Friday, 4 July 2008
Rolling Stones "Between The Buttons" (1967) ('Core' Review #9; Revised Review 2015/2018)
Track Listing: Yesterday’s Papers/ My Obsession/ Back Street Girl/ Connection/ She Smiled Sweetly/ Cool, Calm and Collected// All Sold Out/ Please Go Home/ Who’s Been Sleeping Here?/ Complicated/Miss Amanda Jones/ Something Happened To Me Yesterday (
version. The UK version substitutes Let’s Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday for Back Street Girl and Please Go Home). US
To understand this little review, you have to be in the place I'm coming to, for then the music becomes much clearer, and you'll understand my tastes with less of a sneer or, appreciate I'm not having a laugh or just out for the Stones' autographs, for though you might have called me 'liar', I'll love this album until I retire or, until - more likely - I have a fit, because you see this album is so very hip, it's the one Stones album no one else could ever do or pledge, even if it seems at time to go over the edge, so before you get into a strop, or zip this review that's gone buttons up, maybe you'll see more of what's between the lines, and end up with a monkeynuts view of this album like mine, wolven sheep and lambs as mutton, there's a lot more than meets the eyes between the buttons. And don't forget if you're out tonight on your submarine, wear green.
There are certain albums you fall in love without ever being quite able to explain why. Albums that speak to you and come in different shades that no one else you know seems to have seen. Albums that are so decidedly left-of-centre that they were always going to be cult rather than mainstream – but unlike some cults that leave you cold they somehow seem to sit with you well. 'Between The Buttons', released right slap bang in the gap between 'Revolver' and 'Sgt Peppers' with shades of each, is one of them for me. Nobody seems to like this album, nobody: I've never read a review that was anything better than damning with faint praise, while the band themselves seem appalled that they ever released such a thing and have wiped it from their memory. Even some of the 'Out Of Our Heads' songs have appeared in concert down the years; the closest this album has ever had to an audience going wild for it came when The Animals started playing 'Connection' in their own sets. Mick Jagger reportedly banned all mention of this LP in interviews on the grounds that he was young and foolish and it would be an easy target to beat him over the head with - it's probably where Google got their entire 'right to be forgotten' idea from. To these ears though, this is exactly what the Stones should have been doing. It's dark and sinister and nasty in a way that only the Stones could be, going into dark places that no other band would dare. It’s full of gloriously ragged edges and naughty lyrics about sex and drugs that nevertheless are jam-packed full of colour and extra overdubs that make it sound perfect for the first month of 1967. And yet simultaneously it's not Stones like at all: it's the band's prettiest, most melodious album and full of more love songs than any other record, again perfect for the times. It's the antagonism and contradictions between the two that make this record so special: anyone can make a totally pure album or a totally dark one, or on occasion an album that veers between the two places track by track. It takes real talent for every song to have a foot in each camp, to be never quite sure if Mick's what he says he is or not, if we should be listening to what our ears or what our gut is telling us and whether that horrible demonic guitar sound was always intended to be on a song or ended up bleeding through into a pretty ballad by accident. It’s the sound of the summer of love, Stones style, when the dark shadow to The Beatles’ purity and hope gets ever darker by way of contrast. Of the entire AAA canon only Simon and Garfunkel's 'Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme' (released mere weeks earlier) comes close and even that does so in a much more gentile, abstract way. 'Between The Buttons' is the most beautiful ugly baby I've ever had the privilege to hear scream/coo. Never mind between the buttons: this album should have been called 'Read Between The Lines' – it’s the prettiest and yet most Stones album of the lot because you don’t trust that prettiness for one moment.
It could have all gone so horribly wrong. The pre-1967 Stones weren't known for their subtlety after all and will go back to being their usual direct selves as soon as the kaftans have dropped off at the end of 1967 after 'Satanic Majesties'. But, great as that album is too, 'Buttons' isn't quite as relentlessly 'up' itself as that record, simultaneously (a word you'll be hearing a lot in this review) reminding us where the Stones came from as well as showing us more than a glimmer of the summer of love horizon a mere harsh winter away. Those who say the Stones could never 'do' psychedelia seem to be under the illusion that the summer of love was all about peace and flowers. Actually much of the most successful and popular music released in that eras (by The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd among others) is incredibly dark, inspired by drugs that exaggerate everything, the good and the bad, all in one confusing mixture. The Stones might not have had the reputation for being 'that' kind of a drug band - Brian and Keith getting caught up in harder drugs before most bands had latched onto the lighter stuff - but 'Buttons' may well be the ultimate acid album (after all, it contains the lines 'something happened to me, something oh so groovy!'...) Tracks speed up and slow down, multiple Stones pass each other as songs seem to go inside out, ballads suddenly turn into stinging rockers halfway through and evil hangs in the air even on the songs where the band are being nice, whereas the band aren't really being as 'nice' as they sound even on the prettier tunes. People assume that the Stones never ever did psychedelia properly but they would surely be wrong: I defy anyone to listen to 'My Obsession', a track surely inspired to go 'all out' by the fact Brian Wilson was guesting at the session during a break from making 'Smile', without acknowledging that the Stones got 'it' - that pre-Peppers, pre-summer of love occasionally self-indulgent twaddle that hippiedom at its worst became but at its best was really pushing back the envelope of how music was made and how we listened to it. At its best psychedelia is tough and brittle and loaded with guilt and childhood misery, the need for love and peace coming from a guttural howl inside as memories of a war-strewn childhood of distant and absent relatives come to the fore. Syd Barrett may have been an even greater creator of this innocence/dread double-header, but the Stones are better at juggling the atmospheres all at the same time on (nearly) every track on this album.
More than any other Stones LP, this is Mick Jagger's shining moment. To convey all these conflicting emotions at once he has to be everything on this album of wolves in sheep's clothing and he is, superbly, all of the many different facets of the characters posed in song and more. So direct does Mick sound at times that it's almost as if he's in the room, leering, staring out the listener with a demonic grin on his face, a full two years-ish before  'Sympathy For The Devil'. But at other times he's playing characters, roles within roles full of balance and characterisation he'll barely come close to again. 'Yesterday's Papers' and 'Backstreet Girl' improve on the lazy insults of 'Under My Thumb' and 'Stupid Girl' by sounding as if Mick's paying his loved one a compliment, over songs so pretty you can't help but fall in love with them yourself. Dig under the surface, though, and he’s being as cruel as ever he was on ‘Aftermath’: his girl belongs to yesterday, he wants to exploit her but doesn’t care what she thinks, wants to hide her from everyday life for him to enjoy in private. Of all the bastards around in the summer of love it’s the narrators here that win this award – and yet these songs sound so sweet, charming and romantic that you forgive them because you know that the narrator is capable of sweetness and kindness too (or how else would this music have been written?) By contrast, 'She Smiled Sweetly' is one of the sweetest, lightest, giggliest with love lyrics Mick ever wrote (almost certainly his first love song for Marianne Faithful, who he hooked up with at the end of 1966) - but Keith's melody for it is distant, bitter, snarling and Bill Wyman's bass part throughout the recording is so angular and awkward it makes Mick sound like a serial killer, his pleas of kindness falling on death ears as we suspect his kisses are deadly.
Elsewhere the band are having fun with contrasts in other ways too: 'Connection' is the most hippie Stones song ever, about wanting to find a meeting of minds that will manifest love in the universe and everything, but it's played as the Stones' grand farewell to their R and B days with a Merseybeat sense of snarl and separation (a farewell at least for a little while). 'Cool Calm and Collected' laughs at someone (Chrissie Shrimpton? Marianne Faithful? A combination of both?) who keeps up the appearances of respectability outside her home and acts like a wild animal while in it, a split personality who can never be a true hippie. 'Please Go Home' goes for the same hypnotic Bo Diddley style trick the band have been doing a while now for their songs about 'obsession' and follow on from other tracks like  ‘Mona’ and  ‘Not Fade Away’ about how the narrator will never let the love in his life go - but this song is a killer goodbye piece, demanding that a relationship is over in no uncertain ends. 'Sold Me Out' comes on like the cutest poppiest Stones song in years - until you realise it's an angry diatribe performed at high adrenalin and the silly 'hey heys' are not the point of the song at all but hiding a darker beating heart. Closer 'Something Happened To Me' is the most outrageous anti-establishment song the band had written yet (and probably had no small part in the establishment 'manufacturing' a drugs bust just two months later), but performed in the cosy ways of the grown-ups' beloved music hall as if to prove, after  ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, that the hippies are an inevitable creation of the messed-up generation that came before them (the ‘yesterday’ isn’t just ‘the day before today’ but way back when). No song on this fascinating album ever comes at face value – and when it does (as in ‘She Smiled Sweetly’) you don’t trust it an inch because of the other songs around it.
Back in 1966 few bands had even realised that you could make songs in 'layers' - few people had ever been brave enough to try such contrasts. The Stones were the only band who could ever get away with this and this is the only period when they ever could, as Britain’s (the world’s?) darkest rock and pop band finding a way to make the sunniest period in that genre’s history work for them. Any other band would have been shot dead for losing 'authenticity' or making a peace and love album that was anything but peaceful and lovely if you scratched below the surface. But it's perfect for the sarcastic Stones who could never be taken at face value until as late as 1974. Admittedly many fans can’t take the layers and sarcasm and skip straight ahead to 1968, a year when the Stones are proved to be ‘right’ – the world is once again going to hell with riots in the street and the deaths of Martin Luther King and escalation in Vietnam and somehow the Stones suit the darkness better. However I love their attempts to fit into psychedelia on ‘Buttons’ and ‘Satanic Majesties’ – it brings out a whole new dimension to their music that they never had to use again. No wonder the establishment were afraid: they couldn't attack the band directly for doing something nasty or subversive in public because the band were too smart - they got away with deflating the pomposity of the establishment one brick at a time with a mixture of nods, winks and open-ended lyrics and every ‘hip’ fan knew that they didn’t mean a word of this hippie speak; they still wanted to destroy your town, they were just doing it while holding flowers and that somehow made it worse. It makes perfect sense that the establishment’s attempt to ‘break a butterfly on a wheel’ and have Jagger and Richards locked up in Wormwood Scrubs on trumped up drugs charges should come between this album and the next: this is when the Stones were becoming powerful, living up to the darker nature Andrew Loog Oldham had created for them and the fact that other bands were turning all sweet and nice only made the comparison all the darker. 'Buttons' surprised many when it came out for its overtly dark messages in such a bright and happy time. It is though a more obvious path to take than many fans think, a natural extension of the slyness of the recent Stones singles ( '19th Nervous Breakdown' and 109] 'Have You Seen Your Mother?' which both attack the parental generations, plus the depressed tones of  ‘Paint It, Black’ and  'Let's Spend The Night Together', which may have shocked the censors of the day but never actually comes close to mentioning 'sex' head on – the Stones had just got away with it. Till now).
A lesser band would have simply celebrated their status as ruffians extraordinaire and become cartoon caricatures of themselves, especially after the pit falls and difficulties that faced the band in 1966 as Mick and Keith sought to take over the band from Brian while breaking up slowly with Loog Oldham. In many ways that’s what the band become as soon as this album (and possibly the next) are completed. Another reason I love ‘Buttons’ is that it's the last album to have the band as folk hero rebels rather than outlaws, the last made before Mick and Keith get done on trumped up drugs charges in June 1967 and start to be more careful about their attacks, seemingly connected in this album's very thumb-nosing fibres. Though the band will laugh at institutions their whole career through, mostly they'll do so in an abstract way ( 'Sympathy For The Devil'  'Gimme Shelter'  'You Can't Always Get What You Want'). This is the last album where the Stones sound like naughty schoolboys upsetting the establishment as naturally as breathing, with Charlie's rather odd and defensive cartoon drawn for the inner sleeve (he did train as a graphic designer after all) a scowling take on how being the world’s darkest band in the sunshine up to the summer of love had already cost the group already even before the drug busts (with scrawled images of a stick figure band member being asked 'are you a boy or a girl?' and two rather Neanderthal-looking fans debating the merits – or not - of 'Have You Seen Your Mother?') Heading into their mid-twenties, coupled with that drug bust, the Stones are on the cusp of growing up and demonstrate that often across this increasingly sophisticated album. However it's also the last great example of that unadulterated Stones cheek that made half the world fall in love with them and the other half recoil in terror. 'Buttons' just sounds like a dangerous LP, no longer hiding but embracing Decca's typically swampy murky mixes, with odd notes and bass heavy productions plus Mick at his sneering best. Hear this back to back with any other album from 1966 or 1967 (this album's release just three weeks into the new year to avoid the usual clash with the new Beatles album, which ironically didn't happen that year - the world got the 'Oldies but Mouldies' compilation instead) and it's notably darker in tone and feel. The only album to match it is Pink Floyd's debut 'Piper At The Gates Of dawn' and that's not out for another eight months and more than a few freak-outs away. From now on the Stones will only manage this cocktail of subversiveness on odd tracks - never for a full or a majority of an album.
This is also a goodbye, of sorts, to Brian Jones who from now on will be a pale shadow of himself. The most musically articulate and naturally gifted Stone, this is Brian's last chance to do what he does best across a whole LP: drape the album with pretty colours and textures with a sea of instruments that soften the tone without lightening the mood: vibraphone, recorder, saxophone, dulcimer, an oscillator (whatever one of them is - it's actually an abstract principle of a 'vibration' caused between an object moving from one state of flux to another, like a coiled spring, though that's what Brian is credited with on the sleeve so I'm not going to argue. He probably invented a new instrument to get a sound he heard in his head back in 1966 knowing him). Most of the later Stones albums would have been the brighter for more of his contributions - they'll never again sound quite the same without him, although ironically they end up so desperate to re-create that 'missing' sound on 'Satanic Majesties' that they'll throw everything sound-wise at that album, perhaps missing the point that what Brian played was always sparse and simple. What happened to Brian in 1969 is, of course, up for debate, but things spiral out of control for him now. It’s probably no coincidence that Brian’s last few months of being a truly 100% committed Stone are his last with girlfriend Anita Pallenburg, the love of Brian’s life in between the mood-swings and domestic violence which so horrified Keith Richards he ‘ran away’ with her after one fight too many and changed the Stones band dynamic forever (a lot has been written about what Brian and Keith must have been thinking, but what about everyone else? Usually when one bandmate runs off with another one’s girlfriend is over – oddly Mick, Bill and Charlie seem to have been fully supportive of Keith even though they were all trying to be gentle round fragile Brian at the time in the hope he would bounce back to his old self again). Losing her seems to have been the last straw for Brian who from now on will turn up when he feels like it – and that isn’t often. He is, though, the Stone who makes this album extra-fascinating, adding an extra layer of confusion which offers up both the strangest moments of the album (the kazoos of ‘Cool, Calm and Collected and the xylophone on ‘Yesterday’s Papers’) and the prettiest (‘Backstreet Girl’). Without him The Stones are a dark band; with him the Stones are a multi-layered group.
However I'll throw another couple of ideas in there: the Rolling Stones was no longer the band that Brian had signed up to. A blues cover band set up under his direction and featuring mainly his choice of songs, Brian even took a bigger cut as the band's 'leader' in the early days (much to the others' chagrin when they found out). By 1966 it's clear the Stones are all about the Jagger/Richards songs and gave up with the cover songs a long time ago. You can still hear the R and B references on 'Aftermath' though, with this album the first really big pendulum shift to psychedelia, a genre which has nothing to do with the blues and is indeed the polar opposite - peace and love having even less appeal to the naturally aggressive Brian than the others. Brian must have felt that this really wasn't his band any longer and, probably, sulked - though not until after adding some of the most gorgeous moments of the record. More worrying for someone already taking an unhealthy amount of paranoia-inducing drugs was the band's stance as outlaws. Brian was a natural rebel, perhaps even more so than shy Keith and uni student Mick, and he’d been the one Stone to be expelled from school and to get girlfriends pregnant long before making it as a rockstar, but he lived life on his own terms and thumbed his nose at the world his own way. You might notice than Brian is never in the middle of the big publicity hoo-hahs that sum up the Stones in this period; instead he's the one getting his own back in little ways - such as blanking cameraman and interviews, turning up in person to the Monterey Pop Festival (after the band had agreed to not go because they were so worried about the state of, umm, Brian) and refusing to look at the camera on this very album cover. The threat of going to prison, treated as necessary martyrdom by Mick and Keith, really got to Brian. The charges against him were real and more likely to be proven, even though Brian was at first facing less jail time. He got let off, tellingly, because his attorney proved in court just weeks on from this album's release, that prison would accelerate his paranoia and his client was 'a very sick man'. In retrospect this album's song 'Whose Been Sleeping Here?' sounds like a first stirring of worry on Brian's behalf ('What’s to say girl? Where did we go wrong?'), coached perhaps with Keith's own guilt as he imagines his old buddy wondering whose run off with his long-term girlfriend of several years' standing, Mick simultaneously (that word again) playing the pathetic victim and the mocking victor. ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ too sounds like a kiss-off to bandmate as well as girlfriend, while Brian was probably paranoid enough to see the parallels with ‘Backstreet Girl’ as he waited in the wings to lay his parts down, if the others would let him. Even if these are all red herrings, it's hard not to equate this album's sound of impending doom and the sudden blind flurries of noise and brief moments of silence, as at one with the feeling of doom surrounding the band and especially their founder. I'd love to see 'Miss Amanda Jones' as another comment on Brian too given the name choice, but I've a feeling I'm barking up the wrong tree there. Ah well, no rolling stone unturned as they say.
Other changes afoot are Mick Jagger's switch of girlfriends, with Chrissie Shrimpton very much on her way out with another flurry of rude songs following ‘Aftermath’ and Marianne Faithful very much on her way to becoming half of rock's most golden couple of 1967. Poor Chrissie was in retrospect very badly treated. A girlfriend with the perfect look for 1964/1965 (long dark straight hair, pouting Jaggerseque lips and a smile that lit up the room), she gets more and more desperate as her modelling work dries up and her boyfriend gets more and more famous, with more and more affairs splashed over all the papers ('Whose Been Sleeping Here?' could also be a self-directed song, by the way. It could also be about Bill too come to that, who was already notching up the most one-night conquests despite his own pre-band marriage). To make matters worse, her family hated her new boyfriend and ex-communicated her when she agreed under protest to move in with Mick, un-wed in 1966, while he was off on the road for most of the year, leaving her effectively isolated and cut-off. Matters came to a head at the end of the year, months after ‘Aftermath’, when the pair should have been going away on holiday: anxious when Mick didn't show up on time she contacted the travel agents who told her the flights had been cancelled by her boyfriend without any consultation with her. Resigning herself that it was over, after months of pretending it wasn't, Chrissie tracked down all of Mick's prescribed sleeping tablets as well as her own and took them all. She's adamant to this day that it was a real attempt at suicide because she’d had enough of everything, not just a cry for help. Mick, to his credit, took the phone call that she was ill and took her to the hospital himself despite the threats to his image in the press, though thereafter he seems to have abandoned her and moved in more or less simultaneously (the word of the day) with Marianne figuring that she was too difficult for him to cope with. 'Yesterday's Papers' is Mick's final response, his reason for dropping his girlfriend simply that she couldn't keep up with him anymore, while 'Back Street Girl' might well be about Chrissie at least in part too. Girls were never well treated around the Stones but poor Chrissie got by far the worse deal and ended up moving back in with her family after all, with stories of ‘I told you so’ ringing in her ears.
'She Smiled Sweetly, though, is surely for Marianne. Mick was smitten with the Austrian noble descendent (who for a time lived in my current home-town of Ormskirk - one of the few places actually colder than Austria) from the moment they met at a London party in1964 even though they were both in relationships at the time (the pair were introduced by Loog Oldham, who had already decided he was going to manage her – but hadn’t actually got round to asking her if she could sing yet. Amazingly she could!) Things were slow burning though: Marianne had gone a stage further than Mick and been married since early 1965, long after she first met Jagger. She even had a son, Nicholas, from the marriage - who strangely enough grew up very fond of Keith and Anita, who became his favourite babysitters (maybe Keith put a guitar up on a shelf and told the young lad he could have it one day, in honour of his Grandad?) At first Mick hid his interest and their mutual attraction was hidden behind a veneer of work: as early as 1964 he'd been trying to promote Marianne as a great new singer he'd help discover and had written  'As Tears Go By' with Keith as a pretty single for her which became a big hit. For now Marianne has a very sweet and virginal image, dressed more often than not as a schoolgirl even into hr twenties and with a hushed paid-up-media ordered not allowed to say anything about her marriage and child. The traditional public image of the pair's romance has always been that bad boy Jagger seduced a young innocent maiden and took her away from her prim and proper life; the truth is probably more that the pair discovered the same rebellious spirit trapped within a respectable posh upbringing and fell for each other hard in a John and Yoko type way. Chrissie, for her part, was far more conservative in her outlook and was dating Mick before Loog Oldham turned him into the bad boy of pop - by taking up with Marianne in this period Mick was really accepting the part he had to play as a rebel on the world's stage, with all the promises given to Chrissie about settling down and becoming a respectable husband 'in the future' long gone. The Mick and Keith relationship changes taking place about this same time will be a key change in both their lives and in the songs they write, the pair finding even more similarities between them over their shared troubled loves lives and the mixture of freedom and stability these new twists and turns have given them. Perhaps that's another reason why this album is doing so many things at the same time as they try to hide their various changing girlfriends from the world at large?!
Oddly it's Charlie who gets to have the main word on summing up this album though, for the only time - to date anyway. The real origins of the album title are among the oddest on this list so bear repeating in full. Aware that the drummer didn’t have an awful lot to do on these sessions (a problem common among psychedelic era drummers, who nearly all became dab hands at card games while wasting time at the studios waiting to lay their parts down), the band’s management hired him to draw the truly odd drawings on the original LP’s inner booklet. Charlie even provided a poem, well after a fashion. When Charlie asked what the title of the record would be, the drummer was told it hadn’t been decided on yet but that the name for it would eventually be drawn ‘between the buttons’ of the photograph of Charlie’s coat as pictured on the cover (actually they’re printed to the right of his buttons on the finished sleeve but never mind, who am I to argue with the Decca art department?!) Misunderstanding, Watts assumed the title of the album was really ‘between the buttons’ and wrote up his artwork and poem as if that were really the name. The other Stones liked his illustrations and his weird poem enough to let the title stand, although they also had fun teasing the press with all sorts of nonsense behind how the album got its name. That front cover shot is an interesting one actually: like all the European Stones sleeves so far it's a shot of the band in profile. But it's a weird shot of the band in profile: a blurry image of an out-of-focus band achieved by pouring Vaseline over the camera lens. Whether by accident or design, it fits this blurry and boundary-breaking album perfectly, though it's very out of keeping with the far more 'traditional' shots of the band used in the past. Photographer Gered Mankowitz, who'd shot almost the iconic Stones images up till now, was surprisingly obliging over the Vaseline when Loog Oldham suggested the idea, but he was mortified when a giggling (and probably stoned) Brian refused to look at the camera once during the session, fearing that it would strip away ever more of his fading soul. He ranted and raved that the guitarist had ruined the shot and his cover would be a laughing stock, but as usual Brian's instincts were spot on again: his looking away, his head pulled down into his polo neck is also perfect for the Stones' least direct album, the one most full of game-playing and people not saying what they really mean. It’s also the last photograph I can find of Brian smiling while with the band.
Overall, then, ‘Between The Buttons’ is an endlessly fascinating album, with a lot more going on in front of and behind the microphones than most Stones albums. Now, I seem to be a minority voice here so it’s worth re-iterating that what I love might not be what you love: there’s nothing here as gloriously direct or complete as  ‘2000 Light Years From Home’ or  ‘Street Fighting Man’ on the next to Stones albums for instance. Many critics have commented on the fact that there are too few tunes on this album that you can hum and even fewer that you actually remember once the record stops playing as they all pass by in some kind of a blur, but in this case and probably this case only that’s a good thing. You can never remember what is coming next on this album and Buttons’ ragged riffs and lopsided lyrics still have the power to surprise you each time you hear them as songs end mid-note (‘My Obsession), last several minutes longer than expected (the manic fade to ‘Cool Calm and Connected’) or seem over just as they were starting (‘Connection’). After sitting through so many repetitive live Stones albums recently, that's a strength not a weakness with 'Buttons' possessing a serious playfulness, a complex simplicity, an eclectic way of doing Stones traditions and a sort of respectful disgracefulness other bands would love to possess. It’s a song suite this album, with almost every song about doing something you don’t expect or hiding the ‘truth’ of what’s going on from you. One of the main criticisms always levelled at this album is the blurred sound, with the band struggling so much to re-create this densely textured album on a humble four-track machine that they ended up bouncing the tracks down so many channels they lost all shape. Actually that's a good thing with the blurred edges entirely in keeping with cover and theme and the Stones actively writing songs to suit that murky Decca sound for the first time (though, erm, simultaneously this album is also the Decca Stones record that's benefitted the most from digital cleaning). Yes it could be better: if I had the chance I'd get rid of 'Miss Amanda Jones' for letting the side down straight away, while 'Something Happened To Me' is a joke that's only funny once. But 10/12 times the Stones are trying and trying hard to come up with an album that's all things to all men, err, uhh, simultaneously. If you like, it's the 'stepping Stones' album, the necessary bridge between the punchy worldly 'Aftermath' and the spacey other-worldly 'Satanic Majesties', both of this earth and off it. Made with more thought than most Stones album, with a greater more complex production and songs that work on different levels as compositions and recordings, highlighted by some of the last great performances by the original five-man line-up, actually I can understand why I love this album so much and why it is my unfashionable favourite of the band's career. Look behind the 'Between The Buttons' reputation and you'll find one of the greatest albums of music's greatest year of 1967 – the one Stones album so very hugely rebellious that the Stones even rebel from using their signature sound.
 Yesterday’s Papers sums up the album as a whole quite nicely. It sounds as pretty as the Stones ever have, a gossamer light ballad with Brian’s twittering marimbas sounding as pure and innocent as befits the summer of love. The lyrics, though, are the winter of hate. Continuing the vicious put-downs of songs like  Stupid Girl and  Under My Thumb, Jagger’s narrator tells us that he feels nothing for an old flame now he has met someone new, that she failed to move with the times like wot he did and that his old partner is about as much interest to him as yesterday’s newspaper in his ever-changing world. Generally assumed to be a terribly humiliating attack on Jagger’s ex, model Chrissie Shrimpton, after the Stone hooked up with Marianne Faithful, it sounds from these hot-headed cruel lyrics as if miss Shrimpton was far better off without him. Yet – and here’s the thing about this album – this vicious snarling put-down is played over a backing that’s so sweet you have to really strain to hear what the words are anyway and the whole point of this song is that it’s playing games with us, lulling us into a false sense of security. A rare song written by one of the Stones alone (Mick) it’s as if he’s got bored of always writing songs to the music his partner sets and so gives himself a challenge how nasty can he be while sounding so cute? There are, after all, so many musical similarities with  ‘Lady Jane’, the Stones’ most romantic song. The result is quite a song that brings out the best in the band performance, where everyone is pulling together by playing apart: ‘oo wants yesterday’s papers?’ scowls Mick, ‘twitter-twitter-twitter-cute’ goes Brian on the marimbas; similarly Bill’s bass which kick-starts the song sounds as if it is gnawing off its own leg, while Charlie is polite and gentlemanly (never before have the Stones used a bass and drums doing different things; come to that very few 1960s songs tried this trick too). The only other hint of menace comes from Keith’s fuzz guitar, but even that’s just a background rumble – Jagger’s lead vocal couldn’t be prettier or more full of sweetness and light if he tried. There’s a moment when this song switches so dramatically to the minor key that you’re left gasping, sucked up into the narrator’s world where suddenly he sounds the sane one after being the alien in this world, everyone but Mick pitched a semi-tone too high on the cute ‘doo doo doo doos’ (a precursor to  ‘Heartbreaker’). It’s the equivalent of a psychopath going ‘well, she was nuts so I had to kill her, right?’ While a horrific and deeply unfair song for poor Chrissie, it’s also one of Jagger’s cleverest compositions that sets the tone for this album’s games-within-a-game from the very first verse and as such much more satisfying than the pure rants on ‘Aftermath’.
 My Obsession is one of the bravest genre-splitting songs on a brave, genre-splitting album. It’s rolling, repetitive gait strikes out many a time into some new, spacey idea before returning to the central chorus, the closest the Stones came to writing a song suite (well, this and  ‘2000 Light Years From Home’. What with the threatening air of Keith’s fuzz guitar and another killer Wyman bass part joined by Charlie’s most Neanderthal drumming it sounds dark and scary, threatening and oppressive, the very epitome of obsession as the narrator keeps returning to the same place (actually Charlie’s dum-chi-chi drum lick) over and over. The piece sounds not unlike the darker sections of Smile that Brian Wilson was working on at the time, very similar to ‘Fire’ in particular for sheer untamed aggression and adrenalin that you can hear even a band as used to this as the Stones struggling to keep under control across five fierce minutes. In fact, the Beach Boy’s resident genius probably had more influence on the song than he realised, as he was a guest the day the track was being recorded and still says in interviews how this neglected gem is still his favourite Stones song. More than most people in the 1960s, Brian had good taste, as anyone who has read the Beach Boys reviews on this list will know, and this forgotten track which rolls angularly between harmony and dissonance throughout is hard-going at first but soon becomes one of the Stones’ most rewarding songs. The lyrics of My Obsession also fit the repetitive tune perfectly, returning to the theme of  Satisfaction in that the narrator can’t take his mind off his subject (whatever or whoever it is – we never find out), but compared to earlier Stones lyrics these are obscure, fragmented and dark. Again, though, for all their vagueness they leave no doubt to their intention which is basically ‘how dare you say no?’ (‘Can’t dodge it, it’s simple logic, you’d be better off with me and you know it!’) The first Stones song to really truly step out of line with normal society niceties by referencing stalking (to go with future tracks of under-age sex, rape and murder) it gets away with it by being vague and poetic. My guess though is that it was written in a night of lust as Mick wonders how to get rid of Chrissie and get Marianne into his bed, little knowing just yet how easy that will be! In keeping with much of this period’s misogyny Mick refers to his intended girlfriend/victim as ‘my property’ and that ‘you need teaching as a girl’ with the added threat that ‘you are to be mine exclusively!’ Unlike ‘Aftermath’ though, the song has more to do than just be mean and it really sounds like someone sick in the head this song, a person whose thoughts can’t get out of the loop he starts thinking and obsessing about (as summed up by Charlie’s drum lick). There’s an odd last verse though: ‘Didn’t see you were so young!’ laughs Mick, perhaps thinking of Marianne’s schoolgirl image, but instead of turning him on he goes the other way and fools us – he actually wishes his girl would be older, say twice his age, so ‘I can be your son!’ Creepy, as only the Stones in this immediately pre-drugs bust era can be. Like much of the album everything is just slightly out of whack: the harmonies that bit too shrill, that bass just too loud, that mellotron chord hanging in the air just a little too long. The song even ends perfectly, cutting right through the middle of one of Charlie’s cymbal crashes, as if the narrator knows full well he’ll never find a resolution for his obsessive nature. A clever song, with extra marks for Brian’s rare appearance on piano, adding the only glimmer of light and melody in a song that’s about as tightly restricted to one chord as a Stones song ever was. Mick’s vocal too is perfect, tightly controlled and ‘normal’ at first before getting gradually more loopy towards the end as he gets more and more into character.
 Back Street Girl is another candidate for the Stones’ most beautiful performance, all stately acoustic guitars and French café-like accordion. Jagger’s vocal is also another of his sweetest and loveliest, sounding so romantic he must have melted many a young girl’s hearts. But only if they weren’t paying close attention as this is yet another album song where something beautiful is a front hiding something rather darker and sinister when you study it closely. Jagger’s narrator, embarking on an affair, angrily turns on his new missus for phoning at home and nearly getting him into trouble with his wife, horrified that his new girlfriend might be after a commitment he wouldn’t dream of giving her and getting ideas above her station. The chorus is particularly nasty: ‘don’t want you a part of my world, just you be my back street girl’ – he’s never going to be seen to her and she has to be at his beck and call at all times. Mick decides to pull her to him and whisper in her ear – the bit he yells to everyone at home thinks he’s being romantic – but no. He chooses this moment to pick every fault in his new girl that he can find: she’s too coarse, her manners are ‘never quite right’ and she’s ‘not too bright’. He also tells her, weirdly, to ‘never ride my horse’ (is he the lord of a manor and she his servant? It certainly sounds that way). Basically she’s a possession again, but by pretending to be a chivalrous gentlemen you’re ever so nearly fooled by Mick’s act and so it’s easy to get sucked in the way an impressionable girl would be who didn’t want to cause any trouble (Mick, for the record, has a habit of dating women far tougher than him and the meek characters on this album aren’t his type at all – but perhaps, with Marianne still in her ‘virginal’ period, he hasn’t quite worked that out yet). By undercutting the romance of the song with the ugly reality of the lyrics, the Stones pull off another song-writing coup with this track, perhaps the most convincing ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ on the album. Perhaps missing the point, this song was an unexpected favourite with many girl singers who perhaps didn’t realise quite how many years this lyric was putting feminism back!
 Connection, meanwhile, sounds like the usual Stones-type of rocker, but with the band much tighter than normal instead of the impressive-but-tired-sounding lethargy rock attack that’s more their style. Somehow, some way, Decca have finally found a new button and this is easily the clearest production the Stones have made up to this point. This makes the song sound ever more like Merseybeat in general and The Beatles in particular with an ‘all I want to do is get back to you’ chorus that’s a pure life from ‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party (So I’ll Go-o-o)’ While Keith’s guitar barks like a dog it’s Bill whose the star of this song, playing a very Paul McCartney-esque bass line that does everything it can to drive the song onwards while never playing the same chord as anyone else. It’s a great riff too, like  ‘Satisfaction’ on speed and far more threatening sounding than  ‘Get Off My Cloud’. However once again the band are playing with what we’re expecting, offering us their most psychedelic lyric so far about looking for a magical connection with someone, perhaps everyone, but especially someone the narrator used to know. Like  ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ the hint is that the world forced him to become mad and unstable, frightening his girl away. But now his doctor has promised him ‘more injections’ and after a life ‘moving in the wrong direction’ he’s made it back to the point where he can ask his girl out. In an eerie mirror of what’s to come for real, though, he arrives at an airport and gets arrested by customs who think he’s smuggling drugs when the ones he carries with him are all prescription tablets to keep his neuroses under control. The snappy urgent angry gait of the music, then, is the ‘Dr Jekyll’ the narrator is afraid of turning into again as he’s kept away from his pills for longer and longer. The song then ends, the narrator having turned his life around who ‘doesn’t know if they’ll let me go’. I wonder if the lyrics came back to haunt Mick five months after the release of this album when he was busted at Keith’s ‘Badlands’ house by a load of policemen who expected to find vast quantities of drugs but could only find Mick’s prescribed sleeping pills? Another fascinatingly complex under-rated song that’s a lot better after analysing than it seems on first hearing – and even then this catchy little rocker sounded pretty darn good.
 She Smiled Sweetly is, amazingly, the record’s third sinister song out of five pretending to be a romantic ballad. This time though things are different: Mick’s words are genuinely romantic, perhaps the most openly sweet without a bite he ever wrote and clearly about his early stirrings of love for Marianne (worried if he’s doing the right thing, she smiles at him ‘and tells me don’t worry, oh no no no’). Mick even sings that he’ll wait forever ‘even though my hair’s turning grey’ – the ultimate sacrifice for the world’s youth in 1967. Have the Stones gone soft then? Ha, no! Keith’s melody by itself would be a relatively good fit for the cute words, but what the Stones do to this song make Mick sound more like a robber than a Romeo. Growling at the bottom of his register, Jagger unleashes his inner psychotic stalker, an off-key organ part by Brian sounds Hammer Horror Film worthy and the double attack of Bill Wyman’s bass and Richards’ guitar at its lowest register combined with that usual Decca mix make this recording sound impenetrable and muddy. This time round your ears are telling you ‘run!’ while your gut instinct is telling you ‘aww’. One can imagine Mick sheepishly bringing what is, by his standards, rather a soppy lyric and asking Keith how to toughen it up – their idea, to do the opposite of the trick they pulled on ‘Yesterday’s Papers’, allows the band to truly have the best of both worlds. The result is a song that’s gorgeous and lovely and impressively sweet – and yet you could never ever accuse the Stones of going soft after hearing it. What in other hands would have seemed like sabotage really suits this song because everybody is coming from the same page: they know that Mick means these lyrics from the heart so they can get on with the true Stones business of making him sound tongue-in-cheek anyway. The result is a song that’s genuinely smiling sweetly, but which you still think is going to stab you in the back when you’re not looking.
Side closer  Cool Calm and Collected is probably my favourite on the album – a wild, raucous ride where the Stones pick up on their generation gap vibe of 1966 (see  ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and  ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?’) and decide to make the hallmarks of their parent’s generation (music hall banjos – well nearly, that’s what Keith tunes his guitar like – piano and even kazoos) as psychedelic and raucous as they can. ‘See!’ says the Stones, ‘your music isn’t sacred to us – we can demolish that too!’ The irony, as with so many songs on this album, is that the song is full of the sort of advice that parents would love their offspring to follow: stay cool, calm and collected. Don’t get excited, don’t have fun, don’t break the law. The lyrics even half-go where a music hall oompah song might have gone: Mick salutes a girl always ‘dressed up in red, white and blue’ and has ‘been brought up in *that* way’. However Mick knows the ‘real’ her hidden under the surface of that respectability: ‘she knows all the right games to play!’ (which is either social or sexual, depending on your feelings). My guess is that this song is, like so much of this album, about Marianne again and her ability to be young and virginal in public and a wild party girl who keeps pace with Mick in private. Just check out the middle verses: ‘in public the strain’s hard to bear, but she exudes such a confident hair’ while the final verse finds that under her glowing pale skin she has ‘teeth sharpened, ready to bite!’ Mick is, as elsewhere, obsessed, fascinated by this creature who in many ways is the opposite of his own contradictions: a real life bad girl pretending to be sober and sombre (Mick, after all, was a nicely brought up posh young man with two-thirds of a university degree that Andrew Loog Oldham has re-tooled into the world’s greatest menace that ever lived – but not all of it was acting for him, just as part of Marianne really was posh and gentile). The closing line - where the well brought-up hostess is about to sink her teeth into the hapless narrator, thus revealing her primal instincts until all that good breeding kicks in - makes it clear this is another wolf in sheep’s clothing. In another tale of never judging by first appearances, this song though isn’t some harmless music hall comedy as it starts but a really wild ride that roars like a tiger, fights like a bull and kicks like a mule. Even Mick, so used to ‘dancing’ his way on top of what this band throw at him, struggles to stay upright and his only harmonica playing on the whole album is a real struggle for him in the song’s manic instrumental that plays faster and faster until crashing in on itself in a loud angry psychedelic swirl of pure noise and adrenalin. So it’s just psychedelic music that can scare you then eh? No – it’s the attitude and even your music isn’t safe from us parents! Never has the childhood plaything of the kazoo sounded so scary (well not till Pink Floyd have the same idea – truly there’s more similarities with ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ than reviewers have realised). The result also sounds a direct parody of the Kinks circa 1966 but at least Ray Davies had admiration for tradition and appearances, however thin – The Stones take a generation’s entire sound and re-mould it into pure uncontrolled mayhem. And in that, they are one up on ‘you’.
 All Sold Out starts side two in a rather more traditional way. Jagger even gets the chance to let down his guard and let his emotion shine through, turning in one of his better vocals, purring his way through this song that really suits his sarcasm and quietly building anger. Yet even though this track grooves along like the finest Stones 1960s rockers on a diet of fuzz bass and guitar, the lyrics are a first in the Stones canon – this time it’s Jagger’s narrator that’s been dumped and he’s not in a forgiving mood, really relishing the chance to get steamed up on one of these tracks at last. He’s as emotional as we ever hear him, accusing the world of ‘selling him out flat…last night’ and by the end of the song he’s really shrieking, heading into  ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ territory as he gets more and more carried away. My take has always been that this song is a dig at Andrew Loog Oldham. Though credited on both this album and ‘Satanic Majesties’ by his own admission he wasn’t really around for either record – bored of the length it was taking to make the music and feeling that he’d outgrown the Stones (or had they outgrown him?) he was leaving them alone. The band won’t have known it when they recorded this song in the dying days of 1966 but this will have a huge impact on their lives in 1967: having created this five-headed monster, Loog Oldham’s disappearance will leave the Stones with no elder (or even younger) figure prepared to help control it. Without any authority the Stones get further and further down a dark road and everyone around them has now assumed that is the ‘real’ Stones, not a game. This will kick in particularly when the authorities figure the Stones have gone too far and try to bust them; after that the Stones are never quite as brave and reckless again. Interestingly Jagger’s complaint in the lyrics isn’t that he’s been ‘sold out’ (that always seemed likely with someone of Andrew’s ‘hustler’ nature) but the way it was done: cool calm and collected. The Stones thought they meant something to their manager, but he’s just being ‘matter of fact’ and Mick was ‘put down, just like that!’ It’s the last time in song until Jerry Hall in the 21st century that someone will ever have this power over Jagger and he feels it keenly: he’s the star, shouldn’t it be him choosing to sack someone working for him? Mick’s passion spills over quite brilliantly into his most deranged song yet, even though – in keeping with this album – the more histrionic he gets the calmer his opponent gets and you sense he realises this tactic really isn’t working. Charlie, too is magnificent with some superb drum-rolls that just batter him into submission and give him the fight he clearly expected from his mentor but isn’t getting across the song. Keith is clearly relishing the arrangement too, getting the chance to show off some of his fiercest squealing chordal attacks and practising the Stones’ legendary ‘grand art of weaving’ by playing off his own double-tracking. The result is another intense song, perhaps less multi-layered than some of the others on this album but a fine performance and a heartfelt lyric make it a good and under-rated track all the same.
 Please Go Home is the bluesy Stones of old meeting the new psychedelic Stones head on, with so much going on in the jumbled production that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening, even on repeated listens. Basically it’s a return to the throbbing one-note jam of  ‘Mona’ with the Stones doing Bo Diddley on acid. Filled with lots of echoey post-production effects, pre-synthesiser bleeps presumably played on a moog, some booming Watts drums, Keith seemingly learning how to play the slide guitar right before your ears and some backing vocals treated with echo, distortion, repeat and possibly feedback, it ought to be a mess but is somehow strangely compelling. Lyrically this is a real oddball song too. Mick is addressing someone, possibly a groupie and realises that he’s gone too far and wants the girl to go home now. At first he apologises (‘It could be I’m talking too fast’), then he gets bored (‘I just have to look to get you’), then he gets over-stimulated (much as he wants company ‘I don’t have to ring like a phone!’), then he accuses the girl of being mad and finally decides to be kind, thanking her for her ‘false affections’. In keeping with every other album released in 1967 (except the rest of this one) the kindness works and the song finally staggers to a full-stop, lurching instrument by instrument into a clearly unrehearsed collapse. As a song it isn’t much and even as a performance it isn’t anywhere near close to being the best on the album and yet there’s something compelling about this noisy track that keeps pulling me back to it. You can easily imagine a bleary-eyed Jagger writing the lyrics down as his head pounds like Charlie’s drums after an ugly night out on the town where too many people bugged him. His fierce performance of the vocal suggests this song still means something to him, even on another more sober day and even for an album where he’s on top form throughout this is one of his very best.
 Whose Been Sleeping Here?, is an under-rated track that gets the album back on course though, a pretty ballad in the folk Dylan mode with waves of wah-wah guitar, a delicately plucked piano and another one of Jagger’s best-ever vocals. Mick is perhaps doing a bit of play-acting, imagining what he might say in his relationship if the shoe was on the foot, as it were. Walking in on his girlfriend and noticing that the other side of the bed has been slept in too, he jumps to conclusions, demanding to know the identity of this other figure as he pours out his despair. ‘What to say girl?’ he sighs, ‘What is wrong?’ Figuring that she was joking or led astray, he assumes that she’s entirely innocent in the affair and demands instead to know who led her down the wrong path. By the end of the song his imagination has taken full flight: suddenly she’s been a busy girl and has slept with…the butcher, the baker, the Laughing Cavalier, a soldier, a sailor, The Three Musketeers, a Newsboy, a British Brigadier, sergeants, soldiers ‘and the cruel grenadiers’. After all that no wonder his girlfriend is lying in bed exhausted when he comes in, but in an obscene twist on Goldilocks and The Three Bears Mick inspects his cutlery, demanding to know who has been eating off his plate as well as sleeping in his bed. By the end he’s slightly more rational, wondering ‘was it your father, your aunty, your uncle?...’ (and in a risqué line for the times ‘Your boyfriend? Your girlfriend?!?’) but for a while there Mick is ferocious, as hurt and sad as we’ve ever heard him. Against this a jangly Keith acoustic part and some Nicky Hopkins piano tries to placate him, but Brian’s angry sizzling lead is having none of it and lashes out with Mick’s fierce tongue. Bill’s sobbing bass meanwhile tries to pick up the pieces as the whole scene of this dysfunctional partnership ends in tragedy. Though my guess is the song started as a spoof (of Dylan, perhaps via ‘Beatles For Sale’) with lots of funny lyrics and a ‘comedy’ harmonica overdub, somewhere before recording the band decided to do it mostly straight. That’s a smart move: arguably the Stones’ first country and western/folk spoof is so much more funnier than  ‘Dear Doctor’ or  ‘Faraway Eyes’ where the band spoil the joke by giggling or putting on funny accents. Classic stuff.
 Complicated is another typical Stones rocker, with more lyrics about contrasts. Like most of this album, it deals with the theme of someone being deceptively simple on the surface but things become far less clear cut and far more fuzzy around the edges when the narrator gets to know the girl he fancies and all her conflicting motives. Mick is once again complaining about his partner – but everything he complains about he could say for himself! There she is set in her ways, she knows her own mind, she’s used to having her own way…What Mick really means, I think, is that the relationship is complicated. She, the un-named girl (perhaps more Marianne than Chrissie but perhaps with elements of both) actually isn’t, at least in this lyric. She’s feisty, refusing to be walked all over the way the Stones usually do to their women – but when he treats her right she’s ‘like a little lamb’. Judging by what his various partners have written about him down the years that goes for Mick too – Keith three judging by what Anita and Patti write about Keith in his autobiography ‘Life’. Maybe it’s the same of most mortals: treat them right and they’ll say thankyou; treat them wrong and they’ll say fuck you. This seems to be a very major significant discovery for ol’ Mick though who thought the best way of getting peace in his relationships was to boss the girls around and make them do what he wants; in retrospect it’s probably that he finds complicated, dropping an accepted part of working class 1960s life that he had always assumed without question. The band turn in one of their greatest ensemble pieces on this track making full use of Decca’s familiar murk, with Wyman’s booming gulping bass a particular highlight, showing once again what a wonderfully under-rated player he is. Nicky Hopkins’ fine piano playing softens much of this song’s powerful instrumental blow but only just – the crescendo when the band hit the instrumental section for the last time, with just a bass, rattling percussion and some harsh aahing background vocals for company, is somehow excruciating and exhilarating all at the same time, even if the song is perhaps not as deep as some others on ‘Between The Buttons’.
Goodness only knows what wag decided to place  Miss Amanda Jones (no relation! Or is she?) next in the running order after a song called ‘Complicated’. A terribly backward-looking Chuck Berry-derived track, it’s not complex in the least and sounds a direct steal of  ‘Around and Around’. The biggest blot on the album, this song misses the mark badly and like many an early Stones song makes no sense lyrically. Who is Amanda Jones and why does she go round and round? Is it the shops she can’t keep away from? (we hear talk about money but that’s as lucid as the track gets). Is it something to do with Brian perhaps, a sneaky reference in the title by Jagger and Richards to one of their former bandleader’s illegitimate children? Is it, as seems most likely, a crude sexual reference? Or is this song really a fond farewell to their increasingly befuddled partner, a homage not only to Brian by name but in style and spirit as well? Whoever ‘she’ is, the worst the Stones can say about her is that she’s gullible and is easily parted from her money to the point where she’s losing her ‘nobility’. No, I don’t know why the Stones would care about such a thing either (is this Mick’s social climbing part of his personality kicking in early?!?) Like many things from this confusing period of Stones history, we’ll probably never know now but for once on this album the song isn’t sufficiently interesting enough to make you care. Only Brian’s squeaky version of a Chuck Berry riff, so very different to Keith’s note-perfect steal over the top, catches the ear.
 Something Happened To Me Yesterday then plays us out, finally embracing the sort of lyrics you might be expecting – a drug song in all but name, designed to really get on the nerves of the authorities looking for ways to lock the Stones up in 1967. What you’re probably not expecting, even after the last eleven tracks, is the accompaniment: a straightforward Salvation-Army sounding singalong without the hint of irony the Stones usually save for such affairs (until Jagger’s spoof English Twit vocal on the last verse and his closing sarcastic monologue anyway). Even the ha-ha-ha naïve innocent lyrics don’t have quite the bite you expect them to from reading about them. Considering how subversive the subject matter is (the closest anyone had come to mentioning drugs in a lyric) it’s actually quite tame and sweet. ‘Something’ happened to Mick yesterday. It was actually something ‘oh so groovy’. Mick doesn’t know what he should make of it. Should he tell someone? Hand himself over to the authorities? Is it something good or bad? His friends - signified by main writer Keith – are concerned. Mick, you’re talking in a weird voice about all sort of things we don’t understand. Are you quite well? The overall summary: ‘We’re just not sure what it was, of the meaning or the cause’. Mick, though, feels determined to tell us about this life-changing event simply because it’s life changing. Just to ram the point out, Mick then tells us in the extended second half that he feels ‘trippy’. Now, that’s not telling all the boys and girls to take drugs is it mum and dad? Somehow though the oompah-ing band isn’t as successful as the first time the band tried this idea on ‘Cool, Calm and Collected’. Oh and in retrospect the idea that Keith Richards spends the first of his rare vocal outings singing about having his mind changed by some new substance and escaping the law in a really high, pretty voice in contrast to the lived-in growl of later records isn’t as brave as it might have been, it’s merely very very sad. The ending is the bit that seemed to really rile the establishment, as Mick takes on the part of a policeman and apes Dixon of Dock Green by telling all of us good little children to ‘wear white and you’ll be alright’. One wonder if the bobbies said the same to Kick when they arrested him five months later? A frustrating finale to the album in that this song rubbed a lot of feathers up the wrong way but doesn’t sound anywhere nbear rebellious enough for such an important song. It also doesn’t measure up anywhere close to the best of ‘Between The Buttons’ – and yet, a fitting way to end as right to the last note of this weirdo album we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Overall, then, Buttons might not be the sort of record that’s ever going to convert you into being a Stones fan, and if you are a heavy Stones riff-loving fan it will probably do nothing but irritate you anyway. However, as someone who doesn’t necessarily think the best thing the band ever did was  ‘Brown Sugar’ (the template for all the Stones songs that follow in 1971 pretty much) and who likes a dash of intelligent with Chuck Berry riffs and misogyny, ‘Between The Buttons’ is the Stones record for me. It’s more multi-layered than all the others, more authentically psychedelic and it breaks the Stones’ sound as far as it can while still sounding for the most part like the most Stones album ever, thumbing it’s nose at authority and breaking the hearts of all the girls. In many ways lyrically it’s not much of an improvement on ‘Aftermath’, but so clever are the lyrics and so lovely are the tunes that this album can get away with a whole lot more than the albums around it ever could. Whether it is worth the problems with authority figures it caused in the long run is one thing. Whether you never actually get round to playing it regularly or pass it up for a different Stones album with a better known track on it is another. However I love the fact that there is an album like this as part of the Stones back catalogue, one that falls between two stools as much as between the buttons, dating from a time when the band really were pioneering, witty, deep and lots of fun – often on the same song. Buttons’ wigged out psychedelia serves as a nice compliment to the band’s usually more straightforward rock/blues/country fare and it’s a crying shame there’s only one other psychedelic Stones album that could possibly compare to this one. And we’ll be bringing you that marvellous marvel to delight your very eyes and ears in a few moments…