Following their discovery in 1961, it was speculated that satellite cells were dormant myoblasts, held in reserve until required for skeletal muscle repair. Evidence for this accumulated over the years, until the link between satellite cells and the myoblasts that appear during muscle regeneration was finally established. Subsequently, it was demonstrated that, when grafted, satellite cells could also self-renew, conferring on them the coveted status of 'stem cell'. The emergence of other cell types with myogenic potential, however, questioned the precise role of satellite cells. Here, we review recent recombination-based studies that have furthered our understanding of satellite cell biology. The clear consensus is that skeletal muscle does not regenerate without satellite cells, confirming their pivotal and non-redundant role.