REVIEW: The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

Thanks Aaron for hooking me up with this CD.

STONES 1

THE ROLLING STONES – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967 London/Decca)

It would be lazy for me to compare this album to contemporaries of the band. It would also be lazy to use the old outdated “psychedelic” adjective to describe this music. I can think of numerous other adjectives: challenging, rewarding, inventive, chaotic, grimy, majestic.

Andrew Loog Oldham had quit his post as the band’s producer and manager, leaving the Stones to their own devices.  It sounds as if they explored every possible indulgence (musically and otherwise).

Their Satanic Majesties Request takes some of the musical expeditions that The Rolling Stones had completed on Between The Buttons (think “Ruby Tuesday”), and turns that on its head. Mix in ample supplies of chemicals and a total fearlessness, and a belief that what they were doing was total brilliance, and what you get is Their Satanic Majesties Request. This album surely must have convinced parents that Satan himself was possessing the hi-fi.

Light on guitar, rhythm and blues, Their Satanic Majesties Request is still among the best Stones albums if you can penetrate its purple smokey haze. Doing so will reveal an album constructed in layers, and peeling back these layers will release melodies and instrumentation that will keep you enthralled for years, as you keep coming back to this album. Is that Mick asking, “Where’s that joint?”

I’m fond of the opening track, “Sing This All Together”, which sounds (at times) like a cross between the Beatles and a James Bond theme.  I’m sure some fans were wondering, “Where’s the guitars?”  They’re on there, used sparingly but effectively.  “Citadel” has guitars; grimy, dirty guitars, chugging out distorted chords under Mick’s dreamy melodies.  This one reminds me of early Alice Cooper, who I am sure was influenced by this album.

Bill Wyman sings lead on “In Another Land”, the watery vocal track sounding like it was recorded in another land.   “2000 Man” is as catchy as anything else the Stones produced, with neat lyrics that must have seemed so forward-thinking in 1967.  I love the guitar melody, and how it sounds like a completely different song on the choruses.  “She’s A Rainbow” is a perfect pop song, as brilliant as “Ruby Tuesday” if not moreso due to Charlie Watts’ relentlessness.  Meanwhile, “The Lantern” happily meanders along, amidst what sounds like out-of-tune guitars and horns.  Likewise “Gomper” wanders about, loads of sitar invading the eardrums, and lots of other stuff I can barely identify.

“2000 Light Years From Home” is a good one, loaded with Brian’s mellotron, again sounding perpetually out of tune.  Fortunately Charlie keeps the song moving forward, his timing always perfect.  Then, “On With the Show” brings us back in time to a simpler age, Mick affecting an accent for this fun retro piece.

While every song has melodies and instrumentation coming out the wazoo, it surely is “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)” (not to be confused with “Sing This All Together”) that is the centrepiece of this bizarre journey into the unknown. 8 1/2 minutes long, and never really going anywhere, some might consider this a waste of vinyl. On the other hand, those that have studied free improvisation will get inspiration out of this bizarre arrangement.

Brian Jones continued to experiment with multiple instruments including sitar (hey, it was the 60’s). Guests include Lennon and McCartney, Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane, Nicky Hopkins, and future Led Zeppelin bassist / keyboardist / string arranger John Paul Jones.

The original LP featured a lenticular cover gimmick, as well as a maze inside that can never be solved.  How quaint!

Next time somebody comes up to you and says, “Yeah, this new band that I like, they sound really Stones-y,” then respond by playing “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)” and ask if this is what they meant. Watch the looks on their faces.

In the end, the Stones decided to return to their blues rock sound on Beggars Banquet, which was probably the best way to continue to have a viable career.

4/5 stars

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10 comments

  1. Great point about the stones not having one ‘sound’ & I like the ‘oh you mean they sound like this?’ strategy – I’ll likely borrow that for other groups as well!

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  2. Wow, you rated this album a lot higher than most Stones fans I know, Mike, including myself. I became a Stones obsessive around the time I was 13 or 14, and this has long been one of my least favorites in their catalog. There are a handful of excellent songs but it was the first time The Stones sounded like they were grasping for a sound. Its predecessor, Between The Buttons (US or UK edition), is an album that tends to get overlooked and is (in my opinion) a much stronger record. And, of course, the “aftermath” of Their Satanic Majesties Request resulted in a run of albums that elevated from great to legendary. Next time I play it I’ll keep your comments in mind, but I’ve known it long enough to be confident that my opinion probably won’t change. I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic about it.

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    1. I really sincerely liked it Rich! I know Aaron and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of Stones stuff. The early r&b stuff, to me even though the band was obviously great at what they did, it’s not nearly as interesting to me. But I like this kind of stuff. Growing up with a sister who plays free improv for a living, my ears were accustomed to this kind of audio mess.

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  3. Man, this is a great review. I’m awfy fond of this one. Like you say, when you become accustomed to the purple smokey haze this is a real treat. Really rather wonderful with some pretty great sounds, textures, and songs.

    Liked by 1 person

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