"Beast of Burden" is a song by English rock band The Rolling Stones, featured on the 1978 album Some Girls. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song #435 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Inspiration and recordingEdit
A "beast of burden" is a semi-domesticated animal that labors for the benefit of man, such as oxen or horses. The music and some lyrics were primarily written by Keith Richards. In the linernotes to the 1993 compilation disc Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones, Richards said, "['Beast of Burden'] was another one where Mick just filled in the verses. With the Stones, you take a long song, play it and see if there are any takers. Sometimes they ignore it, sometimes they grab it and record it. After all the faster numbers of Some Girls, everybody settled down and enjoyed the slow one."
In those same notes, Jagger says, "Lyrically, this wasn't particularly heartfelt in a personal way. It's a soul begging song, an attitude song. It was one of those where you get one melodic lick, break it down and work it up; there are two parts here which are basically the same." The song can be seen as allegorical, with Richards saying in 2003, "When I returned to the fold after closing down the laboratory [referring to his drug problems throughout the 1970s], I came back into the studio with Mick... to say, 'Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden' - that's why I wrote "Beast of Burden" for him, I realise in retrospect."
Recording on "Beast of Burden" began in October of 1977 and ended in December of that same year. Although written before entering the studio, many of the lyrics were improvised by Jagger to fit with the smooth running guitars of Richards and Wood. Note the rolling, fluid licks traded off by the two. Neither is really playing lead or rhythm; they both slip in and out, one playing high while the other is low. The song is another of the famed Some Girls songs which feature each member of the band playing their respective instruments without any outside performers; both Richards and Wood play acoustic and electric guitars, with Wood performing the solo.
Release and aftermathEdit
The song was released as the second single off the album. It charted at number 8 in the United States. Live versions include one recorded during their 1981 American Tour and was released as a B-side to "Going to a Go-Go", as well as being reissued on Rarities 1971-2003 in 2005. A second was recorded during their 2002-2003 Licks Tour which was released on Live Licks. It would see inclusion on the compilation albums Sucking in the Seventies, Rewind (1971–1984), Jump Back, and Forty Licks.