The Testimonial Plea Behind “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones

In “Beast of Burden,” all the elements of a classic Rolling Stones song are there. The guitar interplay is a constant throughout, while the classic, driving Charlie Watts beat is relentless. The understated, tasteful bass of Bill Wyman sets the scene for Mick Jagger to testify and deliver his plea on this 1978 classic from the album, Some Girls. It turns out it’s both an appeal to a woman and a message between band members. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones. 

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I’ll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad, but it’s a hurting
All I want is for you to make love to me
I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ve walked for miles my feet are hurting
All I want is you to make love to me

The Message Between Band Members

After going through a period of drug use in the mid-’70s, guitarist Keith Richards cleaned up his act or, in his words, “closed down the laboratory.” In 1993, he shared the story in the liner notes for Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones: “When I returned to the fold after closing down the laboratory, I came back into the studio with Mick … to say, ‘Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden.’ That’s why I wrote ‘Beast of Burden’ for him, I realize in retrospect.”

Richards supplied the chorus, and Jagger filled in the verses. In 2012, Richards told Mojo magazine: “Mick wrote a lot of it, but I laid the general idea on him. At the time, Mick was getting used to running the band. Charlie was just the drummer, I was just the other guitar player. I was trying to say, ‘OK, I’m back, so let’s share a bit more of the power, share the weight, brother.”

Am I hard enough
Am I rough enough
Am I rich enough
I’m not too blind to see
I’ll never be your beast of burden
So let’s go home and draw the curtains
Music on the radio
Come on, baby, make sweet love to me

The Guitars

Ronnie Wood was a relatively new member of the band. He joined two years earlier, in 1976. When “Beast of Burden” was presented, he and Richards began weaving their parts throughout the song. It’s not as if one is playing lead and the other is playing rhythm. They both are working together, playing the guitars in a way that compliments each other.

Richards wrote about Wood in his 2010 memoir, Life: “He knows [cornetist Bix] Beiderbecke, he knows his history, his Broonzy, he’s solidly grounded. And he was perfectly adapted to the ancient form of weaving, where you can’t tell rhythm from lead guitar, the style I’d developed with Brian [Jones], the old bedrock of the Rolling Stones sound. The division between guitar players, rhythm, and lead that we had with Mick Taylor melted away. You have to be intuitively locked to do that, and Ronnie and I are like that. “Beast of Burden” is a good example of the two of us twinkling felicitously together.”

Am I hard enough
Am I rough enough
Am I rich enough
I’m not too blind to see
Oh little sister
Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, girl
You’re a pretty, pretty, such a pretty, pretty, pretty girl
Come on, baby, please, please, please

The Crossover

Wood talked about “Beast of Burden” in a promotional interview for the Some Girls album: “That’s another one that just came very naturally in the studio. And I slipped into my part, and Keith had his going. It may have appeared as though it was planned. We can pick it up today, and it will just naturally slip into the groove again with the guitars weaving in a special way. It’s quite amazing, really. Ever since Keith and I first started to trade licks, it was a very natural thing that, for some unknown reason, if he’s playing up high, I’m down low and the other way around. We cross over very naturally. We call it an ancient form of weaving—which we still are impressed by it to this day. Unexplainable, wonderful things happen with the guitar weaving. There’s no plan.”

I’ll tell ya
You can put me out
On the street
Put me out
With no shoes on my feet
But, put me out, put me out
Put me out of misery

It Goes Both Ways

While Jagger is testifying and pleading, he also wants us to know it goes both ways. In 1978, Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine: “The song says, ‘I don’t need a beast of burden, and I’m not going to be your beast of burden, either.’ Any woman can see that that’s like my saying that I don’t want a woman to be on her knees for me.”

Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me
I can shrug it off
There’s one thing, baby
That I don’t understand
You keep on telling me
I ain’t your kind of man
Ain’t I rough enough, ooh baby
Ain’t I tough enough
Ain’t I rich enough, in love enough
Ooh, ooh, please


The emotion of the song still resonates today. The urgency of the performance paired with the pleading lyrics has caused the message to endure. Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill said, “I prefer songs that go to the heart rather than the head, and only a few bands can hit the heart with ease, like the Stones. ‘Beast of Burden’ is one of my absolute favorite songs ever, for the yearning vocal and the great guitar work.”

I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ll never be your beast of burden
Never, never, never, never, never, never, never be
I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ve walked for miles, my feet are hurting
All I want is you to make love to me

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Photo by John Minihan/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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