Classic Album: The Rolling Stones - Aftermath

The Rolling Stones’ first step into maturity
The Rolling Stones - Aftermath
Spotlighting favourite albums from years gone by, Clash celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Rolling Stones’ first step into maturity with their classic ‘Aftermath'.

Up until the release of ‘Aftermath’, the Rolling Stones were a phenomenon. Marketed as the bad boy counterparts to The Beatles, their music - R&B and blues covers - played second fiddle to their image, their overt sexuality and their headline grabbing conduct, all mostly cooked up by manager and press manipulator Andrew Loog Oldham. Aware that there were only so many obscure songs his band could cover, and knowing that Lennon and McCartney had found a lucrative business in song writing, Oldham took it upon himself for the good of his charges to lock Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in their kitchen until they came up with their own song. The result ‘As Tears Go By’, although a tad saccharine for the Stones’ palates, was successful in the hands of Marianne Faithful and started the ball (or stones) rolling the in blossoming creative partnership of Jagger/Richards.

Their progression as authors reflected the boom in inventiveness that was happening throughout the arts in the mid-Sixties, especially pop music, where barriers were pushed on a daily basis. By 1965, the Stones could now pad out their albums with their own compositions when the covers ran dry. Hits such as ‘Satisfaction’, ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Get Off My Cloud’ demonstrated the rapidly maturing savvy of Mick and Keith as capable pop authors while staying true to their blues roots. But it was with their landmark 1966 album that the band could finally lay to rest their musical tributes and boast that every cut was their own.

The development in pop in 1966 was so competitive that the Stones had to find their own niche in which to excel. Their strutting manifesto was to challenge the older generation while imperiously indulging in leering bravado. And it worked. Speaking to Clash, Andrew Loog Oldham says of the band at that time: “You can see [their] confidence in the broad range of styles. From the nonchalant to blues or dance based; the seamy to the soppy ballad, Mick and Keith had nailed writing about their manor and the folks who live in it.” As such, the band excelled by elaborating their dangerous and exciting blues roots through the medium of pop and rock, thus arousing the sexual awakenings of teenagers everywhere. Andrew continues: “It was a year when the Beatles were high but still hopeful, Ray Davies captured the essentially superficial, Pete Townshend got fed up on your behalf and the Stones took you home and took your clothes off.”

Sessions for ‘Aftermath’ took place at RCA Studios in Hollywood in days off between Australian and US tours. The leisurely pace of the recording meant that there was time for everyone to experiment with ideas and sounds, as Oldham explains. “The group arranged them out and we ran the tape until it felt right. I did not go nuts over this one,” he says of his role as producer. “I knew who had done the work: the band, who had to deal with the fact that they had written, arranged and made a big step forward that might be difficult to play on the road. It still is.”

That giant leap in sound was due in no small part to the expanding horizons of Brian Jones who, disillusioned slightly by his guitar, had picked up exotic instruments on his travels to decorate his already extensive repertoire. Sitars, dulcimers, marimbas and bells may be a million miles away from the slide guitar that this Elmore James blues obsessive once championed, but his contributions to the artistry of this album can never be underestimated. “So important that only listening to ‘Aftermath’ can explain it,” Andrew concurs. Paradoxically, although fruitful in his donations, Jones had by now lost his grip on the band he’d founded and once led. As Jagger and Richards combined to push the group further ahead, Brian was increasingly sidelined and, due to his mounting dependence on drugs, could never really compete. “He was already a guy who could no longer drive the car,” says Andrew, “but he sure could wax and polish it.”

Also credited by Oldham for their duties is pianist Ian Stewart, friend and producer Jack Nitzsche, engineer Dave Hassinger and of course the ever-reliable rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. “Everybody was clocked in,” he says.

The album launches with ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, a caustic dig at amphetamine-addicted housewives, then ‘Stupid Girl’ demonstrates Mick’s growing criticism of his female companions. In contrast, the acoustic ‘Lady Jane is a romantic ballad painted Elizabethan by Jones’ dulcimer and Nitzsche’s harpsichord. The dark diatribe ‘Under My Thumb’ continues Jagger’s anti-feminist stance, while ‘Doncha Bother Me’ nods back to the Delta blues and hints at the edgy decadence that would later emerge on ‘Exile On Main Street’. ‘Goin’ Home’ ends side one as an 11-minute loose jam, the tapes kept rolling at a session visited by Brian Wilson. ‘Flight 505’ morbidly describes a plane crash, ‘High And Dry’ is country-folk bolstered by the crashing cymbals of Charlie Watts. ‘Out Of Time’ is Motown soul carried by Brian s maribas and Mick’s casual brushing-off a girl who’d dropped him. ‘It’s Not Easy’ is a light Chuck Berry-ish riff, ‘I Am Waiting’ is a yearning folky ballad. Admittedly weak, ‘Take It Or Leave It’ and ‘What To Do’ end the UK version and were unsurprisingly left off the US release (the fuzzy ‘Think’ was saved).

Jagger and Richards had hit the ground running as a creative force to be reckoned with. ‘Aftermath’ hit Number One in the UK, while its noninclusive single ‘Paint It Black’ hit the top on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether the album compared to the consummate releases of their rivals that year is open to question, but as the rebirth of the world’s greatest rock and roll band, its importance is undisputed.

WORDS BY SIMON HARPER

Facts
Released 15th April 1966 (UK) / 20th June 1966 (US)
Recorded 3rd-8th December 1965 and 6th-9th March 1966
Produced by Andrew Loog Oldham

Band:
Mick Jagger - Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards - Guitar, Vocals
Brian Jones - Guitar, Dulcimer, Marimba, Sitar, Bells
Charlie Watts - Drums
Bill Wyman - Bass
Ian Stewart - Piano

Track Listing (UK Version)
01 Mother’s Little Helper
02 Stupid Girl
03 Lady Jane
04 Under My Thumb
05 Doncha Bother Me
06 Goin’ Home
07 Flight 505
08 High And Dry
09 Out Of Time
10 It’s Not Easy
11 I Am Waiting
12 Take It Or Leave It
13 Think
14 What To Do

1966: In The News
• John Lennon tells The Evening Standard that The Beatles are more popular than Jesus. He’s right, but it doesn’t stop the US Bible Belt from burning their records.
• The Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are sentenced to life imprisonment.
• Bob Dylan is involved in a motorcycle accident and subsequently goes into hiding.
• England beat West Germany 4-2 and win the World Cup.
• Walt Disney dies.

1966: Albums
‘Pet Sounds’ - The Beach Boys
‘Revolver’ - The Beatles
‘Blonde On Blonde’ - Bob Dylan
‘Fresh Cream’ - Cream
‘A Quick One’ - The Who

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