Friday 4 July 2008

Rolling Stones "Their Satanic Majesties Request" (1967) (Revised Review 2015)

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On which the Stones find themselves rather more than 2000 light years from home…

Track Listing: Sing This All Together/ Citadel/ In Another Land/ 2000 Man/ Sing This All Together (Let’s See What Happens)// She’s A Rainbow/ The Lantern/ Gomper/ 2000 Light Years From Home/ On With The Show 

‘We, in our present life, knew that the stars were right…’

Most musical hippies spent the summer of love blissfully seeking enlightenment from their own window boxes, with flowers in their hair and a long haired beauty of whichever gender they fancied (maybe both) on their arm. The front line of the Stones spent the middle months of 1967 either locked up in a prison cell, in a court room or fearing all of the above, with the possibility of being put away until middle age (which seemed like near enough life imprisonment at the time). Of course that’s going to turn your head a little: ‘Satanic Majesties’ though recorded when it looked as if that definitely wasn’t going to happen, was mostly written when it was. Far from being met with peace, love and flowers the establishment really seemed to have it in for the Rolling Stones. However, never one to miss jumping on a bandwagon when it pulled into town (and with Brian Jones, at least, finding the hippie mood chimed with his own philosophy) the Stones didn’t want to miss a party or fail to match the psychedelia of their peers. So what do they do? The answer is ‘Their Satanic Majesties’, one of the darkest, most brutal and yet beautiful albums to be released in 1967 and a record that sounds utterly of its times while often going in the complete opposite direction to every other record made around it. Where everyone else sees bright possible futures in wide open spaces the Stones meet us by the Citadel, an ancient site that signalled the start of a great fortress to keep us out. Feeling loved up? Not when you’re 2000 years from home. Think you’re going to stay young forever? Not if you live up till the year 2000, man, when far from free love you’ll be having an affair with a ‘random computer’. A magical mythical LSD-filled world filled with cute little animals and fairies? Nope, this is a nightmare world run by Gompers, whatever they might be. Think the hippie dream is going to last forever? For the Stones it’s some kind of a joke from which one day we will awoke. The Stones were always the dark underbelly of the 1960s, pointing out with sarcasm and brutal honesty while the world will never work the way the optimists say it will, but never more than here on an album that’s all about running away and escaping life. I ought to hate this album for mocking everything the psychedelic movement (perhaps the greatest musical revolution of them all) stood for and yet I love this LP because the Stones ‘get’ what psychedelia is all about too with ‘Satanic Majesties’ one of the most glorious sounding albums from the whole year, dressed in gorgeous mellotrons, sitars, funny noises and everything you could ever ask from a psychedelia album. Some psychedelic albums get a bit too cutesy sometimes, it’s true – but when this album is in danger of that it will follow it with a horrific nightmare, a scary paranoid mellotron part or Keith’s guitar at its punkiest (just check out the snarling slashed chord at the end of ‘She’s A Rainbow’, perhaps the Stones’ twee-est moment). The band know exactly how to use it too and could have made one of the prettiest psychedelic albums had they chosen – the fact is, though, they weren’t a very hippie mood.

Just briefly about that ‘will we go to jail?’ debate which changed everything in this band: in February 1967, just as the band were discussing plans for going back into the studio again after ‘Between The Buttons’, the establishment thought they had finally got the band they had been most frightened of the past few years (people in power seriously believed the Andrew Loog Oldham publicity department, to the point where questions were raised in parliament!) After all this band were all about drugs weren’t they? I mean, even the policemen of the day weren’t too thick to see through the masquerade of [123] ‘Something Happened To Me Yesterday’. Keith was having a party at his Redlands house in West Wittering and was nicely sozzled even before his guests turned up by the look of the surviving photos. It speaks volumes that his only visitors that day were Mick, Marianne, photographer Michael Cooper, band friend and art dealer Robert Fraser (who lost the most out of this debacle) and a mysterious figure known as ‘The Acid King’, David Sniderman who was also a film director interested in working with the band. Some forty years later the latter supposedly confessed what many fans had suspected for a long time, that he had been working undercover for the FBI and had been part of a sting to get the chief Stones before they could bring the establishment to its very knees (other sources say it was one of the band’s chauffeurs). The latter had heard there was a party and invited the fuzz, sure that there would be all manners of debauchery going on and they could nab the whole band – after all, The News Of The World had just seen ‘Mick’ taking illegal drugs in public as part of a sting operation (though actually it was Brian and they got the ‘wrong’ one, given that all Stones looked alike to them). Problem was Brian, Bill and Charlie weren’t much interested in coming and the band had absolutely no illegal drugs on them. Unable to tip the police not to come, they arrived en force anyway and locked up Mick and Keith anyway, assuming that some form of drugs would be found in the house anyway. In the end the most they could find was some sleeping tablets of Mick’s with which he had been prescribed and a tiny quantity of heroin pills belonging to Robert; the police also threw the book at Keith for daring to allow drugs to be used on his property knowingly. The court date was set for June and the band were deliberately set up against an elderly judge for his harsh views on recreational drugs. Mick got three months, Keith a year, Robert six months hard labour. Taken off to Wormwood Scrubs and put in separate cells, an angry Mick wrote ‘2000 Light Years From Home’, feeling cut off an alienated from the whole swinging sixties scene and a scapegoat for everything the society feared; Keith in his cell felt much the same. Things weren’t helped in May when Brian was busted too. But even some of the people who hated the Stones couldn’t accept such a blatant miscarriage of injustice and The Times – hardly the most hippie-ish of papers – ran an editorial the next door about how you ‘can’t break a butterfly upon a wheel’ (basically how you can’t just lock people up if you don’t like them). Even more incredibly, the article was by the paper’s then editorial William Rees-Mogg, the father to Conservative MP Jacob – a most unlikely saviour of rebel values! Fearing a great public backlash and without such a harsh judge in place an appeals court reduced Mick’s sentence to a ‘conditional discharge’ (which seems to have helped put him right off drugs in case he was ever caught again) and quashed Keith’s sentence completely. Even Brian, who seemed the Stone most likely to serve a sentence given that he was actually caught, you know, taking a drug found his sentence reduced to a fine and a commitment to a drug rehab programme (which he never took) in November shortly before this album’s release. Only Robert Fraser ended up serving his sentence.

The Rolling Stones had fought off the establishment and won! However ‘Their Satanic Majesties’ doesn’t feel like a triumphant album – it feels like a record where everything and everyone is out to get you, moving on from ‘Between The Buttons’ by having even the prettiest and lovely tracks disturbed my moments of madness and ugliness. The shock result should in no sense take away the dark edges of this album: for all intents and purposes when the Stones were writing and recording these songs, they thought they might be the last they did for years. Going through something like that is always going to change your perception on things, with the Stones' natural cynicism - already given freer reign than usual across the heavier psychedelia sounds of 1966 - turned up high and nasty. Though the Stones will soon be back to their anarchic ways, responding to the more violent and desperate riots and assassinations of 1968 with customary aplomb, here for one album and one album only they're not quite sure if the world is a better place or not. This fascinating record tries to have its cake and eats it with glorious moments of ecstasy that are suddenly snatched away ('She's A Rainbow') and even moments of desperation and paranoia made to sound glorious  ('2000 Light Years From Home’). You could be forgiven, then, for thinking that 'Their Satanic Majesties' is one of those hippie 'bad trips', with the title alone referring to two sets of horrors: the devil and immigration officials (it's a pun on UK passports of the time which came stamped 'By Her Britannic Majesties' Request...'); a parody of hippiedom that's merciless in its attacks and which takes place in a dystopia not a utopia. Yet the glory of ‘satanic Majesties’ is that it isn’t fully that either: the band embrace the darkness a bit more than their peers and yet they don’t stay there; this is a world where beautiful things happen – just one where ugly things sometimes happen too. It's as if the lesson in contrasts on 'Between The Buttons' has been writ large in even bigger textures across this equally misunderstood album, caught between the hope that maybe these hippies are right and the underlying fear that actually they can never be.

Nothing is as it seems on 'Satanic Majesties', a warm hearted but cold blooded album that doesn't know whether to make us laugh or cry so it aims for both. This is a world that both breaks and mends it butterflies, where the whole world can sing together and it can sound like a mess and where each world is only another 'joke' we'll wake up from soon anyway, another land away. It could have fallen apart so easily - and does on the deliberately improvised band jam where the band are in an ugly chaotic anarchic mood - but the band are caught perfectly on the edge between love and hate here, just as they are on glorious period single [135] 'We Love You' (equal parts thankyou and fuck you) and it's B-side [136] 'Dandelion', with the album read both ways, as a hymn to the light or the dark. No wonder the world didn't quite understand it on release: 'Majesties' is nothing like the Stones albums that came before it and it's certainly nothing like the ones that come after it where Jagger finds his swagger all over again. Most Stones albums are earthy and grounded, rooted firmly in R and B or rock with only the odd Brian Jones marimba part soaring on top. It is an album pulsing with musical colour, packed with layers even for a psychedelic album, as if the Stones had been so aware that they'd been missing out on something good that they were determined to experience all of it and throw everything at this album, suitable or not. The Stones' next album had been delayed horribly by their court case, with their last album from January 1967 barely days into the summer of love - most bands in this period managed to release two but the Stones are unique in bookending the year, going from the bare bones short 'n' rocky psychedelia of 'Buttons' to the sometimes overblown excessive sound of 'Majesties'.

Sometimes I'm pleased that there's no other Stones record like this one: 'Let's Sing This Altogether' is the kind of self-indulgent trap you're surprised the band weren't smart enough to climb out of, while 'On With The Show' is one of those oddball psychedelia moments that align themselves with music hall (and less successfully than on 'Buttons'). But at times it feels like the Stones had more to give from this genre: 'She's A Rainbow' is even more perfect for its times than 'All You Need Is Love', delivering universal peace in technicolour with the first use of an orchestra on a Stones record that really enhances the song; the arrangement of 'Citadel' turns a twee song about a meeting place into an other-worldly affair full of feedback-drenched Elizabethan suitors; 'Gomper' is the evil twin of psychedelia, turning an innocent fairytale song about a perfect lover into a nightmare jam where all the shadows come out in force; 'In Another Land' sounds like passing through consciousness layer by layer by use of a surgical mellotron; ‘2000 Man’ is a witty look at growing old in a time when everyone was meant to think they could live forever; ‘The Lantern’ is a gorgeous slice of hippie philosophy under-cut by the very sarcastic way Mick sings it, as if saying ‘huh, it didn’t work for me – I nearly went to jail!; best of all '2000 Light Years From Home' is one of the most delicious psychedelic serving suggestions, bare and vulnerable and yet full of noises at every turn. This is the only Stones album not to feature their typical 'Chuck Berry' riff in here somewhere and strays as far as ever the band did away from their blues roots, something which automatically makes it sound different to every other band album out there and yet the band never play that far from their influences: Keith's leads act as a stinging barb throughout, swiping the hippies across the chops to snap them out of their slumber; a magic wand that sees through the hippie haze and reduces the band back to 'normal'. Bill and Charlie too don’t put on hippie clothes so much as snarl like a pack of hounds, waiting to pounce any time the psychedelic colours lighten up and everything goes back to normal. Only Brian truly lives in this world of psychedelic colour, adding some truly lovely haunting mellotron across the album that work well in contrast to what everyone else is playing. As for Mick he has a foot in both camps: he wants to believe in the positive spirit of the times, but he’s seen too much to truly believe it and most of his vocals here are dripping with his trademark irony. This all adds texture and layers to the usual guttural instinctive Stones sound without betraying their core, which makes the band’s psychedelic years by far their peak for me. Never have the Rolling Stones sounded more like a band that can go anywhere and do anything - it's almost a shame when [148] 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' dispels the textures of this album in one sudden guitar riff just a couple of months on however good that period may be.

Probably not entirely coincidentally, this lawless rule-breaking album is the only one the Stones will make on their own without a producer until the run of records that start with 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' in 1974. Andrew Loog Oldham, used to straightforward sounds and six recordings in a day, finally quits completely and backs away because he didn't believe the band would be able to make anything useable the way the early sessions were going. Rather than replace him, the Stones decided to dispense with authority figures altogether and run the party themselves. At first this led to riots: though Bill kept his many girlfriends private and Shirley Watts only turned up occasionally with sandwiches, Mick Keith and Brian all had multiple girlfriends/friends/friends of friends/people who didn't know anyone in the room but somehow wangled their way into see the Stones where the sessions were a constant party. The Beatles baulked at Yoko in the room while they were trying to work in 1968 - The Stones had a room full of these wives, girlfriends and groupies most days and the first half of the ten month sessions, interrupted by that court case, were easily the most freeform the Stones ever had (arguably anybody had up till that time – even ‘Sgt peppers’ only took six). It speaks volumes that the Rollers didn't try the same trick again, bringing in Jimmy Miller for their next run of LPs in more disciplined surroundings, and yet 'Satanic Majesties' is only pure anarchy on 'Let's Sing This Altogether'; everything else is kind of organised chaos, songs only naturally winding their way into jams after full and proper songs with this the first Stones album to properly break the three minute pop barrier on a regular basis. I rather like this sound: you have no idea when a song is going to end, segue into something else or carry on in a neverending jam and it’s the perfect match to the Stones’ free-wheeling free-thinking nature.  It's a tragedy that the band didn't try a bit more in this vein before deciding to go back to having someone in charge - often you can tell what a band is 'really' like best by letting them work unimpeded with no deadlines; that's kind of what happens here with the mixture of joy, bitterness, smugness and paranoia arguably the closest the Stones came to capturing their 'true' selves on record in all shades - even if everyone still dismisses this as the album where the band sound a 'bit weird'.

Most fans then and now consider this a pale copy of 'Sgt Peppers' released six months later, with failed attempts at singalongs and commercial tracks for the grannies washed with psychedelic colours to sound like ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’-type rahhhn-bowws, but I've never quite bought into that concept. 'Peppers' did so well partly because it caught the sheer joy of the times; 'Satanic Majesties' is too cutting, too barbed for that, with memories of a year the Stones would rather forget lingering along with the thrill of release from incarceration. Every band was doing psychedelia back then, not just the Beatles and Stones, and every band borrowed something from the other; the fact is ‘Satanic Majesties’ is far from the Edwardian respectable uplift of the Beatles’ work with its meter maids and hole fixing. The only comparisons are the front cover (an expensive array of flashing bright colours, in 3D on the original vinyl sleeves!), the mirror of ‘When I’m 64’s cute look at old age compared to the far more biting ‘2000 Man’ and the creepiness and impending doom of ‘A Day In The Life’, heard across much of this full LP. In truth, this album soon dispenses with Peppers’ often confusing eclecticism and sometimes light-hearted fun for a dark mood-piece that’s much more than the sum of its parts and as record I'd actually prefer it (if only I could boot the lengthy 'Let's Sing This Altogether, Let's See What Happens' off it (the answer is pure chaos by the way). To my ears ‘Satanic Majesties’ has dated better because while ‘Peppers’ is the world we want to live in, this is the world that reflects ours the most. To my ears it's actually a lot closer in style to sequel 'Magical Mystery Tour', with an amazing amount of similarities odd given that neither band would have known what the other was working on (the two releases came out only a week apart and ‘MMTour’ seems to have caught Decca by surprise - usually they timed their big cash cow's album so it wouldn't clash with the fab four's), with a slight sense of panic arriving via the histrionic calls to 'roll up!' and get on board, fused with the acerbic make-sense-of-that! wit of 'I Am The Walrus' and the lethargy of 'Blue Jay Way' (the Stones thus skipping an equivalent to 'Sgt Peppers' - 'Buttons' being very much their 'Revolver' and 'Aftermath' their 'Rubber Soul'). This is a bus that both bands fear might already have left the station before they'd enjoyed all the sights, only the Stones are even more light years from home.  The band are also pictured as ‘wizards’ in both projects. Interestingly, every track nearly sounds as if it's about to turn into 'Flying', the instrumental piece designed as incidental 'travelling' music as the bus reaches psychedelic nirvana and we switch to the Beatle magicians working away in the clouds. That's a natural response to the drugs coursing through both band's systems which tended to make them play for longer and consider every new note and discovery worthy of interest simply for 'being', while considering altered states of consciousness.

But the Stones, of course, do more: where The Beatles had a producer and editors here every song ends up in a jam that sounds like a 'journey' or ‘trip’ of some sort. Most of the songs feel like an escape and often refer to other worlds, 'another land' literally but also 'Gomper' 'Lantern' and '2000 Light Years From Home'. You can see why the Stones would want to embrace escapism in this, their darkest year and why the drugs would lead them to that. This time, however, the threat is bigger: there’s no oap coach tour to take you home and rather than dying to take you away the risk is dying itself. When this album crash-lands back to Earth with the rootsy earthy nightclub setting of ‘On With The Show’ it’s like a slap in the face: why would you stay in that working class world like the fab four when you can live in this technicolour universe forever? Of course, people sniff, Sgt Peppers was a ‘concept’ album – the Stones didn’t have the brains to do that! For me though there is a concept on this LP about perception and one that runs a lot longer than the two-songs-and-reprise of The Beatles’ version. After an opening invitation we meet the Stones by the Citadel , only to find that we’ve woken up into multiple dreams. Thereafter our perception gets confused: is everything else in this album a similar dream within a dream? ‘2000 Man’ could be the future (it nearly was – give it fifty years I reckon Mick and you’ll be spot on!) but it could also be another illusion. The narrator then tries to create another world himself to escape this one – only to find it ending in a lengthy angry jam, dispelled only by the arrival of a fairground and the trip of ‘She’s A Rainbow’ (which itself could be imaginative, a drug trip or some different reality). ‘The Lantern’ is perhaps the album’s most intriguing song: it imagines mankind’s offspring travelling across the stars and sending a message ‘home’, both to their home world of Earth and perhaps back in time to Mick impatiently waiting for a sign of a better future (there always were rumours that Brian did leave a 'message' via his beloved Joujouka tribe with reports ranging from a spoken word message to the materialisation of a white feather to show he was at peace). After all, it seems so real: ‘You wake me through my sleeping  hours, like a cloud’ sings Mick at one point as he tries to work out while he feels this vision so strongly. ‘Gomper’ starts off as the most realistic of all these songs, about a girl bathing by a pool. But slowly that perception alters too into a nightmare world where all sorts of alien angry creatures are out to ‘get’ us. After that we’re 2000 Light Years From Home and seemingly lost forever – until finally waking up in a seedy nightclub. Could this album’s sequence be designed as a drug trip? While the band are afraid to stick in any drug references this time around - for obvious reasons with the establishment still out to get them – people in the know would have been looking for them and what they have here is a floating into space that’s beautiful, then cryptic, then scary, then paranoid, then takes you back to Earth with a bump; though I’ve never taken any mind-altering drugs (assuming the paracetamol I take isn’t really doing anything strange to my brain and the side effects are all the result of listening to too many psychedelic records in a row) most books I’ve read seem to agree that this would be the sort of thing that would happen, a mixture of good trips and bad.

Only the packaging is really Beatley - and then only in terms of expanse and expense. Though the fab four are content to dress up in animal disguises ('The walrus was Paul, but Mick was a Grrrrilla!') or surround themselves with a celebrity audience, the Stones are the whole point of their album cover, holding court over some imaginary inter-dimensional domain. All five are dressed not as Georgian brass band players but as wizards in control of their own destiny and they even moved on the original vinyl thanks to a pretty groundbreaking hologram (though sadly the band had to compromise and feature it small, with a border, when Decca found out how much it cost and had another of their periodic fits). The inner part of the pricey gatefold sleeve is less talked about but almost as mad: a maze that lead nowhere (just to a middle that reads 'It's Here!'), surrounded by a collage of religious imagery, yet more flowers and an over sized vacuum cleaner. All in all, it's like a demented version of those annuals you used to get every Christmas, perhaps even a deliberate spoof of the 1967/1968 Monkee ones out in the shops which themselves took the Mick/Micky out of these sorts of things. Much laughed at (it does scream 1967 rather too loudly) it's one of the band's cleverest concepts in terms of matching with the music, mirroring the lyrics of 'In Another Land' especially where each new layer of understanding leads to a different outcome and reason for being, though it's very Stones that the band seem to be hinting that 'God' is not a person but a giant hoover about to swallow us up (The Monkees and Moody Blues both have this image too, in the 'Head' film and sleeve for 'On The Threshold Of A Dream' respectively: is this a common 'clue' about the meaning of life to receive on acid? And if so, how do we pull the plug?!) Watch out, by the way, for tiny drawings of all four Beatles 'Yellow Submarine' style in the flowers gathered around the Stones: their tip of the hat back to the fab four for including a 'Welcome The Rolling Stones' t-shirt on the cover of 'Peppers'.

For some reason the Stones’ psychedelic years have come in for a bad press, with even the band admitting that the large quantities of intoxicating substances being handed out in the summer of love might have impaired their judgement just a teeny weeny bit. But, just as with Between the Buttons but more so (if not quite as charmingly), there’s always been something compelling about the signature Stones sound wearing a psychedelic overcoat and hearing the fiery fivesome adding colour and texture to their wall of sound often brings out more of their rocky and bluesy leanings than their more famous material. Peace and love might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about the Stones, but Jagger definitely had a feel for the out-there lyrics being written in 1967 and Richards’ jagged guitar playing was very much at one with the noises coming out of San Francisco and other hippie-friendly places. Charlie Watts also sounds more at home than usual as he gets encouraged to use ever-more exotic rhythms and instruments – the closest the band ever got to playing his true love of jazz. Even Bill Wyman enjoys a rare writing credit on this album and his song ‘In Another Land’ shows an even greater understanding of 1967 ideas and values than Jagger/Richards (recorded when the Glimmer Twins were late to a session). And if any Brit can claim to be psychedelia incarnate it must be Brian Jones, who enjoys his last great moments as a fully functioning Stone on this album, which is awash with his characteristic unusual textures, ghostly other-worldly noises and nightmarish-sounding synthesisers. Always trying to catch the listener out with a curve-ball idea or arrangement when you are least expecting it, with lyrics about what a strange place the world can be, this is the Stones’ raison d’aitre writ on its grand scale and to me, if nobody else, it sounds utterly fabulous (give or take a band jam or two).

Much misunderstood, 'satanic Majesties' was too dark for 1967 tastes who didn't want to hear the touches of nightmare and grim humour on this album and too light by modern standards, who know all too well that the hippie dream didn't last into the next year and see 'Beggar's Banquet' et sequence as the 'real' Stones, as bitter and caustic as anything modern music can offer. The album remains a favourite, though, thanks to the clever way it jumbles both halves and lets the darker side of human nature peek out from the floral skirts and rainbow-skinned beauties and one that's arguably even closer to the 'real' spirit of the day when bad trips were every bit as possible as good ones. If 'Sgt Peppers' was, as we've argued on this site already, the perfect psychedelia album for the times – just not for the years since - then 'Satanic Majesties' is more the hippie album for our times, one where every new state of consciousness is another trap and where even mythical tales of catching the pretty Gomper turn into a scary ride through a musical swamp. This is a more eventful musical journey than most 1967 albums, made all the more memorable and original thanks to the excursions into the nastier underbelly of psychedelia which only the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd could match, albeit complete with more references to love and freedom than the Floyd ever managed (even if the band still can’t quite bring themselves to use the word ‘peace’). The moot point with many a Stones album is the running order (they can't programme an album to save their lives - or careers; try 'Exile On Main Street' on random sometime to see how better almost every other permutation of that album except the official one sounds), but 'Satanic Majesties' is the best here too, a glorious mood piece that tells a story of sorts, a mass union singalong joined by more and more people along the way, from the Citadel, from another land, from the year 2000, from the underworld and outer space before falling, crumpled, in a heap in a strip joint, it's foaming lust completely at odds with the 'pure' beauty of 'She's A Rainbow' just four songs earlier (oddly there's one of those in the TV version of Magical Mystery Tour too. Whatever you think of Satanic Majesties, as an aberration of genius or another boring album to sit through until the guitar riffs get going again, I doubt few would argue that the Stones never think quite this much about the music they're making ever again. As the passport title (a joke about a ‘trip’ which fans would have been much more likely to get in 1967 than now) suggests, 'Majesties' is a real journey to somewhere you've never been before - and one you're not always entirely sure you're going to get back from in one piece.

The Songs:

The album starts off with an unnaturally cosy piano-led singalong, but that effect soon disappears when a varispeeded electric guitar beams down from another galaxy and the Stones end up in some voodoo-induced rhythmic trance, complete with dashes of colour from some out-of-tune brass section. [124] Sing This All Together is at once as trite as the Stones ever got and on the other hand as deep as they ever got too – if we all sing at once we will find our one true universal voice and understand our purpose on this planet, go the lyrics, but like the Moody Blues’ forthcoming search for the lost chord you can already hear in the song’s relentless shuffle forward that the band aren’t naïve enough to suggest that’s ever going to happen, they just sound as if they want it to. Note too that the band are looking for the ‘source’, of ‘where we all came from’; rather than looking to the future as almost every psychedelic album did, this one sees the band as they are now rooted in time, ‘a picture of us painted into place’. A curious mix of the known cosy and the unknown cosmos, the song seems perfectly poised between the innocence of 1967 and the growing weariness that characterised 1968 and is the perfect opening to an album where you can’t trust anything or anybody and yet everybody feels the love all the same.

As the brass players seem to fall through a sudden mineshaft, falling away into nothingness on our left speaker while Richards and his spiky guitar loosens up the earth on our right, the rocking tones of [125] Citadel return us to a rather more traditional Stones formula. This song is prime psychedelia commercialism as defined by the Stones - screaming guitars, a new exotic instrument hiding behind every chorus and a curious stop-start tempo that adds a dangerous element to the carefree lyrics of merely ringing up an old girlfriend and arranging a meeting. After all, this doesn’t just sound a casual meeting but a chance to take a drug – and maybe die tonight? Jagger’s vocal also makes him sound more of a night prowler or a lurker than the teenage romantic of the lyrics and hearing many of his lines about ‘journeying far’ from the girlfriends he and his friend have left behind sung in this way make them sound as if they are talking about a mental distance as well as a physical one. Maybe, too, we’ve gone back in time as the narrator and his friends Cindy and Kathy approach a place with ‘many walls’ with Bibles under their arms. My guess is that the band haven’t just got religion; like the Grateful Dead on ‘St Stephen’ they are comparing themselves to the old prophets spreading the word of a new vision and way of life that the world hasn’t seen before – they just happen to have found this path through drugs not some guy on a cross (citadels tend to be Medieval places after all, the surrounding part between a town and its moat and castle). Interesting that The Stones should use a song filled with ‘many walls’ as their place to begin their drug trip: it’s as if, post bust, they are in a defensive mood and trying to keep the world out. The song sounds like that too and is one of the Stones’ snappiest, rockier uptempo numbers, despite the psychedelia trappings, giving the band a rare chance to rock out as just a quartet (Jones is missing) without overdubs. A forgotten highlight, ‘Citadel’ is catchy enough to have made for a fine single if the band had tidied it up a bit more. But then again it’s the rough-and-ready mix of this song that gives it such an appeal – the Stones did murky and swampy like no other band before them and murk and swamp suited psychedelia better than most collectors realise, with this world a place where there is an angry Keith Richards guitar part ready to sting us behind every colourful bush.  

Bill Wyman’s first published song, [126] In Another Land is a very different song for the Stones though it suits this album really well, with the author waking up several times during the night only to find that he still isn’t awake – he’s just entered another state of consciousness. At the end the narrator finally does wake up in the real world, but the twist here is that reality is only one more level of consciousness and the narrator quickly finds himself waking up again to something new we don’t get to see - to the accompaniment of Watts’ bass drum - another dream-state that leaves him snoring contentedly down our speakers. Far more philosophical than anything the band had been writing up to that point the song was recorded ‘by accident’ when Mick, Brian and Keith all cried off a recording session at the last minute after Bill and Charlie and session pianist Nicky Hopkins were already there. With his voice distorted, scrambled and E Q’d to within an inch of its life, Bill recorded his one and only vocal for the Stones, with the help of a later overdubbed Jagger and an especially thrilling soulful vocal in the left channel from an un-credited Steve Marriott who popped in from a Small Faces session next door to help the pair along. It’s a shame, then, that the others didn’t disappear more often as what the band come up with between them, all harpsichords rattled drums and eerie ghostly harmonies, is perfect for the Stones and only Bill’s one-note distorted vocals sound out of place (but even then somehow more of a fitting effect than purely a gimmick to ‘commercialise’ his voice Cher ‘Believe’ style). Bizarrely, considering the fact that only two of the group had anything really to do with the song and Richards is missing completely for the only time in the whole of this book, the finished song is still very Stones-like complete with their trademark singalong urgent chorus and rather menacing verses and instrumental passages. Rumour has it Jagger and Richards never thought this song was good enough to release and only put it out grudgingly because they were themselves short of material – in fact Another Land is one of the best tracks on the album and a testament to the overshadowed talent Wyman brought to the band. He only got the Stones to record one more song in all of his thirty years with the group – and you can only find [163] ‘Downtown Suzie’ on an out-takes LP called Metamorphosis. Given this song’s delightful construction, lurching from ballad to demented rocker depending on the state of the narrator – and highlighted by the glorious descending harmonies on the chorus – that is an almighty waste of talent. Indeed Wyman’s solo LPs are often vastly superior to contemporary late-period Stones releases and might be better regarded had the effect on his voice been modulated as it has been here. As for the snore on the end that is Bill but no it wasn’t intentional: he had fallen asleep during the recording of another track on the album and the others had taped him without his knowledge – the first he knew about it was the ‘mixing party’ whereupon the others told him who it was!

[127] 2000 Man is one of those what-will-the-future-be-like? songs that seemed to fill up lots of 1960s albums but, typically Stones, the formula here is twisted on its head as  - far from being hopeful about the future, like most good hippie bands – Jagger sounds downright miserable. The generation who thought they would grow into power and take over the world have become subservient to their own kids and machines, leaving them suicidal. Even though Jagger’s take on modern developments is wrong on the specifics – computers programmed intelligently enough to break up happy marriages for instances or tiny apartment blocks with no gardens but little window-sills – his overall pessimistic view that technology will only make our problems worse is sadly pretty accurate. The narrator’s cry ‘Don’t you know I’m a 2000 man and my kids just don’t understand me at all’ was probably meant as a tongue-in-cheek gag at how the 1960s generation would be far more liberal-minded than their parents and escape the problems of the 1940/50s generation – but actually ends up sounding pityingly correct too. A parody of the Stones morality tales about bad parenting across 1966, it feels as if the Stones are saying the least likely thing possible here and would have been treated on release as a joke; of course the world was always going to think like the hippies, man.  The tale of an unhappy man, whose only enjoyment is an affair with a ‘random computer’, the presence of a sudden rockingly forceful middle eight seem to put the mockers on all the so-called achievements the narrator hides behind as representing ‘progress’. Till now Mick has been laughing at us with the tongue-in-cheek voice he likes saving for such occasions. Suddenly though he sounds petrified as if he’s realised that (hopefully) he will live to grow old and this might all come true, as he ‘comes down crashing’ on the realities behind psychedelia instead of the hope. A surprisingly forward-thinking song on many levels, Mick turned fifty-seven in the year 2000 which must have seemed an impossibility here when he was twenty-four. Who would have guessed where the Stones would actually be in 2000, as one of the most established and celebrated rock and roll acts seen the world over (and who had, whisper it gently, grown rather lethargic compared to the danger of their youth).

Next comes the album’s one mis-step [124b] ‘Lets Sing This All Together (See What Happens)’. ‘Nothing much’ is the answer; though ostensibly we start over again at the same point the record kicked in with the same basic tune this mood is very different, loose rather than tight and disciplined. This eight minute epic starts with a cough before a stinging guitar riff, some ugly ‘doo-dahns’ from Mick, horns playing randomly in a mirror of ‘A Day In The Life’ and a whole sea of rattled percussion. Nobody seems to have any idea what key any of this is in and the track feels as if everyone is desperately rooting round for an idea to start. It nearly does at times: there’s some pretty flute playing around two minutes in that threatens to take the song in a folk direction before the horns start up a riff not unlike [133] ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’. However the song drifts on, vamping in the manner of [95] ‘Goin’ Home’ with nobody in the same key, mood or ability. By the five minute mark things have slowed down entirely and everything sounds very creepy, with only a rattled tambourine offering any sense of urgency. Things finally collapse at the seven minute mark where we get a song known to fans as ‘Cosmic Christmas’, even though it’s just a folkier version of the opening track. Mick imagines ‘pictures of us in the circling sun, showing us that we’re all one’ on the hippiest lyric he ever wrote. However it’s a brief minute long snatch in a sea of noise that doesn’t really feel as if it belongs here and just as we think we’ve reached the reward for sitting through this mess it blooming disappears down a rabbit-hole again. Suddenly we have a whole load of noisy de-tuned noise with what sounds like Brian setting his mellotron on fire and then silence as the first side of the record ends. What delights are awaiting on side two?...

Wait, a carnival barker? This isn’t right is it? I know I’m only going to have one spin on the balls…do I win a coconut for sitting through that last track? No, but we do win the chance to hear one of the album’s most famous tracks and one of the band’s most lovely songs, [128] She’s A Rainbow (or rahhhhn-bowww to give it its phonetic spelling). Highlighted by Nicky Hopkins’ sensitive handling of the tricky piano lick, the Stones turn in one of their best group performances on record here and really get to grip with the song’s big expansive arrangement complete with orchestral accompaniment (on most tracks the words ‘orchestra’ and ‘Stones’ sound like a match made in purgatory, but here the technique works impressively well). So sweet and lacking in irony is this song that it doesn’t sound like the Stones at all, despite the presence of a typical Watts heavy-handed drum roll and a very-Richards electric guitar part. The one part that is very Stones-like is the innuendo that ‘she comes in colours’, sung by Mick with a knowing wink, making this oddly enough the only Stones song I can think of that equates a drug trip and psychedelia with the moment of orgasm. A song that’s clearly inspired by Marriane again, it’s a close cousin to [116] ‘She Smiled Sweetly’ only this time the Stones figure they may as well do one genuinely happy hippie song just to prove they can. The song treads a thin line between offering a necessary eclecticism and accusations of selling out but overall it just about works as the former, with its pretty tale of a glamorous female who seems to cast a spell over the narrator. The melody is sumptuous, Nicky’s playing is superb, the huge epic feel of the song is terrific and Mick is rarely better, somehow forgetting that this is one of his silliest and emptiest lyrics by giving it full commitment. Even the orchestra is used sparingly for the most part. The problem is, though, the choir of backing singers that ooh la la ooh la la la la laaaaaaaaaa! their way into infamy as one of the most irritating guest parts on any Stones song, while there is too a little too much repetition here as after reaching a natural end point the song goes round all over again. Charlie is sounding mighty fed up by the end, finding new ways to turn this pop song into rock and roll by getting louder and louder. Keith, too, doesn’t seem to be enjoying being stuck on one plinking chord and handing the main bulk of the melody over to Nicky’s piano so at the very end he gets his own back, angrily snarling and attacking his guitar fiercely, his teeth bared. This juxtaposition, at the end of one of the Stones’ prettiest songs, tells you everything you need to know about how much faith the rest of the band put in Mick’s latest romantic ode. Somehow, though, it works – as both a gentle pretty pop tune with a great piano hook (that’s a cut above later gentle pretty pop tunes like the wretched [228] ‘Fool To Cry’) and as a Stones recording where the band try to be all peace and love for three minutes but can’t even do that sincerely till the end of the song.

[129] Lantern is a relative album highlight as the Stones get into poetry.  This spiritual song about waiting for a ‘sign’ from the future and/or a galaxy far far away reads on paper like a ‘traditional’ hippie anthem, but even this song has menacing undercurrent to it, with a funeral tempo that makes it sound so old and weary you begin to question the narrator’s faith in his ever-lasting quest. Could any magical ‘lantern’, full of all the answers to everything, ever be enough to take such a perilous journey that it turns our narrator into an old man before his time? Could it ever shine a pinprick through such a world of darkness? Unsure, the band hedge their bets and this sleepy song ebbs and flows quite brilliantly, both embracing and rejecting the idea that anyone could be out their to rescue us (indeed, while fans see this as the Stones’ most religious lyric, a close inspection of the words reveals that if anyone is out there to save us it will be out future selves, an interesting twist on the ‘bad parenting means a scared generation, good parenting means utopia’ message of [109] ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?’ etc). Though the song only lasts four minutes – half of that interminable jam session – it feels weighty and serious, the band under so much weight that the song is on the verge of falling apart throughout and even the Stones’ hilarious attempt at recording a gospel chorus and another of Jagger’s mock vocals can’t dilute from the ‘heaviness’ of the track. Across the song the narrator spends his life listening out for the answer, for ‘hope’ of why he’s alive that he thinks will come at any time and which haunts him like a ghost, just inaudible and outside his grasp. Listen out too for the gorgeous brass lick heard quietly in the background during the song’s instrumental – while the rest of the album might be bombastic in its look-at-me-aren’t-I-clever?-ness, the Stones were masters of subtlety and shade when they set their minds to it and nowhere more than here when, just as we’ve about to give up hope, we get a tiny bit of light through the darkness Listen out too for the sudden swells in harmonies which, back on my old vinyl copy, used to be so small against the darkness that my speakers would have trouble playing it and would get all distorted and angry at having to work so hard. Against all odds, the narrator believes in his search for spiritual light to the end of the song despite the horrors both he and we have seen – suggesting that the hippie dream wasn’t just a convenient bandwagon but at least a slightly-held belief for the group. However the hint is that he’s died and yet he still feels that his search was the right one and not in vain at all (‘You hear the stopping of my heart, we never part, so hold the lantern high!’)The result is one of the most gorgeous of all psychedelic songs, Keith’s angry guitar and more noisy Charlie drumming placated by everyone else at their most mellow, particularly some more exceptional Nicky Hopkins thick piano chords. Can the damning satanic lyric to [138] Sympathy For The Devil really be only months away?!

[130] Gomper is for half a song a much more traditional slab of psychedelia full of singing birds and pretty ladies and an Indian-sounding tune (not actually played on a sitar but a guitar sounding like one). For the other half, though, it breaks all the rules, turning into a real monster jam that beats ‘Let’s See What Happens’ in every way, arriving out of nowhere to reveal that not all imaginative futures are happy ones. We start with the very psychedelic-come-Victoriana landscape of a pretty girl and a picnic by a lake. She glides, she rides, she swims in perfect harmony, with the hint at the end that the lovers are, err, lovemaking as ‘she moans with a sigh’, ecstatic over how wonderful life can be. In a typical Stones trick, however, the listener is never entirely at ease with the song – it’s just too bass-heavy for comfort, with a deep growl damaging all of Jagger’s attempts to sing in his sweetest voice. The listener is right to be wary too – the second half of this song simply turns tail and heads into one of the most harrowing instrumental breaks in rock history.  The act of lovemaking itself though, if that’s what it is (and I rather hope it isn’t, given some of the weird noises going on in this song at times), takes us to a new place entirely, dark and foreboding. Keith plays his guitar as if he’s about to break it, Nicky’s organ twinkles seem to be trying to break free of something, Brian gets in on the act with a whole sea of woodwind parts, Charlie stomps on everything as if trying to break it and Mick is reduced to primal howls. Only a simple one-note organ pulse keeps this song from breaking away, holding us together as the one still moment in this sea of noise. Is the made-up title a reference to the primal beast Mick’s narrator feels when he makes love lustfully – and which banishes away all the thoughts of hippie romanticness as heard in the first part of the song? Or is the Gomper a wild animal waiting to pounce on us when we get too carried away into the hippie jungle? (I have visions, 2000 Man style, that one day I will be able to buy a soft-toy Gomper; weirdly the image I used to have going back decades now looked not unlike The Gruffalo years before it became famous). Oddly enough, though, a ‘gomper’ has also come into use in modern-day life in a quite different context as someone who is ‘stupid’. The writing Stones, who were more well read than almost any composers of the 1960s despite their Neanderthal reputation, may well have got the name from American labour union leader Samuel Gompers who promoted the very hippie ideal of a union between workers regardless of income, race or job. Whatever the cause of the curious title, this is another first-class under-rated song.

 [131] 2000 Light Years From Home is the album’s masterpiece. I find it fascinating that, unlike most songs written inside prison (on Johnny Cash albums and the like) Mick’s lyric is about being cut off not from family, girlfriend or country but the swinging 1960s. For this is the sparse sound of loneliness and despair, from someone who very much knows how great psychedelia can be but who feels so cut off from it that everything is turned inward: the mellotron, usually used as colour, is ghostly pale and empty here and the rock and roll guitar-bass-drums trilogy isn’t the powerhouse breaking open a new void but the narrator’s last desperate attempts to keep in touch with the world he’s leaving behind. Mick desperately yearns to be part of this brave new optimistic world of peace and lovers, but he can’t with the sudden realisation that he’s going to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder for the establishment who will never leave him in peace. The lyrics have an extra dimension to them even than this though, signifying perhaps the weary drug traveller who has tripped too many times and finds himself cut off from the person he used to be, left rootless in space in a world where none of the usual rules seem to work (he sets off with ‘soft explosion’ for instance). ‘It’s so very lonely’ he sighs, ‘when you’re far from home’, those numbers adding up as the verses slip by from one hundred to six hundred to a thousand to two thousand light years from home. Still he tries to get back home and fails as he drifts further into the ennui of space, propelled by a brilliant Keith guitar part that’s all gnashing chords, an angular Bill bass and an energetic Charlie drum track, all far lower in the mix than they would usually be so that we feel cut off from them. Instead Brian gets the central part with that mellotron that is the perfect metaphor for both the emptiness of space as the narrator sets sail and the bitter melancholy Mick must have felt in prison. The opening and ending to this song are particularly memorable; the former has a sort of psychedelic variation of Stockhausen’s prepared piano pieces’, with backwards piano chords added to the usual mix of spinning tops and gyroscopes placed inside the piano strings and coins being dropped onto the keys. The ending meanwhile is a free for all, Mick’s vocal tailing off with some quirky sound effects that make him disappear in a ball of smoke that rattles round the soundscape while Brian’s mellotron drifts and Keith’s guitar howls in protest. By the end of the song the narrator hasn’t gone so much as dropped out of sight, fading away over the horizon to occasionally bop up again the way someone does when they are swimming way out at sea. We don’t truly know when the song has stopped playing until the next song rudely interrupts so that you can easily imagine this song is still playing out there somewhere. A remarkable composition played by a band really pulling together in difficult circumstances for once, this song is one of the Stones’ greatest triumphs, eerie and poetic and psychedelic without in any way diluting the usual Stones-shadow.  

 [132] On With The Show is a less than suitable farewell, but odd as it may seem I think that’s deliberate. This seedy nightclub song, so apt for all the Stones albums that come before and after ‘Satanic Majesties’, sounds really out of place after the heavy trip into the universe we’ve been on and it may be that the Stones are showing how they’ve outgrown their old ways. On second thoughts, this song does make the album sound a bit like Peppers, saying goodbye to everyone with typical tongue-in-cheek bravado – only in the Stones’ case their fond farewell comes not from a Victoriana concert stage but from a contemporary nightclub full of girls willing to take their clothes off for fun. From that description it should be the most daring Stones moment yet, but like former album closer and close cousin [123] ‘Something Happened To Me Yesterday’ it feels deliberately ordinary and plays it safe all the way through, a throwaway song to aid the listener in resuming normal life. Well, normal for some: ‘Your wife will never know that you’re not really working late!’ winks Mick, while Wendy the friendly host ‘will show you what to do’, although at least Mick’s upper class twit voice takes the time to wish ‘good health to you’. This all feels very silly despite Richards’ sudden bursting guitar again undercutting Jagger’s nonsense vocals wherever it can. The highlight of the track is the Richards-Nicky Hopkins battle in the solo, where the duo on acoustic guitar and piano respectively try to out-do each other in their race to the finish (the result is a draw). The other highlight is Jagger giving us one last little piece of subversive fun to end with. Over an ad libbing Hopkins propping up the piano bar you can hear a series of conversations taped at a genuine expensive party. Mumbling something under her breath you can hear one posh old lady turn to Jagger and his microphone and say ‘you didn’t record any of that did you?’ Jagger, either too polite or – more likely – too mischievous to give her truth tells her not to worry, that he didn’t and she won’t be on the record, honest. So far, no comment has yet been made about her feelings of the record’s release, nor has any commentator disentangled the secret she obviously wanted hidden!

But even if Satanic Majesties falls back to earth with a nasty bump and crash lands a few times after take-off, I still consider it one of the greatest artefacts of the psychedelic era – all the more so because of the troubled circumstances behind the scenes that gave the Stones a unique view of the peace, love and flowers brigade. You could never accuse this summer of love album (arriving fashionably late) of being soft, though you could perhaps have a claim for it being occasionally ridiculous. There are many fans who refuse to listen to this album, who claim it isn’t ‘real’ Stones and that they are just putting on an act, but to my ears and for my taste this is the ‘real’ Stones right here, demonstrating that they can do pretty colours and bright lights as well as anyone but given the choice they would still rather be ‘real’ and stand in the shadows. Whether it’s waiting for a drug trip by a Medieval citadel, drifting out helplessly into space or hiding from gompers during a romantic picnic there’s an awful lot going on in this album and it’s an amazingly consistent record too with only the extended mess in the middle letting the side down. Considering the Stones were the height of fashion for doing Chuck Berry covers just two or three years previous to this album, Satanic is a fascinating change in direction and stands as a colossal breakthrough in their work with nearly every track a winner. One of those special albums that’s fantastically progressive for its time and progressively more fantastic each time you play it, forget what the critics say and enjoy the Stones defying the odds to make even the sunniest cutest genre in music sound as rough and tough as any rock and roll record. Just open your eyes, let the pictures come.
A Now Complete List Of Rolling Stones and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'No 2' (1965)

'Out Of Our Heads' (1965)

‘Aftermath’ (1966)

'Between The Buttons' (1967)

'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (1967)

'Beggar's Banquet' (1968)

‘Let It Bleed’ (1969)

'Sticky Fingers' (1971)

'Exile On Main Street'(1972)

'Goat's Head Soup' (1973)

'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974)

'Black and Blue' (1976)

'Some Girls' (1978)

'Emotional Rescue' (1980)

'Undercover' (1983)

'Dirty Work' (1986)

'Steel Wheels' (1989)

‘Voodoo Lounge’ (1994)

'Bridges To Babylon' (1998)

'A Bigger Bang' (2005)

Ronnie Wood and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings Solo

Rolling Stones: Unreleased Recordings

Surviving TV Clips and Music Videos

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1970-2014

Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1963-1974 

Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1975-1988

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