I’d Rather Be Dead than Sing Satisfaction When I’m 45

Mick Jagger? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is one of their most popular songs. Today lead singer Mick Jagger is almost seventy years old. When he was much younger he supposedly said something like this:

(1) I’d rather be dead than singing Satisfaction when I’m forty-five.
(2) I’d rather die than be 45 and still singing Satisfaction.
(3) I don’t want to be singing Satisfaction when I’m 40.

Is one of these quotes accurate, or is this a joke from a prankster music journalist?

Quote Investigator: On June 9, 1975 People magazine published an article titled “The Jaggers” that included the following remark from Mick Jagger who was almost thirty-two years old. Bold face has been added [JJMJ]:

Jagger and the Stones have endured at the top longer than any other rock band, but as for the future, Jagger admits that it could all suddenly end. “I only meant to do it for two years. I guess the band would just disperse one day and say goodbye. I would continue to write and sing, but I’d rather be dead than sing Satisfaction when I’m 45.

In 1981 Time magazine printed a story listing several different cut-off ages and suggesting that Jagger himself had trouble recalling his words. A memoir released in 1983 claimed that Jagger spoke on this topic in 1965. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1979 an article about the Beach Boys included a version of the quotation that used slightly different wording and an age of 40 instead of 45 [EZMJ]:

His Jagger-ish choreography brings to mind Jagger’s famous statement. “I don’t wanna be singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 40.”

In October 1981 a newspaper profile of the Rolling Stones referred to the remark but did not specify a cut-off age for Jagger [RSMJ]:

How long can middle-aged men continue to act like little boys?
Bill Wyman claimed two years ago that he would quit at 40. Mick Jagger once said he just couldn’t picture himself singing “Satisfaction” as an old man. But both have recanted some since.

Also in October 1981 People magazine revisited the subject and alluded to the comment with an age of 40 specified [PEMJ]:

Of the five charter members, four Stones remain. (Brian Jones died of a drug overdose in 1969.) But Jagger, who once said he’d rather be dead than sing Satisfaction after 40, now plays with bassist Bill Wyman, who this month turns 45.

Later in October 1981 Time magazine presented remarks from Jagger that suggested he was uncertain of what he said originally. Jagger now mentioned the relatively young age of 32 as a cut-off [JCMJ]:

When he was younger, and could afford to talk tougher, and figured too that he was likely going to wind up a movie star or some kind of landed grandee, Mick Jagger allowed that he would not be caught dead singing Satisfaction at the age of (pick one): 30, 35, 40. “I think I said 32,” Jagger said recently.

“But I’ve always said, ‘I’ll never do this again.’ I never meant it. I just said it.”

In August 1983 People magazine published “Mick Jagger Turns 40” and provided an update [PFOR]:

Years ago Mick told the world, “I don’t want to be singing Satisfaction when I’m 40.” A while later, perhaps already hearing time’s winged chariot at his back, Jagger scoffed off the remark as ignorant chaff from “a towheaded lad.” Then two years ago, he further temporized: “I mean, it’s not very old to be 38. My father was running competitive three miles when he was 38.”

In 1983 the musician and author Ian Whitcomb published a memoir titled “Rock Odyssey: A Chronicle of the Sixties” about his sudden and short arc of pop celebrity as part of the British Invasion of the U.S. airwaves. In a section of the book set in 1965 Whitcomb described a conversation in which Mick Jagger gave him this advice [IWMJ]:

Exercise all you like when you’re onstage, but when you’re off let the curtain down and turn off the rock—or you’ll kill yourself. Me, I’m a cricket buff and I don’t mind a good Trollope to go to bed with—the book variety. But I let ’em have the bumps and grinds onstage and I run the corporation off-stage.

Whitcomb contends that Jagger also said the following to him in 1965 [IWMJ]:

You don’t think I want to be singing ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ when I’m forty, do you? Christ on a bicycle, I’d rather be dead!”

In 1993 a newspaper article about the book “Jagger Unauthorized” reprinted several Jagger attributed quotations including this one [PDMJ]:

I’d rather die than be 45 and still singing ‘Satisfaction.’

In conclusion, the 1975 citation in People magazine is solid evidence that Mick Jagger did express great reluctance to sing the hit “Satisfaction” at age 45. He may have made similar statements on more than one occasion, and he may have specified different cut-off ages. In 1981 he suggested an early cut-off: “I think I said 32.”

(Thanks to Kevin Gardiner who asked about this quotation. QI constructed the question and performed this exploration.)

[JJMJ] 1975 June 9, People, Volume 3, Number 22, The Jaggers by Jim Jerome, Time Inc., New York. (Online People magazine archive at people.com)

[EZMJ] 1979 May 13, Trenton Evening Times, Section: Sunday Times Magazine, Music: A blotchy past for rock’s first family by Eve Zibart, Page 16 [GNB Page 126], Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)

[RSMJ] 1981 October 1, Register Star, Special Section: The Rolling Stones Play Rockford, “The Stones Age” by Mark Lundahl, Start Page 5, Quote Page 15 [GNB Page 25], Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)

[PEMJ] 1981 October 12, People, Mick Jagger Is Rolling Again as the Stones ‘Tattoo’ the U.S., Time Inc., New York. (Online People magazine archive at people.com)

[JCMJ] 1981 October 26, Time, Show Business: Roll Away the Stones by Jay Cocks, Time Inc., New York. (Online Time magazine archive at time.com)

[PFOR] 1983 August 1, People, Mick Jagger Turns 40, Time Inc., New York. (Online People magazine archive at people.com)

[IWMJ] 1994, Rock Odyssey: A Chronicle of the Sixties by Ian Whitcomb, Quote Page 195, Limelight Editions, New York. [Originally published 1983, Dolphin Books, Garden City, New York] (Google Books preview)

[PDMJ] 1993 August 8, The Plain Dealer, Runners by Cheryl Lavin, Page 4, Cleveland, Ohio. (NewsBank)

One reply on “I’d Rather Be Dead than Sing Satisfaction When I’m 45”

  1. Great work, QI! It really seems as though Jagger has flirted with the issue quite a bit. So much so that it’s not just a case of him having been misquoted ad infinitum. Thanks for getting to the bottom of it.

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