Their Satanic Majesties Request: The Album That Almost Stopped The Stones From Rolling

The psychedelic movement really exploded in 1967 the so called ‘Summer Of Love’, with each week spewing out albums that would become cornerstones for future generations of music lovers. To think that during this time’Hendrix’, ‘The Doors’, ‘The Velvet Underground’ and ‘Pink Floyd’ unleashed their debuts upon an unsuspecting public. Groundbreaking albums were produced and released by ‘Love’, ‘Moby Grape’, ‘ The Grateful Dead’, ‘Jefferson Airplane’ and ’13th Floor Elevators’, and establish artists such as ‘The Beatles’, ‘The Byrds’ and ‘The Moody Blues’ would push their sound into uncharted territory. As always though there are forgotten albums, and one album that constantly gets overlooked was made by one of the biggest bands on the planet both then and now. Of course this was the Rolling Stones criminally overlooked slice of madness that is, ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’. Often criticised for it’s poor production, lack of direction and a poor reply to ‘The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’. The truth is that these criticisms are well founded, but for me these are the very things that make it not only one my favourite albums of 1967 but one of my all time favourite albums full stop. So lets see if I can at least persuade you to at least give it another listen?

One of the problems people seem to have is that it is the only truly psych album in their back catalogue, and of course it’s true, but they had been pushing and experimenting with their sound for quite some time. They never had a ‘Revolver’, but I always feel they could have if they’d had more a understanding record label like the ‘Fab Four’. The ‘Aftermath’ album released in 1966 (USA and UK pressings do differ) was sprinkled with experimentation, ‘Lady Jane’ featured Harpsichord and Dulcimer, ‘Under My Thumb’ with it’s fuzz bass and Marimba. The album also includes the stoner jam of ‘Goin’ Home’ clocking in at over eleven minutes. Also, recorded at this time was ‘Paint It Black’ with Brian Jones driving the song into new territory with his sitar playing. January ’67 saw the release of ‘Between The Buttons’ (again USA and UK pressing have different track listings) which again show hints at what could have been.  The wonderful ‘Ruby Tuesday’ with Brian Jones playing the recorder, the batshit crazy ending to ‘Have you Seen Your Mother…..’, as well, as the largely ignored and socially driven ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ and ‘Something Happen To Me Yesterday’. Add all of these together and you have a clear picture that The Stones were pushing themselves lyrically  and they were clearly willing to take risks with their sound,it was inevitable that the next album was going to break new ground.

The problem was the band themselves, fame, fortune and ego started to get in the way and of course, the Stones legendary extra curricular activities played a huge part . On February 12th only a couple of days after appearing on  The Beatles monumental recording of ‘All You Need Is Love’, Keith Richards home ‘Redlands’ was raided by the police after a tip off from ‘The news Of The World’. This of course lead to both Jagger and Richards facing a very strong possibility of jail time. On May 10th Brian Jones was himself arrested and charged with drug possession. With all of this happening recording became at best sporadic, with band members rarely in the studio at the same time and when they were they often accompanied by  an entourage of hangers on. This lead to what many feel was the nail in the coffin for the album, manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s decision to quit. All of these distractions would lead to the recording of an album that despite its lack of direction, should be regarded as one of the true psychedelic classics.

In August of ’67 the band released the single ‘We Love You’ often dismissed as lame reply to The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’ and in many ways this is true. Its fey and trite chorus (featuring Lennon and McCartney) is at times grating, but this is made up in spades with its use of tape delay and mellotron,  Jagger almost spitting his anti establishment lyrics over Nicky Hopkins pounding piano and the sounds of jail doors slamming hints at their willingness to push the pop single boundary. Its b side was ‘Dandelion’, a wistful nod towards endless childhood summers and again the song was lifted by the use of Harpsichord and Brian Jones again opting to play oboe rather than guitar.

In December the album was finally released, the mooted title of Cosmic Christmas had been dropped as had the idea for a cover featuring a crucified Mick Jagger. The album was instantly panned by critics,fans and indeed the band themselves. It opens with the drug addled madness of ‘Sing This All Together’, a lysergic mess that barely holds itself together.As the track comes to an end I have often felt that it sounds like Kieth got bored and brings the  song to an abrupt end with his stabbing guitar riff intro to the next song ‘Citadel’, a song which holds all the trademarks of what in any other year could have been a Stones classic, but it is the brilliance of Brian Jones again that sprinkles it with magic playing Saxophone, flute and Mellotron. Probably one of the must curious tracks is Bill Wyman’s ‘In Another Land’. It may be a bit whimsical, but shows The Stones willingness to experiment, with Jagger and Richards only adding their backing vocals at the last minute and if you listen carefully and through the Harpsichord and Mellotron you can hear the distinctive voice of the brilliant Steve Marriot. It could be said that the next track ‘2000 Man’ is one of the safest tracks on the album and yet it feels somehow incomplete. Whatever possessed pantomime glam rockers Kiss to cover it, I don’t know! Side one ends with eight minute montage of sound that is ‘Sing This All Together (See What Happens) this is a stoners paradise, an aural melee that has you straining to hear the detail.

Arguably, Side two’s opener ‘She’s A Rainbow’ is one of the most loved Stones songs of this album and indeed the era. John Paul Jone’s lush string arrangement is argumented  by Nicky Hopkin’s playful piano. ‘The Lantern’ may open with a tolling bell but it features Jagger actually trying to sing and a real effort of vocal harmonies from the band. Keith really attacks his fuzzed up electric guitar to add a nervy undercurrent to a fairly acoustic affair.  Was ‘Gomper’ meant to be an attempt to copy The Beatles ‘Within and Without You’? It is certainly full of eastern flavour, however, I feel it has more in common with The Byrds-Eight Miles High, either way it has aged beautifully and is an album highlight. I have often wonder how many bands were influenced by ‘2000 Light years from Home’. It is an absolute tripped out space rock classic. Again, the song is carried by Jone’s Mellotron playing, its sweeping strings carry the song into a timeless void that the rest of the band fill their own flights of fancy. It has to be said the album should finish there. Unfortunately, ‘On With Show’ is as annoying as it is entertaining.

Never again would The Stones push themselves in musical experimentation. It was back to the blues,and in fairness it does seem that once they got this album out of their system they went on to record some of the greatest rock albums of all time,. This album with 3D artwork (that was maybe a little to similar to Sgt Pepper), is an unfocused druggy mess of an album that sticks out like a sore thumb in the Stones back catalogue. But, scratch the surface of this ugly duckling and you will there is a swan in there that never really got a chance to soar.







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