Mick Jagger (1976)
Photo: Bert Verhoeff for Anefo | Wikimedia CC0

The Satisfaction Index: Covers of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Six generations of musicians cover the Rolling Stones’ zeitgeist-capturing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Some are good. Some bad. Some just have fun with it.

The Rolling Stones‘ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”—first released as a single in the US in 1965—is not my favorite Rolling Stones song. That’s probably “Miss You”, best covered by Etta James (her version fawns over those “Puerto Rican boys, oh, ay-ay-ay-ay-ay, just dying to meet ya”). But “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is one of those iconic songs that seems to have always been in the air somewhere.  Its vocals are lustful and full of youthful energy, and that du-du dun-un-un guitar riff never fails to send a small shiver along my spine.

The song announced the Rolling Stones to America and captured a moment in history when the Sixties counterculture took off. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” may be as close as any rock band has come to bottling the restless teenage male libido and the cynicism/anti-commercialism alienation that took firm hold of the rebellious youth. If released today, the song would feel fresh and danceable coming from the rolled-down car window or college dorm room window. 

Otis Redding – Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)

Sixties soul singer Otis Redding’s irreverent version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was released on LP just months after the Stones’ version in September of 1965. Redding clearly did not know all the words or care that he did not know all the words. Nobody in the band seems to be trying hard to get anything right, but everyone seems to be having a ton of fun not trying. The whole thing falls apart about halfway through and Redding spouts incomprehensible gibberish with the word “satisfaction” occasionally dropped in. 

Somehow, it works. In some ways, this recording feels like a piss-take to get back at the Rolling Stones for covering so much music made by Black artists and making more money from their work than the Black artists who created the originals. A college friend insisted that Redding’s version was the original, and the Rolling Stones stole credit. I suspect Otis Redding would be pleased by her confusion. (Aretha Franklin and Dianna Ross also recorded fun, loose soul versions of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in the ‘60s).

DEVOQ: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

Art punk rockers DEVO covered “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in a 1977 self-production, then re-released it in 1978 with Mick Jagger’s enthusiastic approval.  

Theirs is a solid new-wave version with no swagger or sensuality. This was replaced with a detached irony befitting a band that wore yellow hazmat suits and Lego-esque traffic cones on their heads and put forward a satirical philosophy about humanity devolving. The classic riff was replaced with the robotic sounds of Rust Belt America. 

You knew Jagger was going to get laid and suspected his losing streak would be broken probably by the end of the night. With DEVO, you wondered if these nerdy guys had ever gotten “girlie action” in their lives. It’s a quirky reimagining that captures a second zeitgeist: this time of stagflation-era middle America malaise.  

Vanilla Ice – Hooked (1989); Extremely Live (1991)

Like DEVO before him, rapper Vanilla Ice also recorded a version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for a self-produced album and then rereleased it. He did not receive Jagger’s blessing but did pay the required licensing fee. 

Vanilla Ice had maybe two weeks when he was considered cool, and then virtually nobody liked him unironically ever again—which makes dragging him over this cover feel like hitting a soft target. Further, he committed far greater pop culture sins against David Bowie/Queen (for his unauthorized sample of “Under Pressure”) and hip-hop generally (somehow Vanilla Ice will forever be the first rapper to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 despite not being particularly good at rapping. Plus, like the Rolling Stones, he managed to get wealthier as a white artist than many of the Black artists who pioneered his music genre). 

Still, Vanilla Ice is responsible for easily the worst version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. He uncreatively samples large swathes of the Rolling Stones’ original, including the classic riff and even Jagger singing, “I can’t get no!” These are rudely interrupted by Ice’s rapping at length about having no luck with “skeezes” at the Miami clubs. 

In his favor, however, Vanilla Ice probably reaches closer to the swagger and exuberant confidence of Jagger than any other cover. He’s that overconfident guy who gets up at the open mic two weeks after strumming his first guitar, and he thinks he nailed a “Seven Nation Army” cover. The 20 million people who bought his album during his 15 minutes of fame found themselves feeling like the awkward girlfriend who temporarily affirms this belief as Ice proudly returns to the table for his high five. 

Britney Spears – Oops! . . . I Did It Again (2000)

Teen-pop idol Britney Spears sings “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on her 20x platinum sophomore album Oops! . . . I Did It Again. Her version sounds more like a generic Britney Spears song than the Rolling Stones’ original. The vocals want to be sultry and energetic yet come off as a bit bland. The robust du-du dun-un-un guitar riff is replaced with slick dance-pop production. 

The most interesting choice in her cover is where she changes the lyric about the man on the radio who “comes on to tell me how white my shirts could be /But, he can’t be a man ‘cause he doesn’t smoke/ the same cigarettes as me” to a girl on TV who “comes on and tells me/ How tight my skirts should be/ She can’t tell me who to be/’Cause I’ve got my own identity.” 

Thus, she transforms the original song’s anti-consumerist message into commentary on prudish messaging and policing of young women’s bodies. In this sense, she successfully reimagines the song’s message to reflect Spears’ and her fanbase’s concerns. 

Tellingly, at the height of Britney Spears’ fame, she chose this cover to open her performance at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. As she sang her alternative lyrics, she stripped down from a Michael Jackson Thriller-era fedora and suit to a bedazzled skin-colored bra and pants. This moment became so iconic that the outfit is on display at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

Dolly Parton – Rockstar (2023)

Country music legend Dolly Parton recorded a workman-like version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in 2023 that featured Brandi Carlile and Pink. She told reporters that she was trying to recreate the song with (77-year-old) “girl power”. Her version is energetic, faithful to the original, and adds a touch of country. She tries to repurpose the song’s male swagger into a female swagger. The result is … fine, but unnecessary. 

Cat Power – The Covers Record (2000)

Brooding indie darling Cat Power’s 2000 version of is my favorite cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, and at times, I prefer it to the original.  

Like Otis Redding in 1965, Chan Marshall mangles the lyrics. Unlike Redding’s indifference to learning the words, she leaves things out with the deliberate precision of someone who knew every syllable in the bones of her body. 

All the ‘60s masculine bravado is replaced with ‘90s sad lady monotone. The du-du dun-un-un guitar riff and even the chorus are entirely absent. The song ends mid-sentence (“I’m trying . . .”).  

Yet, I wonder if Cat Power’s version would sound as good to someone who had never heard the Stones’ version. She seems to be experimenting with how much stripping down of the iconic song she could manage while still evoking the original. 

Cat Power’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is one of those pop art pieces where artists show you just a snippet of some mass culture icon or brand to let your subconscious fill out the rest: Andy Warhol’s images isolating Marilyn Monroe’s lips or John Clem Clarke’s “Coca-Cola girl” with its sliver of the Coca-Cola logo. 

Chan Marshall’s take is so hushed—so carved down like bones on a desert landscape—that enough space exists for the original to fill in, ring out, and play side-by-side in my mind. My foolish brain fills in “du-du dun-un-un”, and I can hear the riff playing in the silence.