August 1968: The Rolling Stones Heat Up Summer with "Street Fighting Man"

Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones performs live on stage on the set of the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus at Intertel TV Studio in Wembley, London on 11th December 1968. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)
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(Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)

August 28, 1968: Many consider the violent clashes between police and anti-war Vietnam protestors on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic convention as the moment America lost its innocence. It was also a moment that sparked a decided change in American society.

As the United States was still grappling with fallout from the violence, the Rolling Stones released "Street Fighting Man." It was the first single from the group's forthcoming full-length, Beggars Banquet, that would arrive in December 1968. The timing was either perfect, or the absolute worst, depending on who was asked.

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For radio stations in the Chicago area, the juxtaposition was too close for comfort, and many banned the "Street Fighting Man" from airplay.

"I'm rather pleased to hear they have banned (the song)," singer Mick Jagger sniffed at the time (via 2005 book The Rolling Stones Off the Record: Outrageous Opinions and Unrehearsed Interviews. "The last time they banned one of our records in America, it sold a million." When informed that the song was being tagged as "subversive," Jagger wholeheartedly agreed: "Of course it's subversive! It's stupid to think you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could."

The controversy around the song seemed to have a direct affect on the song's chart performance in America, as it only peaked at #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of October 5, 1968. The #1 song in American that week: The Beatles' "Hey Jude." By comparison, the Stones previous single in the States, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," topped out at #3.

"It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions," Jagger remembered inspiration for "Street Fighting Man" to Rolling Stone in 1995.

"I don't know if it does. I don't know whether we should really play it," Jagger added in regards to the song's relevance in the '90s and beyond. "I was persuaded to put it in this [Voodoo Lounge] tour because it seemed to fit in, but I'm not sure if it really has any resonance for the present day. I don't really like it that much. I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; DeGaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing."

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