In 2004, Rolling Stone rated the song 124th on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. VH1 placed it at 65 on its show 100 Greatest Rock Songs.