Salt of the Earth (song)

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"Salt of the Earth"
Song by the Rolling Stones
from the album Beggars Banquet
Released6 December 1968 (1968-12-06)
RecordedMay 1968
GenreSoul blues
Producer(s)Jimmy Miller

"Salt of the Earth" is the final song from the 1968 Rolling Stones album Beggars Banquet. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song includes an opening lead vocal by Richards. It is the second official track by the group to feature him on lead vocal (the first being "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" from Between the Buttons).

Composition and lyrics[edit]

The song was reported inspired by John Lennon, with Jagger attempting to write a working class anthem.[1] The lyrics were written primarily by Jagger and salute the working class:

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

Noteworthy within the lyrics is the salute to the salt of the earth but no action to change or improve the circumstances of working people is implied or suggested. In a twice-repeated stanza, the singer professes a distance from his subject that seemingly belies the sentiment of the verses:[2]

And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grey and black and white
They don't look real to me
In fact, they look so strange

The song uses a quote that refers to a passage in the Bible where Jesus is trying to encourage people to give the best of themselves

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned ? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men – Matthew 5:13

"Salt of the Earth" features the acoustic work of Richards, typical of most songs from Beggars Banquet. Richards also performs the slide guitar throughout the song (Brian Jones, who often played slide on previous songs, was absent from these sessions). While some songs from Beggars Banquet were recorded by Jagger and Richards using a personal tape recorder, "Salt of the Earth" was recorded at London's Olympic Sound Studios in May 1968.

Featuring on the song are the Los Angeles Watts Street Gospel Choir and a piano performance by Nicky Hopkins. These additions, and their prominence near the end of the song, are further developed on their next album Let It Bleed's closing song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

Critical reception[edit]

Jim Beviglia ranked "Salt of the Earth" the 25th best Rolling Stones song in Counting Down the Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs.[3] Paste called it "a simple ode to the proletariat" and ranked it 37th in its Top 50 Rolling Stones songs.[4] Rolling Stone ranked it 45th in its countdown of the band's top 100 songs, praising Richards' vocals and "gospel reverie."[1]

Other appearances[edit]

"Salt of the Earth" has a unique live history. It has only been played once to an instrumental playback and live five times.

  • The first filmed rendition was for the taping of the 1968 television special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (not released until 1996). However, this version features Keith Richards and Mick Jagger singing live while sitting with the audience as the backing track that appeared on Beggars Banquet is played.
  • Jagger and Richards performed it as a duet for the 2001 "The Concert for New York City", commemorating the fallen of September 11, 2001, although they changed the lyrics to make its message more positive (most notably "Let's drink to the good and the evil" was changed to "Let's drink to the good not the evil").[1]
  • Its only other performance was in London, Twickenham Rugby Ground, on 20 September 2003 during the Licks Tour.
  • Blues singer Bettye LaVette covered the song on her 2010 album Interpretations: The British Songbook.
  • "Salt of the Earth" is also the title to a documentary on the Rolling Stones 2005-06 'A Bigger Bang' World Tour. [2]



  1. ^ a b c "100 Greatest Rolling Sones Songs - Salt of the Earth (1968)". Rolling Stone. October 5, 2013. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  2. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Salt of the Earth". allmusic. 2007 (accessed 10 June 2007).
  3. ^ Beviglia, Jim (2015). Counting Down the Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 137. ISBN 1442254475.
  4. ^ Stiernberg, Bonnie; Blau, Max (July 18, 2012). "The 50 Best Rolling Stones Songs". Paste. Retrieved January 28, 2020.

External links[edit]