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Saturday, 2 June 2018
The Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request - (1967)
Released December 1967
Recorded at Olympic Studios, London
So, here we have The Rolling Stones most non-Rolling Stones album - a leap on to the "psychedelic" bandwagon with blatant echoes of The Beatles' recently-released "Sgt Pepper (in June of the same year), musically, conceptually and artistically (the cover, in blue instead of red, was embarrassingly "Pepper" - influenced). Quite what possessed The Stones to come up with something like this is unclear, maybe they just thought "everybody's doing it, man" and went ahead, not wondering how it may appear. After all, groups like Pink Floyd, Traffic, The Kinks and Cream were all going weird. Why, even The Beach Boys were messing around with animal noises and multi-tracked, multi-instrumented "experimental" music. This was just The Stones' contribution to the vibe. Fair enough, I suppose, but it stands alone as one big mistake in so many ways. The Rolling Stones are just not suited to this sort of thing are they, in any way, and to be fair to this album, there had been hints on "Between The Buttons" that led to some of the material we were subjected to here. All that hippy philosophy and communal generosity of spirit did not sit easily with a band who preferred to be affectedly rude, perverse and very much out on a limb as opposed to being part of some perceived "movement".
The albums provides the most obvious bridging point in The Stones' career. Gone was the 60s pop, the frantic blues covers and blues-influenced pop that so characterised the mid-60s. In was experimentation and ideas allowed to run away with themselves. Yes it is intriguing and, at times, there are some genuine inspirational moments. However, maybe we should just take Keith Richards' word for it, that "basically, Satanic Majesties was a load of crap".
1. Sing This All Together
3. In Another Land
4. 2000 Man
5. Sing This All Together (See What Happens)
6. She's A Rainbow
7. The Lantern
9. 2000 Light Years From Home
10. On With The Show
"Sing This All Together" is a communal "we're all part of the show" (typical of the era), somewhat silly singalong introduction. However, at about two minutes in, it has some interesting eastern-sounding percussion bits on it. Despite the supposed animosity (mostly press conceived) between The Beatles and The Stones, John Lennon and Paul McCartney appear on backing vocals, in an "All You Need Is Love" conglomerate. "Citadel" is not a bad track at all, one of the album's, some chunky guitar riffing in addition to the obligatory swirling "psychedelic" keyboard sound and mystifying lyrics. "In Another Land", oddly features Bill Wyman on vocals. It has one of those medieval-sounding keyboard pieces. It has echo, reverb vocals and a general 1967 "hippy rock" sound that often sounds more like Pink Floyd or Cream or Traffic with hints of The Kinks than it does The Beatles, although the drum sound is very Ringo. The snoring at the end has always put me a little on edge.
"2000 Man", is not to dissimilar to a lot of the material on "Between The Buttons" - the jangly guitar and the rhythmic, sometimes unaccompanied drum sound and some lyrics typical of the era. Again, something about it all that has touches of what The Kinks were doing at the same time. Quite a bit of studio trickery involved in its production too. It all sounds a bit tinny, however.
"Sing This All Together (See What Happens)" has a woodwind introduction that is pure 1967 Beatles but then we get a rather seductive guitar/drum/weird sounds part and some horn parts. It all has considerable appeal. Some excellent bluesy guitar a couple of minutes in, some more funny noises and it all just continues like some blurry drug-addled party. However, an eight minute jam with a few good bits and some unusual instruments makes for a testing listen, to be honest. As I said, it has its attraction, but it really just doesn't sound much like The Stones as anyone knew them.
"She's A Rainbow" is a brilliant, addictive piece of pure 1967 in the same vein as Love's "She Comes In Colours". It has an unforgettable keyboard hook and an affecting Jagger vocal. It just sums up the zeitgeist, man. "The Lantern" has some genuinely impressive bits. Very Beatles-ish psychedelic, with that Starr-inspired drum sound again. However, it was not all derivative, there is some excellent guitar and piano and Jagger's vocal is one of his best on what was not a great album for him. "Gomper" is the album's "Within You Without You" - the tabla drum sound, Eastern quasi-religious ambience and dreamy lyrics. Some great guitar sounds also make for a interesting listening experience.
Along with communality and peace, the other leitmotif of the era was space travel. It was here that The Stones produced something that was ahead of the game. "2000 Lights Years From Home" got on the space rocket a few years before others, expressing the perceived loneliness of space travel before David Bowie ("Space Oddity") and Elton John ("Rocket Man"), and the mystery of space travel in general long before Hawkwind's 1972 "Silver Machine" single. Instrumentally, it is also a most impressive track, great drum sound and psychedelic guitars and an ethereal vocal. It is the high point on the album. Along with "She's A Rainbow" they were the album's only two memorable tracks. The others just sort of wash over you, seemingly incomplete in some way.
"On With The Show" was a blatant tap-in to Lennon's circus imagery of "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!", almost embarrassingly so. It also uses those "posh" English voice samples that had crept in to "Something Happened To Me Yesterday" on "Between The Buttons". No need for all this silliness. The Stones needed a sea change, quickly. They needed to move onward and upwards while revisiting their roots. In 1968 they would do just that, and some.
C- (because this is not a comfortable album)