The never-ending battle between bad and evil
1967: 27 years after the author’s death, The Master and Margarita was finally published as a novel and, due to the growing rumors around the book, was immediately translated in English. The main plot is pretty famous: the Devil and his crew come in Moscow during the 30s, putting on a magical show, messing up around the city and, above all, interfering with the life and destiny of Margarita and his Master.
According to the well-known legend, the book came quite soon to the attention of Marianne Faithfull that, fascinated by the surreal and evocative atmosphere of the story, passed it along to Mick Jagger. And that’s where the story behind this song started.
The influence of Bulgakov’s masterpiece in this song is really evident: the way Satan introduces himself in the first two lines is quite similar to the words said by Lucifer the first time he appears in the book (“Please allow me to introduce myself:
I’m a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a mans soul and faith”). The whole text is a description of the atrocities the humankind committed from Lucifer’s point of view.
Another strong influence for Jagger’s writing was obviously Charles Baudelaire (Les Litanies de Satan). But, most of all, it’s Dostoevsky’s Great Inquisitor that symbolizes perfectly Lucifer’s speech (“Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints”).
Jagger wanted to write a song that could sound like Bob Dylan styling, trying to build a folk song on a three chords progression. As drummer Charlie Watts said, Jagger went at his house in Sussex and played the song entirely at the front door. Under the influence of Keith Richards, the song turned in a six minutes samba with one of the most famous percussion section in popular music.