Like all great records “Gimme Shelter” is the sum of many parts. The parts that usually get the most attention (and not without justification) are the definitive Death-of-the-Sixties guitar riff and Merry Clayton’s soul shouting on the fade.
On this semi-live version (it sounds like a pre-recorded music track with a live vocal, which might explain why everybody but Jagger looks even more consummately bored than usual), the mighty riff is slightly muted, perhaps by a less than ideal sound system and/or transfer, and Clayton’s vocal, often replaced by another female singer on the numerous live versions recorded since, is entirely missing.
Which means what was always the song’s one truly frightening element is back front and center.
I wouldn’t call it so much Mick Jagger’s vocal even though, on the recorded version, it’s possibly his greatest and he pretty well matches it here, as MIck Jagger’s obvious sense of himself as something more than a singer in a rock and roll band.
Yeah, he had that quality on other occasions, but there’s something about the timing of this one that makes it definitive. This is what it’s like at the very last minute before the Devil turns round, the moment when you’ve convinced yourself that he won’t come to collect on the deal after all.
The moment when you’re so sure you’re going to get away with it that you actually start pronouncing all the words you meant to hide behind the slurs.
Altamont here we come.