In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
When John Lennon was starting to freak out about the overwhelming enormity of his own fame, he wrote “Help!,” a song about thrashing around, being uncertain of yourself, needing someone to calm you down. It’s a song about internal crisis, and it still works as a sharp and clean and fun pop number. For Lennon, the problem was him. But for the Rolling Stones, things were different. And when they started to freak out about their own fame, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards responded with an explosive burst of surly droogy energy and half-coherent muttering. For Jagger and Richards, the problem was the rest of the world.
Jagger and Richards have told people different stories about “Get Off Of My Cloud.” Jagger has said that it’s a protest against the enforced conformity that he was seeing across America. Richards has said that it was about all the people bugging the band to come up with a follow-up to “Satisfaction.” Both explanations apply to the song, and both work.
If you can follow what Jagger is singing on “Get Off Of My Cloud,” he’s venting about the idea that he needs peace but that the rest of the world is butting in. He can be atop a skyscraper and ads are still hammering their way into his headspace. He can be in bed at 3AM, and people are calling him up to come party, which seems like a very Jagger problem. And even when he falls asleep in the solitary serenity of his own car, he wakes up with parking tickets all over his windshield. He would like the rest of the world to kindly get the fuck out of his space. It’s a door-slam of a song.
But of course, one of the great things about the song is that you can’t follow what Jagger is singing. He lets out all his complaints in a breathless bray, frothy and unhinged. If it’s hard to figure him out now, it must’ve been utterly, thrillingly baffling to ears raised on the clarity of mid-’60s pop. (This was, after all, shortly after the FBI investigated the Kingsmen because they thought maybe “Louie Louie” was about drugs.) And so Jagger’s garbled recriminations hit harder through the sheer confusion that they inspire.
The rest of the song works like that, too. It’s an adrenal surge of noise, all those guitars and drums and organs tumbling downhill together, picking up steam. There’s a precision in the way everything hits in military lockstep, but the song’s magic is in its chaos. The rest of the band sounds like the noise that won’t stop following Jagger, and they answer back the chanting on the chorus with the same joyous, excited fuck-the-world vigor. And this song hasn’t aged at all. You can hear the excitement in, for instance, the early Beatles records. You can imagine the way they would’ve hit people’s ears in their era. But with “Get Off Of My Cloud,” you don’t have to theoretically reconstitute that excitement at all. You can feel it. It’s right there.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Method Man referencing “Get Off Of My Cloud” on the Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 single “Method Man,” rhyming it with “you don’t know me and you don’t know my style”: