|Song by The Rolling Stones from the album Exile on Main St.|
|Released||12 May 1972|
|Recorded||October–November 1971 & January–March 1972|
|Exile on Main St. track listing|
"Ventilator Blues" marks the first and only time guitarist Mick Taylor would be given credit alongside regular Stones scribes Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, even though the exact amount of Taylor's input is unknown. The song features Keith Richards on electric slide guitar, electric and acoustic guitar, Mick Taylor on lead guitar during the outro of the song, Mick Jagger on vocals, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on drums, and Bobby Keys and Jim Price on sax and trumpet.
The song itself is a low and lumbering blues number, with Bill Janovitz saying in his review, "the instrumental arrangement clearly aims for the Chess Studios approach." Notable is Jagger's double tracked lead vocal, double tracking being rarely used in the Rolling Stones discography. Janovitz concludes, "Jagger takes the Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf inspiration of the song's origins and does his best to betray the fact that he is a skinny middle-class English kid, convincingly delivering the time-bomb lyric with appropriate swagger..."
|“||When your spine is cracking and your hands they shake; Heart is bursting and your butt's going to break; Woman's cussing, you can hear her scream; Feel like murder in the first degree||”|
|“||Ain't nobody slowing down no way; Everybody's stepping on their accelerator; Don't matter where you are; Everybody's going to need a ventilator||”|
On pianist Nicky Hopkins notable contribution, Janovitz says, "[Hopkins plays] a rhythmically complex piano part on the verses, weaving in and out of the swooping guitar lick on the first verse and then building as the arrangement continues, playing nervous, jittery right-handed upper-register trills. The pianist creates scary tension on an already claustrophobic and malevolent-sounding song." The song is noted for its rising and falling chord progression, punctuated by the saxophone of Bobby Keys and the trumpet and trombone of Jim Price. Keeping beat is Charlie Watts on drums and Bill Wyman on bass who, although frequently absent during the recording sessions for Exile, made it on this occasion.
|“||What you gonna do about it, what you gonna do? Gonna fight it, gonna fight it?||”|
The song then begins a slow fade-in to the following track, "I Just Want to See His Face".
Recording and aftermath
Recording on "Ventilator Blues" began in late 1971. The Stones chose to record the majority of the song deep in the poorly ventilated basement of Richards' home in the south of France, Villa Nellcôte. A well-known feature of the songs recorded in that basement for Exile was the tendency of the heat to distort the guitar's strings and the close atmosphere lending the songs a distinct, albeit undefined, sound. Richards said, "On 'Ventilator Blues' we got some weird sound of something that had gone wrong - some valve or tube that had gone. If something was wrong you just forgot about it. You'd leave it alone and come back tomorrow and hope it had fixed itself. Or give it a good kick." Recording concluded in the early months of 1972 at Los Angeles' Sunset Sound Studios.
On the song, Watts said in 2003, "We always rehearse 'Ventilator Blues' [for tours]. It's a great track, but we never play it as well as the original. Something will not be quite right; either Keith will play it a bit differently or I'll do it wrong. It's a fabulous number, but a bit of a tricky one. Bobby Keys wrote the rhythm part, which is the clever part of the song. Bobby said, 'Why don't you do this?' and I said, 'I can't play that,' so Bobby stood next me to clapping the thing and I just followed his timing. In the world of Take Five, it's nothing, but it threw me completely and Bobby just stood there and clapped while we were doing the track - and we've never quite got it together as well as that."
The Rolling Stones have only performed the song live once, at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, B.C on opening night of the 1972 North American Tour in support of Exile on Main Street.