I finally watched the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which follows some of music’s most under appreciated musicians. Of them is Merry Clayton who sang backup for Joe Cocker’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and my personal favourite “Gimme Shelter.”
The film gives a far better account than I could ever give of Clayton’s role in “Gimme Shelter,” however I’ll give an honest and inspired go here.
In 1969, the Stones were mixing the album Let It Bleed in Los Angeles. In the wee hours of the evening, the boys thought it would sound good if a female voice sang the lyrics – “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” to accentuate the song’s more dominant and conservative lyrics – “War, children, it’s just a shot away.” Enter twenty-two year old Merry Clayton, who had been woken up in those very wee hours to go to the studio to do her bit. She entered the studio with her hair in her overnight curlers, silk PJs, and her months pregnant belly. She apparently only took a few takes, and went in with every intention to blow the British boys out of the room.
Here’s a clip of the part she recorded that very night:
And the full song:
The film’s trailer: