Monday, 11 March 2013
The Rolling Stones "Aftermath" (1966)
“What a drag it is growing old!” “Kids are different today, I hear every mother say, mother needs something today to calm her down, and though she’s not really ill there’s a little yellow pill...” “Life’s just difficult today, I hear every mother say, the pursuit of happiness just seems a bore, but if you take more of those you will get an overdose, no more running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper” “Like a lady in waiting to a virgin queen, she bitches about things that she’s never seen, look at that stupid girl!” “My sweet Lady Jane, when will I see you again? Your servant am I and will humbly remain, just heed this plea my love, on bended knee my love, I pledge myself to Lady Jane!” “It’s down to me! The difference in the clothes she wears, down to me! The change has come, she’s under my thumb!” “The lines around my eyes are protected by copyright law” “Maybe you think I’ve seen the world – but I’d rather see my girl” “C’mon little girl, you may look sweet but I know you ain’t!” “High and dry, well I’m up here with no warning, high and dry – I couldn’t get a word in!, high and dry, woah, what a way to go! Now she’s left me here high and dry” “Anything I wished for I only had to ask her, but she found out it was money I was after, high and dry, woah!, what a weird letdown, now I’m standing here high and dry” “The girl that wants to run away discovers that she’s out of day” “You thought you were w clever girl, giving up your social whirl, but you can’t come back and be the first in line, oh no, you’re obsolete my baby, my poor old fashioned baby, baby baby baby you’re out of time” “There’s no place where you call home, got me running like a cat in a thunderstorm, just a big bed and a telephone, like the last remnants of a stately home” “Stand up coming years, and escalation fears, oh yes we will find out, like withered stone, fear will pierce your bones, you’ll find out!” “You can turn off and on more times than a neon sign, when you want to you’re bad but you can be so kind” “Think about a year ago, how we lived I’ll never know, conning people for a dime, well here’s another piece of my mind” “Take a look inside yourself, you’re not really someone else, still I am the same old me – and yet you say I lack maturity” “Maybe when the TV stops, faded out on the epilogue, watch the screen just fade away” “hurry, people, get on your train, don’t be late for work again, take this time to go to bed!”
THE ROLLING STONES “AFTERMATH” (1966)
Mother’s Little Helper/Stupid Girl/Lady Jane/Under My Thumb/Doncha Bother Me/Goin’ Home//Flight 505/High and Dry/Out Of Time/It’s Not Easy/I Am Waiting/Take It And Leave It/Think/What To Do
I bet the Rolling Stones didn’t realise it at the time of release but ‘Aftermath’ is the perfect name for an album that’s a milestone in their career not necessarily because of the content but because of what it led to. You know the theory that the big bang really happened in the future and we’re all leading up to that event? Well, the Stones apparently think that too, naming their last album (at the time of writing) ‘A Bigger Bang’ and with an ‘aftermath’ that leads all the way back to this, their fourth LP. In many ways the ‘big bang’ created by this album is still going now that the Stones are the only AAA band still going with most of their original members intact (well, just, as since Bill Wyman left in 1990 it’s now three out of five). Why did this album cause such ripples? Because this is the first time that Jagger and Richards wrote all the songs and shaped the tone and message of the album, as opposed to channelling American blues and R and B singers for a white audience. That might seem a small deal now but it was huge at the time – by 1966 Mick ‘n’ Keef had had a couple of big self-written hits and written some pretty nifty B-sides as well as occasional album filler, but never before had they had the grand scope of where they were going and what they wanted to say. As a result, this is the album that put them on a par with ‘other’ bands of the day who wrote their own material, surprisingly late in the day as 1960s bands go (The Beatles stopped covering songs with ‘Help!’ in 1965 and The Hollies, Kinks, Who and Beach Boys have all followed suit by the time of this album’s release). Not co-incidentally ‘Aftermath’ is also the first album that ‘modern’ fans (i.e. those from the 1970s) will recognise as ‘the’ Rolling Stones sound – a generally rebellious, sometimes decidedly nasty sound that looked at the darker side of life in an era that had darker times than most. It’s a sound that no other band of the day had (sure The Who had the power and the anger but they’d never write a song as relentlessly caustic as ‘Stupid Girl’ in this period, even if that character does sound like she grew up to be the ‘My Wife’ of 1971’s ‘Who’s Next’).
Unsurprisingly fans have come to regard ‘Aftermath’ as bit of a classic in the Stones canon, greeted with most if not quite all of the hushed revered tones saved for ‘special’ albums like ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ and ‘Exile On Main Street’. Even the Beatles were allegedly so enamoured of ‘Aftermath’ that they seriously considered the album that became ‘Revolver’ ‘After Geography’ as a tip of the hat to their most persistent rivals of the year (never did a band have more trouble choosing album titles than the fab four). Certainly some of the songs on this album deserve such high recognition: ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ is a wickedly Ray Davies-like anti-establishment song carving out a similar path to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit a full year early; ‘Lady Jane’ is winning evidence that the Stones were as capable of grace and style and precision as any other band of their era and even lesser known songs like ‘High and Dry’ and especially ‘I Am Waiting’ are great minor examples of how Mick ‘n’ Keef had so many ideas pulsating through them in the mid 60s that they could run off mini-masterpieces in their sleep without actually trying too hard. There are a full 14 tracks here too (on UK copies – US copies only feature 11) following on from three straight records that only contain 12, so at least the band are giving value for money. This is also the band’s longest LP by far up to that period and remained so right up until double LP ‘Exile’ in 1972: at 53 minutes ‘Aftermath’ (the original UK edition) is a good 10 minutes longer than the average album of the day and a full 20 longer than predecessor ‘Out Of Our Heads’ (that’s a whole side of vinyl!)
So, with so much going for it why isn’t ‘Aftermath’ on our core 101 classic albums list? Well heard now, in the context of what we know the band will become and against the other gems of my personal favourite rock and roll year of 1966 (with ‘Revolver’, The Kinks’ ‘Face to Face’ The Byrds’ ‘5D (Fifth Dimension) ‘Jefferson Airplane Takes Off!’ Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds Of Silence’ and the first ‘Buffalo Springfield’ album for company), doesn’t it all seem a little lightweight for a supposedly all-singing all-dancing cure-for-modern-day-ills-and-companion-your-whole-life-through masterpiece? Sadly, yes. The long running time doesn’t take into account the fact that around 35 minutes of those 52 are filler, pure and simple, and that 11 precious minutes are taken up by the ‘song’ ‘Goin’ Home’, which is really just one long ramble through a clichéd sounding song because nobody could be bothered turning the tapes off. There’s precious little on ‘Aftermath’ that’s truly groundbreaking or pioneering and the little there is (‘Mother’s Little Helper’ ‘Lady Jane’ etc) sounds so at odds with the rest of the record that it’s hard to reconcile its by the same band in the same period as the rather backward and clichéd blues and country songs (mainly on the album’s second side). To be fair ‘Aftermath’ is an easier and more enjoyable listen than ‘Out Of Their Heads’ (a third straight and least successful run through some old standards and a few obscure blues gems), but it’s hardly the stepping stone into a brave new world that The Beatles and The Kinks were forging in 1966. If you’d come to this album straight from buying the period tie-in single ‘Paint It Black’ (the true Stones masterpiece of the 1960s, along with the sadly forgotten ‘We Love You’) you’d be disappointed: there’s simply nothing here that daring, that different, that good.
I can’t put my finger on it but there’s something rather...well...unsavoury about this album to boot. I’m used to the Stones doing ‘nasty’ but usually when they do there’s either a really good target or a proper message behind their spite (think ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’), while even of-their-time misogynist songs like ‘Stray Cat Blues’ (about an underage groupie) or ‘Midnight Rambler’ (essentially about a rapist) add a little twist and turn, a small something extra that just about lets them get away with it (‘because it’s what the Stones always do’). The victims on ‘Aftermath’ however (and they’re victims, not characters) are ridiculed, insulted, taken for a ride, told of for taking the narrator for a ride, trying too hard, not trying hard enough or - in the opening song – mocked for ‘getting old’ and needing stimulants to substitute for the drive of youth. Both Jagger and Richards (especially the former, as the band’s chief lyricist) will develop hugely from this unpromising start, developing their own ideas to sound more ‘in tune’ with the burgeoning feminist tones of the day without changing tack completely, but here – in 1966 – they sound like they’re re-writing blues songs from a pre-war era as pop songs and using pre-war social standards to judge people by into the bargain. If it wasn’t for the sumptuous ‘Lady Jane’ and the exuberant ‘I Am Waiting’ there wouldn’t be a single moment of heart on this cold, hard record and not a single conventional love song – which, by 1966 standards, is surely a first.
Just take a look at those song titles: ‘Stupid Girl’ ‘Under My Thumb’ ‘Don’cha Bother Me’ ‘High and Dry’ ‘It’s Not Easy’ ‘Out Of Time’...this is the sound of an angry young man and his angry young pals, not the cosy romanticism that many pampered mid 60s rock stars were coming out with the first time they sat down to write. One clear reason for all this negativity is that – guess what – Mick’s fallen out with his girlfriend. Poor Chrissie Shrimpton: overlooked by fans of the time who weren’t quite sure if she existed (pop stars were encouraged not to talk about their girlfriends back in those days) and overshadowed by the bigger, noisier names to come (Marianne Faithful and Bianca Jagger) she’s been all but written out of Stones history. But as those two other names suggest, Jagger’s always liked sparking off females who are at least as tough as he is and Chrissie was no exception, so it may well be that it’s her personally that Mick is putting down in the words to this album, not girls or feminism in general as often assumed. When the fatal stabbing of a fan at the Stones-managed gig at ‘Altamont’ takes place in 1970 and all manner of chaotic demons seem to have been unleashed on an unsuspecting audience as the band’s ‘bad karma’ backfires on their faithful following, it’s somehow no surprise that it’s a song from this album that’s playing (‘Under My Thumb’), not one of the ‘heavier’ more recognised songs from the late 60s. Certainly the ‘message’ of the album, which comes across in almost all of these songs, is that ‘it’s over girl – and it wasn’t any fun in the first place you big hussie so get out of my life right now’ (a theme which will continue on the next, rather better if under-rated album ‘Between The Buttons’ although at least that album has the sense to offer us contrasts between the sweet sweet music and hard, cold words on nearly every song). Sadly the relationship was all but over already by 1965 (when Mick and Keef began to write together in earnest) so you never get to hear in song Mick’s true untainted feelings for his first great love and Chrissie’s standing with fans has slipped greatly as a result (it didn’t help that Chrissie’s long dark-haired, long-legged looks were the in-fashion of 1964/65 and not 1966, hence the rather unflattering references in Jagger’s acerbic ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ from the ‘Buttons’ album).
One thing ‘Aftermath’ is often praised for doing is breaking the legendary ‘three minute barrier’ (actually The Beatles broke this as early as their second record ‘With The Beratles’ cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’, but we’ll let people off because 3:03 was hardly setting record books ablaze in excitement). In fact the eleven minute magnum opus ‘Goin’ Home’ completely shatters the record, being the longest rock/pop song of all up to that point by anyone. Unfortunately this song, sometimes described as the offspring between Otis Redding and Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead isn’t as exciting as that comment makes it sound. An almost defiantly backward sounding record, a pale pastiche of every blues song ever written with a strangely comical ‘bawhl-bawhl-bawhl-bap-bu-bap’ chorus, it’s simply a recording session that kept going because nobody wanted to break up the mood. To be fair, Mick for one is really good at coming up with new ideas to make the song interesting and his improvised lines are actually a whole lot more interesting than the ones he actually wrote down before the session, but this song is hardly San Francisco mind-bending and in truth becomes boring before the band even navigate their way into the jamming part.
One name we haven’t mentioned yet is Brian Jones. The general consensus of fans is that the minute the power in the Stones shifts from authentic blues and R and B covers to band originals their former leader Jones meekly hands over the reins to his partners, falls into bad ways and his doom is sealed as early as 1965. Actually that’s not true (Brian got into bad ways long before his colleagues in the band ever did!) and ‘Aftermath’ is the last time that Brian is, if not quite the dominant sound of the band then still an important part of it. With so little footage around of the band in the studio in the band’s early days – and so much from the 1968/69 period when Brian was disintegrating – it’s easy to forget how crucial Jones was to the Stones well into 1967. Of all the AAA musicians we cover on our site only Paul McCartney comes close to matching Jones as a ‘natural musician’, able to coax a sound out of any note however exotic, alien or difficult to conquer. On sessions for this album alone Jones masters electric acoustic and slide guitars (Including some pretty difficult parts), plays keyboards for the first time and dives into every local music shop going to play on a dulcimer, bells, marimbas, a sitar (it’s use on ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ hot on the heels of ‘Paint It Black’) and even the rare Japanese instrument the ‘koto’ (the Eastern equivalent of a harp!) Most bands in 1966 – heck even 2016 probably – don’t even know what a ‘koto’ is, so to hear one on an album by one of the (supposedly) most subservient, uncaring, ‘grungy’ bands of the day is quite a shock. More to the point, all these exotic sounds on the album aren’t simply floral colour but are integral to the album sound, brightening up mixes that (as ever with bands recording in Decca studios) are as muddy as can be. Jones might not have been the writer, but even as late as three years before his untimely death he’s still steering the Stones ship to pastures new more than any of the others - even the songwriters – and dominates the ‘sound’ of nearly every song on the album, actually a better and more daring musical partner for lyricist Jagger than even Keith is in this period.
What’s perhaps more surprising about this album is what was left behind. Even as late as the single ‘Get Off My Cloud’ at the end of 1965 the only Stones sound had been two guitars, bass and drums, often with the distortion levels at their peaks. Mick Jagger’s mouthorgan hadn’t been some handy accessory that gave him something to do with his hands (like many a 1960s lead vocalist) but a living part of him that enabled him to channel his inner bluesman and forget that he was a middle-classed white English boy who, prior to joining the Stones, thought it was exciting to journey up North to the Midlands. That whole sound is gone now, mouthorgan included, to be replaced by a series of one-offs including such oddities as the barrel-piano tinkling of ‘Flight 505’, the country and western of ‘High and Dry’, the xylophoine-like marimbas that turn ‘Under My Thumb’ from just another stupid ugly put-down song into something more creepy and sinister and the Elizabethan courtroom of ‘Lady Jane’. Only on ‘Goin’ Home’ do the Stones even vaguely sound like the same band who rattled out covers like ‘She Said Yeah’ and ‘Talkin’ Bout You’ off without thinking just seven months earlier. Bill Wyman’s bass is no longer a deeper, more complicated version of the riff Keith is playing on the guitar but a whole new voice, often croaking its way through this album through a combination of effects and a ‘fuzz’ model he adopts for much of the album. In retrospect Jagger and Richards are still so new to the songwriting game that they sound nervous of filling a whole album with the more contemporary bluesy rock hybrid sound they’ve just discovered on their singles (the excellent run they had from ‘The Last Time’ onwards), so they give us a whole album of different sounds. On paper that sounds like a neat idea (and some can pull it off – the Kinks’ contemporary ‘Face To Face’ for one). But unfortunately the sheer array of styles on this record is like having a buffet instead of a proper meal; however appetising certain songs are in isolation you somehow never feel spiritually full. Oh dear.
Still, that said, Jagger and Richards were always a lot more adaptable than critics have always given them credit for. Somehow it made sense that so many outside singers, even those from older generations who’d never heard of The Beatles, would find much to enjoy and record in the Lennon-McCartney songbook (especially the latter’s work). But lots of singers covered early Stones songs too, often adapting them so that they sounded quite different in the hands of other singers. Two of the most important of these songs do in fact appear on this album; Chris Farlowe who tackles the moody ‘Out Of Time’ in a much straighter, less mocking style than the Stones and scored a big hit with the song by turning the rock down low and the Motown up high; equally fellow AAA band The Searchers spent almost their last days as a recording act releasing ‘Take It And Leave It’ as a single in 1966, having asked the pair to come up with something for them (this makes sense of why the Stones version of this song is as close as they ever got to sounding ‘Merseybeaty’ in an era when anything remotely Liverpudlian was seriously out of fashion; even so there are strong differences in the Searchers’ fine version, which I urge all Stones fans to dig out even if it is much weaker than what the scousers were writing for themselves at the time).
One final point to make is that, as so often happened with British albums in the 1960s, America – and quite a lot of the rest of the world – know ‘Aftermath’ in a very different format to the original British version. Unlike every other 1960s band the American copy is still the most well known version of the album today – in fact at the time of writing it’s the only copy around on catalogue on CD, even in Britain, so do feel free to skip a few tracks from this review if your copy is missing them. Usually it goes without saying that the original version of these albums are better, but along with The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ this album is the one exception, the American distributors for Decca choosing to make then-current single ‘Paint It Black’ the opening track, switching the track listing around so that the entire album ends with the ‘Goin’ Home’ jam rather than simply the record’s first side and leaving four tracks (‘Mother’s Little Helper’ ‘Out Of Time’ ‘Take It Or Leave It’ and ‘What To Do’) over for inclusion on the hits/rarities compilation ‘Flowers’ and – in the first song’s case – for release as a single in it’s own right.
So, overall, we’ve dissected another so-called classic and found it lacking. It’s not that ‘Aftermath’ is a totally horrible LP (far from it), simply that it tries so hard to cover so much ground and runs for such a generous running time that you fully expect to have a life-changing experience by the end of it and yet, by the time you’ve played this album all the way through, there’s only at most five songs that you truly remember at all. To be fair there are several good reasons for this: the Stones had never done a full album of their own material before, they’re so new at the writing game that they haven’t ‘settled down’ to their own writing style yet and – like all 1960s bands – the grindstone of four singles and two albums a year simply didn’t leave enough room for the Stones to make a perfect album. However all those excuses apply to sequel ‘Between The Buttons’ (released nine months later in January 1967) too and I love that record (even if no one else seems to!) which is as daring, funny, inventive, memorable and groundbreaking as they come. I have no idea how the very ordinary ‘Aftermath’ came to be so highly regarded when few of the fans who’ve even heard of it rate ‘Buttons’ as anything special at all. Perhaps its because, as we said in our introduction, this is an album of ‘firsts’, many of which only become important in retrospect, as a stepping stone for even greater albums around the corner from this one. Perhaps it’s because this album contains two of the greatest Stones album tracks of all, the gorgeous ‘Lady Jane’ and the winning social observation of ‘Mother’s Little Helper’. Or perhaps its simply because ‘Aftermath’ is such a good match for its time, an album with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, unsure whether to fully commit to a youth movement of peace and prosperity with comments on the violence and war breeding of the ‘parent’ generation or to dive back into the familiar past of the empty pop song and the blues revival. Or maybe it’s simply that, heard in 2013 – with so much history behind the Stones, with so many further landmarks and milestones to reach and with so much time distant between what was acceptable then and now – this album has simply lost its sparkle a little bit, growing more dated with time while other, lesser known albums step out from under its shadow and glow. Perhaps the ‘aftermath’ of ‘Aftermath’ is just too great for one little record to contain, even one with such a generous running time. Or perhaps it’s simply that the younger, more accepting record buyers around at the time couldn’t see the holes and mistakes in this record the way that grouchier, more cynical observers in the present day like yours truly do. In which case *sigh* what a drag it is growing old.
Talking of which ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ (a comparatively unknown song in Europe but a huge song in America) is the first track on the album and possibly the best – certainly it’s a Mick Jagger masterpiece in terms of lyrics. A cross between The Who’s ‘My Generation’ and Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, this is a damning song about the ‘parent generation’ who tick off their young for having the fun and excitement they wish for in their own dreary lives and look down their noses at all the drug-taking whilst propping themselves up with medicated pills. Although mocking and sinister, like much of the album there’s a real underlying sadness to this song that makes it more than just parent bashing, with the housewife of the title unable to wait until she gets home and snaffling them outside the door. The effect is heightened by Brian Jones’ wonderful sitar accompaniment which plays a riff somewhere between Hammer Horror and Laurel and Hardy after every vocal line, a mock-spiritual high that mimics the artificial high of the pep pills. There’s lots of ‘space’ in this song – that’s generally a bad thing across the rest of the record but it really suits this song, where everything is slurred and slightly slowed down and is as sparse and as empty as the lives of the characters. There’s rarely been a better Stones chorus than ‘what a drag it is getting old’ either, supposedly the weary cry of the bored and lonely housewife but clearly a message too that the younger post-war generation won’t live their lives like that. ‘Things are different today’ is the mocking line that kicks off every verse, as the mother of the title lives her sad and bleak existence needlessly, looking back over her shoulder at the fun, colourful world her offspring are enjoying. Yet for all of the digs and the mocking sound in Mick’s voice (which reaches its zenith on the line ‘though she’s not really ill’) there’s a sensitivity here and the band really get into character of the monotonous world where the housewife has nothing to do now her children have grown and her family prefer ready meals to her own cooking. One of the very best Stones songs of the period, with a great arrangement that really makes the most out of the leering sadness in the song.
‘Stupid Girl’ might be about someone from the same generation, but the Stones are hardly any kinder. A nasty sneering put-down of Mick’s then-girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton, it’s easy to imagine Mick coming up with the opening verse and giggling with Keef as he plays a similarly angry, angular, ugly phrase on his guitar. Charitably you could say that this song is about a man pushed to the limits of his patience and there’s a glorious middle eight in this song somewhere where the narrator lets down his pompous mask and lets fly with the truth in a wonderful weary sigh (‘Well, I’m sick and tired and I really have my doubts...’) revealing that his frustration is more about him than her. Less charitably, the narrator doesn’t learn from that realisation and simply bullies his girl for absolutely nothing (‘Like a lady in waiting to a Virgin Queen, she bitches about things that she’s never seen, look at that stupid girl!’) Things aren’t helped by the pettiness of the lyric – Mick starts off the first two verses by singing ‘It’s not....’ and then listing such non-issues as ‘the way she combs her hair’ and ‘the way she powders her nose’ without actually telling us what it ‘is’ about her that annoys him so. There’s certainly nothing in the song that sounds bad enough to make her ‘the sickest thing in the world’ while the band harmonies on the instrumental – translated by most lyric transcribers as ‘shut up, shut up!’ – suggests that her song of complaints about him is probably far more damning. Like many ‘angry’ songs of the period it’s hard to get a handle on this song because we, the audience, aren’t feeling the pain on the narrator’s behalf and the narrator is just too emotional to give us the full rational story behind the argument. As a result there’s a certain something lacking in this song, however great Keith Richards’ riff is (with different words this could be another ‘Satisfaction’!) and however much fun Mick has rolling the words round his throat and having fun with one of his daftest lyrics. Unlike ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ this is the sound of a teenager having a tantrum, not a carefully worked out response to a generation gap or a song with anything really to say. The Stones at their most pointlessly and most infuriatingly misogynistic.
That’s a shame because ‘Lady Jane’ is fine evidence of what a stylish, subtle band the Stones could be when they wanted to be. Mick was apparently inspired to write this Elizabethan drama after reading about how the equally misogynistic and hell-raising Henry VIII could also be tender and warm to his third wife Jane Seymour (the real love of his life who died in childbirth when King Edward VI was born). There’s probably more than a little of Marianne Faithful in the song too, the pair gradually becoming a couple in private at this time and it’s tempting to see this song as Mick’s realisation that he was capable of a far more grown-up, adult ‘love’ than he’d felt for supermodel Chrissie Shrimpton. An interesting bit of information for you too: Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who was always urging Mick and Keef to write, had himself come up with a song titled ‘Sir Edward and Lady Jane’ for a Stones-copycat band called ‘The Mighty Avengers’ the year before. Was this perhaps the Stones’ response to ‘write a song like that’?! Whatever the origins of the song, the band excel themselves on this recording, Keith’s acoustic guitar and Brian Jones’ authentic sounding dulcimer part (although this instrument is a Victorian one, dating some 300 years after the Elizabethan sound of the song) matched with a simple held organ note that pulsates through sections of the song making for perhaps the loveliest backing track of all Stones song. Mick’s vocal is also admirably straight as he does the aural equivalent of getting down on one knee and declaring his love for his lady. However, there’s something interesting in the lyrics that few fans notice in this song: spurned by Lady Jane the narrator turns straight to Lady Anne and then ‘Sweet Marie’ suggesting that even this narrator is a philanderer who simply likes being in love and doesn’t care who he ends up with. Is this perhaps the Stones comment on a time when marriages (well, Royal ones at any rate) could be extinguished at any time and when short life expectancies meant people often had more than one partner across a lifetime? Whatever the true message of the song, it’s a strong one and strong evidence that there was more to the Stones that hard empty-headed rocking. Even The Kinks didn’t try to sound this quintessentially English on record in 1966 and the band do so good job of conjuring up the sound of another time that several fans – me included – have waited in vain for years for a sequel. What happens to Jane, Anne and Marie? (note the last name – a shortened version of ‘Marianne’). Simply splendid and another clear album highlight.
‘Under My Thumb’ is another much celebrated Stones song, although like ‘Stupid Girl’ it’s not aged as well as it might. The Stones sound distinctly scary on this song about a control-freak narrator who actually gloats on this song how well behaved his girl is after years of training. Sure we’ve had controlling narrators on Stones songs before and it’s not as if I suddenly expect the band to go all soft and romantic on us, but these lyrics are so far in the opposite direction that modern listeners openly blanch. The killer line here is when Mick says that ‘She’s the sweetest...pet in the world’, pausing the line as if toying with what to call her and clearly taking away any rights she has to being an equal partner in the relationship. The glee in his voice when he sings ‘It’s down to me!’ after choosing her hairstyles and clothes for her also sounds deeply creepy rather than merely the sound of a man so concerned for her welfare that he does everything for her. Had the Stones treated this as another empty rock song they might have gotten away with it, but no – Brian Jones adds a marimba/xylophone part that’s so innocent and sweet and always one step behind the narrator that you just know what the underlying message of the song is and it isn’t nice, to put it mildly. The template for many better songs to come that are similar wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing (most of them on next album ‘Between The Buttons’) this song also sports an amazing fuzz bass that doesn’t play notes so much as croak along randomly at the bottom of the song. Take all this together with a mix that takes the usual Stones murky sound to an extreme and you have one hell of an uncomfortable track, although arguably one that’s more uncomfortable to modern ears than those around at the time. It’s worth pointing out though how wrong this song sounds in other hands: when two of the Stones were (very temporarily as it happened) imprisoned in 1967 The Who rushed to their defence and vowed to only record Jagger-Richards song until their release (in the end they only had time to release one). ‘Under My Thumb’ was their choice for the B-side of a Who cover of ‘The Last Time’ (available on their ‘Odds and Sods’ rarities compilation) and it sounds completely wrong: Daltrey, hardly a feminist himself, has never sounded more uncomfortable than he does singing these words and without the marimbas to lighten the mood and heighten the drama the whole thing sounds even more evil and horrible. Weirdly the Stones fanbase was almost all female long into the 1970s, in stark contrast to other acts of the day (even The Beatles had a few male fans at their gigs) – why on earth did they put up with songs like this one, however great the music? A bit much even by 1966 standards, this song is well out of kilter with today’s tastes (or at least one hopes it is...)
‘Don’cha Bother Me’ is an odd little song, like Mick and Keef have been listening to George Harrison’s first song on a Beatles album ‘Don’t Bother Me’ (on ‘With The Beatles’ pop pickers!) and only half remembered it. At first this song sounds like another Stones acid put down – like a slightly less OTT version of ‘Stupid Girl’ – but much of the song is sung in second person, as if in memory and the ending clearly has nothing to do with girls. Instead this is the Stones getting tired of their fame, the narrator so tired of people taking pictures of the lines under his eyes that ‘they’re protected by copyright law’. Together with the music (which like many an early Keith Richards song sounds like a cross between Ledbelly and Chuck Berry) this is a rather anachronistic blues parody, the sort of song that the band were playing in 1964 not 1966, but with the words taken more from personal experience than the Americana soundalikes that filed up the first three Stones albums (notably it’s the only one where Mick plays mouthorgan, the defining Stones sound of their early years however muck Keith likes to think it’s his guitar sound). Perhaps the true message of the song comes in the last verse, where the narrator is ‘trying to get high and I don’t know why’; this is a band suddenly out of step with the times and wondering how to follow suit with everyone else (after all, ‘peace and love’ are hardly two words associated with the Stones even if the band follows their own version of the two themes superbly on their next two highly under-rated albums). Better than simply filler, there’s an intriguing surrealistic bent going on in the lyrics which would have been nice to have heard fully developed but whether due to time or the limitations of the song nobody tries too hard and – set against the louder, nosier songs on ‘Aftermath’s first side, this song simply gets lost in the crowd.
Side one ends with ‘Goin’ Home’, a second straight clumsy blues pastiche with even less going for it than the last song (a puzzling mix that turns Mick up loud and drowns out the others doesn’t help). However this song is more famous not for the song but for what happens next – a dizzying eight minute spell of the Stones jamming into nowhere on a song that, arguably, is the least suited to a jamming session of all 14 songs on this album. It’s a simple – almost banally simple – song about the narrator catching a plane back home after a long time away and re-reading ‘all the love letters you’ve sent around d the world’. Sticking rigidly to two chords, this is one of the simplest things the Stones ever did and as the comedy Beach Boys spoof chorus of ‘bawm bawm bawm’ shows they’re slightly out of their comfort zone on this track too (few fans of either band knew it at the time but Brian Wilson was a big fan of the group and visited quite a few Stones sessions during 1966 and 67; to this day he quotes the barely known ‘My Obsession’ from ‘Between The Buttons’ as one of his favourite songs). Compared to later glorious improvisatory AAA jams (Grateful Dead’s ‘Dark Star’, say, or Jefferson Airplane’s ‘The Other Side Of This Life’) there’s very little going on here to get excited about and it’s so hard to hear what’s going on in the first place that most fans find their patience is tested long before the actual song bit ends at the three minute mark. That said, Jagger sounds impressively at home considering he’s never had to do this sort of thing before and over the course of eight minutes he improvises another seven verses, playing around with vocal sounds (‘such a sucha sooocha soocha soocha seweoooch a long time since ma baby’s been gawn!’) and playing cat and mouse with Brian Jones’ harmonica. His best (and most Stones-like) improvised line comes at the end: ‘You may look sweet, little girl, but I know you ain’t!’, while the lines about ‘making love’ were still sufficiently risque for the times to raise more than a few eyebrows. You can kind of see why this full jam made the album (Mick’s performance is pretty compelling) in a day when anything that filled up the minutes was a seen as a good thing. In it’s own way it’s quite fun hearing the band play on when they clearly think that no one will ever play back the tape again including themselves. But does this song deserve the reputation it’s gained over the years as a leading pioneering use of the long song and a demonstration of the Stones’ improvisatory powers? No, it’s a sadly inaudible mess that was completely unplanned and only exists because the tape operator wasn’t doing his job that day and trying to save tape.
‘Flight 505’ is a third straight anachronistic sounding blues song, but out of the three it’s easily the best. The song starts with a rollicking bluesy part (which sounds like Ian Stewart but given the album credits a ‘piano part’ to Brian Jones might well be him playing) which somehow falls into the fuzz guitar riff for ‘Satisfaction’ before the song kicks in properly. Unusually it’s Mick who doesn’t sound at all uncomfortable on an otherwise pretty spiffing backing track that finds Charlie Watts on unusually loose and chaotic form and the best use of Bill Wyman’s fuzz bass yet on the record. Lyrically this song is ‘Goin’ Home’ in reverse as the narrator finds himself bored at home with nothing to do and rings up for a place on board ‘flight 505’ because that’s ‘where I should be’. Unusually for a Stones song this one has a beginning, middle and end and even a bit of a moral, with the aeroplane he didn’t need to be on crashing into the sea – meaning that ‘home’ was clearly where he should have been after all. Aeroplanes feature in many songs written by touring bands of the mid-60s: as well as being an obvious source of inspiration (as many bands were travelling on them with the only spare time they had to actually write songs) they were still new and exciting enough to sound slightly exotic and interesting (back in an age when few ‘ordinary’ people ever had reason or funds to commute around the world) and of course there was the ‘danger’ aspect as accidents then (as now) were still far too common. The Stones’ idol Otis Redding died in a plane crash only 18 months after the release of this song and the band clearly have such past legends as Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper in mind when they wrote the words to this one. A fascinating insight into what was really on the Stones’ minds back in those days this is an intriguing song elevated to minor gem status thanks to a thrilling, unusual arrangement and Keith Richards’ fine supporting harmonies. If only Mick had delivered a ‘proper’, focussed lead vocal to go with the band this might have been an even better song. Intriguing note for you: this song sounds ever so similar to The Beatles’ ‘One After 909’ (actually about a train not a plane) and many people have assumed that one or other of the band was copying the other (the complete steal of the ‘love me, hold me!’ chorus from ‘Eight Days A Week’ which ended up unchanged in the Stones B-side ‘I’m Free’ is the best example although there are several more). Actually, no: The Beatles song is one of the earliest, dating back to 1960. However we can safely say that the band never heard it: The Beatles’ version didn’t come out until the ‘Let It Be’ album in 1970 and I seriously doubt the Stones ever heard the Beatles play it in their setlists in Liverpool or Hamburg (where the song was nixed as early as 1962, several months before they were famous). I guess this is just another case of ‘great minds think alike’.
‘High and Dry’ is an unexpected country-rock jaunt, showing that Keith Richards for one was into the genre long before he met ex-Byrd Gram Parsons in the late 60s. Despite being quite unlike any other Stones song, it’s a successful experiment, with Charlie Watts leaving his signature jazz patterns for a simple slosh of the cymbals, Keith picking on an acoustic and Brian slurping harmonica sounds behind Mick’s decidedly Southern drawling narrator. The song isn’t the best the Jagger-Richards partnership ever wrote, but it has a pleasing riff that’s easy on the ear and hard to dislike and a pretty sensitive set of lyrics where the narrator ends up the loser of the tale for a change. The narrator starts off by trying to win the listener’s sympathy, speaking with shock amazement at how he was left ‘high and dry’ by his woman ‘left here with no warning’, only to admit in the third verse that he only got close to her to ‘invest’ her money for her. By the fourth verse the narrator is truly the villain of the piece, telling us openly that ‘it’s lucky I never had any love towards her’ and that he’ll do better to swindle her money quicker the next time he meets a ‘victim’ to fall in love with. Such a twist is pretty rare in songs of the day and the Stones keep the song admirably straight. Mick always has half a chuckle in his voice anyway, so he’s the perfect singer for slipping in-jokes like this one in for true fans to get hold of (remember nobody in 1966 ever printed lyric sheets with albums and there was no internet to check these things up – your best hope was to buy sheet music if you wanted to learn the words and that tended to be for singles or best-ofs, not albums like ‘Aftermath’). ‘High and Dry’ might be unusual, but it’s great fun and handled with lots of care making this one of the two clear highlights of the second album side for me.
‘Out Of Time’ is perhaps the most famous song on the album, courtesy of Chris Farlowe’s epic, soulful version of the song that was one of Jagger-Richards’ first and helped cement their status as songwriters away from the group (American readers might want to reach for their copy of the ‘Flowers’ compilation’ to hear this song). Perhaps inevitably, the Stones version of ‘Out Of Time’ sounds like a demo when compared with the original cover, with the Stones’ typical empty and murky mix at its worst, robbing the song of the intensity and passion of Farlowe’s version. This song also sounds slightly wrong in the Stones’ hands: they had already had a strong run of ballads even by 1966 but this one is just a little too schlocky and imitation-esque for comfort, especially the very 50s ‘bop bop shwap doo-wap’ harmonies which are almost uniquely shared here by Keith and Brian together (making for a high-pitched squawk that’s rather hard on the ears and perhaps shows why the pair don’t often sing in unison). All that said, as a song it’s admirably mature for a pair of songwriters so early on in their career and is clearly one that’s tailor-made for someone else’s style rather than merely a poor man’s mimic of another style. The way that the narrator repeats ‘baby, baby, baby’ over and over again seeks to soften the blow rather cleverly, but however much affection the narrator shows for his girl (and that is in itself unusual in a Stones song) there’s clearly a distance between them that can never be breached. In the end the song becomes another re-write of ‘Stupid Girl’ and a precursor of ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ with Mick taunting the poor girl with the lines ‘you’re obsolete my baby, my poor old-fashioned baby’, but with just about enough love in his voice to make it believable that the pair used to be close. Why the Stones should have revived this song for ‘Aftermath’ instead of, say, ‘Out Of Our Heads’ where it would have been a less anachronistic fit is a mystery and it has to be said Jagger is too vicious a singer to eek out the full passion in the song compared to Chris Farlowe even if it is his own lyric, but look on this song as a learning curve from an earlier era and you shouldn’t be too disappointed.
‘It’s Not Easy’ is pretty disappointing though: if you haven’t heard this album yet and are reading through this review in order to see whether to buy this album or not, whilst having a smattering of understanding over what the Stones sounded like in 1966, then have a go at making up a Stones song in your head. Chances are you’ve just come up with ‘It’s Not Easy’ which, despite it’s title, is ever so easy: one very Chuck Berry-ish chord, a simple chorus of one line and verses that repeat a lot and a tempo that’s not exactly slow but certainly not quick either. The one unexpected aspect of the song is that the narrator talks about the difficulty he has living on his own – that’s a complete revelation after three and a half Stones album where it’s just naturally assumed that the narrator has a girl on each arm, whether it’s a song where that happens to be a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps Mick was feeling sorry for himself after telling Chrissie Shrimpton to hop it in the short time before Marianne moved in with him. In fact the narrator isn’t used to being home at all (perhaps he’s been on tour?) and the big emotional punch for him comes not from the lack of a girl but the absence of furniture (‘Just a big bed and a telephone, it’s like the last remnants of a stately home!’) Alas this idea is wearing thin by the last verse which is one of the obscurest in the Stones canon (‘Sit here thinking with your head on fire, go think the same thing and never retire, imagine the glow of her long clean hair, as she goes to sit on her own high chair’), a verse that might be full of mystical insight and extra-sensory meaning but is most likely a few lines of gibberish to get the song to a decent three minute running time. Filler by any other name ‘It’s Not Easy’ is sadly instantly forgettable.
Not so ‘I Am Waiting’ which is another candidate for my favourite song on the album. Despite sounding simple, this song really isn’t: there’s no chorus as such, just two alternating sections that are a brilliant lesson in contrasts; the first literally tingling with anticipation thanks to some curious high-pitched guitar strumming and the first exploding into colour when Watts kicks in with one of his finest drum patterns on the album. This narrator is lonely too, but he’s doing something about his misery. On any other track on this album you’d read this narrator as being a stalker (‘You can’t hold out, oh yeah oh yeah’) but the tune is prettier and the mood lighter than most Stones songs and this song about searching for your one true love is a happy, gentle sort of song. The second section isn’t just musically different from the first either: it reads like its by a whole different person, chiding the first narrator for his naivity and talking to him in an elder brother sort of a way about what love is really about complete with stark warnings (‘Well it happens all the time, it’s censored from your mind – you’ll find out! Like a weathered stone, fears will pierce your bones, you’ll find out!’) The result is like a before and after depiction of a man in love, when the world is at his feet and when the world has dropped out from underneath him. That’s a fascinating idea for a song and the band cope with it very well, with a song that literally seems to snap out of its reverie at times and slap itself across the face. I’d love to know which part of the song came first, as the two halves fit together extremely well, but even without the lyrics this song is a force to be reckoned with, containing probably the loveliest tune the Stones wrote in the 60s barring ‘Lady Jane’ and some fine guitar picking from Keith Richards who thinking about it barely touches his traditional electric guitar across this whole LP. Not many fans know this song, which one of the least known songs on the album, but they should: ‘I Am Waiting’ is pop music at its finest, catchy but deep to use an old site catchphrase I haven’t needed in some time!
‘Take It Or Leave It’ (again see ‘Flowers’ if this song is missing from your copy of ‘Aftermath’) is, like ‘Out Of Time’, a fine song that for some reason sounds really strange when the Stones do it. Despite dating a little later than that other song it sounds equally anachronistic in 1966 and is basically a slow Motown song played by a bunch of rock and rollers. Mick struggles with his own lyric and phrasing and sounds self-consciously daft on the ‘oh la la la ta ta ta ta la la la’ chorus. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that this song was written for another band – although why on earth the Stones thought The Searchers made records that sounded like this one goodness only knows. To be fair, The Searchers’ version (released as one of their last singles on Pye in 1966 and collected on the ‘Play The System’ rarities compilation) is miles better despite not suiting them either, with vocalist Mike Pender raising his game to cope with a song miles away from his comfort zone and the rest of the band tidying up their often ragged harmony work. By contrast the Stones’ version is a sloppy mess, suggesting the band only returned to the song as a last resort and don’t know it very well (like ‘Out Of Time’ it sounds like a demo). Again, however, the problems are with the dating and the performance not the song: while hardly the greatest lyric ever written there are flashes of brilliance in Jagger’s words, such as the loved one turning her love on and off ‘like a neon sign’ and trying to work out why she sleeps around with his friends when ‘at other times you can be so kind’. It’s like a less intense version of The Small Faces’ ‘All Or Nothing’ this song (a #1 hit for the band four months after this album came out), asking the lover to make up her mind whether she loves him and wants to be with him or not. Again, it sounds odd having Jagger the passive half of the partnership, doubly so if you play this song back to back with the album’s earlier ‘Under My Thumb’.
‘Think’ is similar in style to The Beatles’ ‘Wait’ from ‘Rubber Soul’ released four months before this record and occupies the same last-minute, track-13-of-14 status on the album. Both songs are urgent rockers that always sound much better when played than they do when trying to remember them afterwards surrounded by better known and catchier songs and while no long lost classics both songs deserve better recognition from fans. Keith’s fuzz guitar hits Brian’s more traditional lead head on for a song that’s big on tension and the best solo on the record, a very George Harrisonesque swoop of joy that brightens up the second half of the song no end. Lyrically this is less interesting stuff, however, Jagger refusing to give up on an argument even after it’s run out of steam, telling his girl to ‘think back’ to all the things she’d done wrong the whole partnership through and taunting her with the tagline ‘Now tell me whose fault is that, babe!’ This is, surely, another song from the end of his time with Chrissie Shrimpton and like the ever so slightly earlier songs on side one on the same theme is slightly histrionic in its demand that she’s wrong and he’s invincible. Interestingly, though Jagger started dating Shrimpton a few minor Stones hit singles into the band’ existence the couple in the song mirror their rags-to-riches life change circa 1964, ‘conning people for a dime’ – although its the times of riches and success not poverty that have driven the couple apart. The band also return back to the theme of ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, Mick taunting his girl with the ultimate in condemning lines from the 1960s youth: ‘you’re growing old before your time!’ Then again just one verse earlier Mick was telling her ‘we’re not children anymore, we don’t need to play with toys’, so it’s not the clearest-headed argument ever put onto vinyl! ‘Think’ might not be up to the four truly great songs on this record but at the same time it’s better than pretty much everything else on ‘Aftermath’ and is actually the closest in style to the ‘jocular put down’ style the Stones will make their own on next album and mini-masterpiece ‘Between The Buttons’.
The album probably should have finished there but, no, there’s one more song to go. ‘What To Do’ is another truly puzzling one-off in the Stones canon (strangely unavailable in American even now), sounding –shock horror – happy the whole song through. What’s more, the moaning about travelling and time pressures heard on songs like ‘Goin’ Home’ have been replaced with a rather funny, jolly atmosphere where the narrator has bags of time on his hands and ‘really doesn’t know what to do’. There’s another faux Beach Boys backing (baw baw baw baw) that’s worth a quick laugh and a comical guitar riff that’s like a large, bouncy puppy , but what strikes you about this song is how straight it all is: on any future album the narrator would be ‘bored’ because he’s just murdered his wife or sent his children to the orphanage or grown horns and a tail or something, but no – for once that really is the sound of a happy Mick Jagger content with life. Perhaps that’s because, on verse three, he realises what a great life he suddenly has after years of struggle (and an economics degree) he’s no longer part of the rat race and can stay up late doing nothing while urging others to ‘hurry, people, get that train – don’t be late for work again’. The best lines, though, are in the first two verses, with Mick failing to notice the Tv programme he’s watching has finished (‘faded out on the epilogue’) and sarcastically speculating that ‘home is a place where you get bored – and that’s what you make your money for!’ I have to say, though, there’s no hint of irony in Jagger’s voice when he sings this line on what must be one of the sunniest, funniest Stones songs. Coming after fifty odd minutes of sarcasm, put-downs, misogyny and raucous 11 minute jams, however, this is a rather odd way in which to round off an album.
As we’ve seen ‘Aftermath’ is a funny old album. There are several songs here worthy of a mention amongst the band’s greatest, classics like ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘I Am Waiting’ plus two or three other songs worthy of further interest such as ‘Think ‘High and Dry’ and ‘Flight 505’. Had the band released these songs on an album – possibly with classic period A and B sides such as ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ ‘Paint It Black’ ‘Long Long While and ‘Gotta Get Away’ – then it might have been at least a nomination for the greatest Stones album of them all. But somehow something went wrong: a combination of Mick’s split with Chrissie Shrimpton turning him all nasty (well, a bit more than usual), the relentless pressure to come up with 14 songs per album per six months and the strange inclusion to add a full 11 minute version of a song where not much happens really drags this album down a notch or two. As we said in our introduction, it’s easy to see why this album became big in retrospect because its the ‘aftermath’ of this record that’s important: Jagger and Richards proved that they could write a full album themselves, destroy the three minute pop song barrier by some eight minutes and turn the weary prejudiced eyes of an elder generation back on themselves with carefully concocted glee. The Stones will build on all three elements as they hit their stride and go on to conquer each every one of the problems that blight this album from time to time (poor mixes, similar ideas from song to song and generic blues writing) and for a first all-originals album from a band who’ve only released 16 original songs in total as A or B sides and album tracks ‘Aftermath’ has much in its favour. However, ‘Aftermath’ is by no means a great album in its own right even if it does indeed have great things on it and much of the fuss about this record (which regularly appears in ‘greatest album’ lists, albeit usually below other Stones albums like ‘Exile On Main Street’ ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Let It Bleed) is badly placed. No matter, the next run of Stones LPs (‘Buttons’ ‘Satanic Majesties’ and ‘Beggar’s Banquet’) is my favourite in their catalogue, psychedelic and exotic enough to suit the summer of love whilst staying dangerous and earthy to not betray the Stones sound and none of those records would exist without the ‘aftermath’ of ‘Aftermath’. Overall rating – 5/10
Other Rolling Stones album reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:
'Rolling Stones' (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/news-views-and-music-issue-100-rolling.html
'Between The Buttons' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-9-rolling-stones-between-buttons.html
'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (1967)
'Beggar's Banquet' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-26-rolling-stones-beggars.html
'Sticky Fingers' (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/rolling-stones-sticky-fingers-1971.html
'Exile On Main Street' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/news-views-and-music-issue-61-rolling.html
'Goat's Head Soup' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-58-rolling-stones-goats-head.html
'Some Girls' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-30-rolling.html
‘Tattoo You’ (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-rolling-stones-tattoo-you-1981.html
'Steel Wheels' (1989) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-113-rolling.html