In 1966 the Rolling Stones released their first LP to consist of all Jagger/Richard compositions. The early records had been reliant upon the Chicago blues and Chuck Berry songs which had formed their repertoire on the London club scene. 1965’s “Out Of Our Heads” included compositions by Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Barbara Lynn, even Sonny Bono. So “Aftermath” was a move forward for the band. The Beatles, Bob Dylan & other new musicians wrote their own material, it was time for the Stones to contribute their lyrical take on a tumultuous decade.
In the UK both the Beatles and the Stones did not put their singles onto LPs. “Aftermath” was released between “19th Nervous Breakdown” & “Paint It Black”. There is not the same crepuscular density as these singles but there is some pretty good stuff and “Under My Thumb” is one of the best. There is an element of misogyny in more than a few of the early Stones lyrics. This, “Stupid Girl” & “Play With Fire” are all acerbic but the band were sneering at everything in 1966, it was what they did, better than anyone else.
The Stones were still a blues band on “Aftermath”, there was an 11 minute jam to close side one. They were, though, looking for a new sound and on this record they gave Brian Jones free range in the music shop. Brian’s imaginative contribution to this record, like the sitar on “Paint It Black”, introduces touches of psychedelia and the baroque. “Under My Thumb” is propelled by the marimbas, I don’t think they had any of those in the Chess studios at 2120 South Michigan Avenue.
For “Lady Jane” it’s the Appalachian dulcimer! It’s interesting to see the wild men of rock, in their new dandy finery, sitting down to perform a courtly song of Elizabethan chivalry. I never really “got” this song, “I pledge myself to…” what’s all that about ? The dulcimer…that’s OK, Brian was not writing songs but was playing his part in the band’s developing sounds. The experiments of the next two studio records are often a result of his involvement. By the time of “Beggars Banquet” (just 2 years after “Aftermath”) Jones was a spent force, marginalised from the band he formed and too stoned to roll. Next time around the band got this mellow sound just right on “Ruby Tuesday”, “Lady Jane” was a step on the way.
The overall quality of the Stones’ songs at this time could be a little patchy. When they got it right though they made some classics and here’s one now.
It’s back to “Ready Steady Go” the 1960s British TV programme that brought the excitement of the music to our living rooms. They had a head start because the Beatles and the Stones were only too eager to appear on something outside of the confines of the standard variety show which was still anchored in the 1950s. The show was very sharp and spoiled for choice by the music explosion in the UK. As an untroubled young boy in 1964 the only thing that could have improved my life would have been allowed to stay up late enough to watch it !
The dulcimer is around again for “I Am Waiting”. This song is less honeyed, a little ominous and one of the best on the record. At this time the Stones were unable to finish most concerts they played because of the hysteria and chaos they induced. They must have been happy to play these new, more polished songs properly. “I Am Waiting” is used very well by Wes Anderson in his movie “Rushmore”. Anderson is obviously an Anglophile when it comes to music, I was pleased and impressed that he’d selected such a quality but more obscure Stones track.
With “Aftermath” and “Between The Buttons” the Rolling Stones were attempting to find their own voice. The records are inevitably compared to “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” and come up short against two songwriters at the top of their game. Jagger and Richard did get to it by asserting their blues roots and becoming lyrically more sophisticated. From “Beggars Banquet” to “Exile On Main St” they made records for the ages. These two earlier works are pop experiments and sometimes not successful. They are though pretty pretty good.