Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request

The Rolling Stones
Their Satanic Majesties Request

Released 1967 on London
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 26/08/2003ce

Front side
1 Sing This All Together
2 Citadel
3 In Another Land
4 2000 Man
5 Sing This All Together (See What Happens)

Back side
1 She's A Rainbow
2 The Lantern
3 Gomper
4 2000 Light Years From Home
5 On With The Show

OK I'm sure everybody who reads the reviews on this site has heard of this album, "the Stones answer to Sgt. Pepper" yada yada yada. So I will spare you the sociological context and response to dumb rock critics who don't get it and just get right down to why I think this is the Stones' BEST / most creative album.

Let me start by mentioning the fact that I HATE THE STONES!* There is nothing "cool" about middle class art school drop-outs playacting that they are "Black bluesmen from de delta" -- the result is usually something between minstrelsy and a beer commercial soundtrack. Just cuz Mick does a sexy wiggle and Keef shoots heroin into his eyeballs doesn't mean they make good music. When it comes to rootsy-bluesy classic rock gimme CCR over these shmoes anyday.

Which is exactly why I love this album so much -- it's the only time they stopped with the "Stones cliches" (read: licks stolen from Muddy and Wolf and Berry) and actually tried to be original. Er, or maybe they were unconsicously imitating the Beatles in a LSD-induced haze of clouded judgement, but that's still more interesting than the usual Mick & Keith Minstrel Show.

The "front side" begins with a chinese bass & piano riff and occasional trumpet blasts, so you immediately know this is not your typical Stones album. Throughout the LP Charlie's drum kit is scarce and in it's place are all kinds of bongos and hand percussion, as is the case on the first tune "Sing This All Together." The result is quite like a "hippie freakout" record ala Hapshash & The Coloured Coat, only of course Mick & Keef actually knew how to write songs (and the label was probably very indulgent of their mucking about in the studio for as long as they wanted) so the result is a good blend of chaotic-yin yet still with enough control-yang to make it more than just the sound of a buncha whacked-out druggies banging away on their instruments. The lyric of the overture tune is mostly the same four lines repeated: "Why don't we sing this all together / open our eyes let the pictures come / and if we close our eyes all together / then we will see where we all come from." Grooovy!

In classic Art Rock style, it segues directly into the next track "Citadel", the most unsung tune on the album. A catchy melody married to squeaky feedback power chords, an "Asian" sounding sax (oboe?), trippy mellotron and Charlie's best thunder-pop drumming equals pretty awesome. The lyric "please come see me / in the citadel" sounds pretty cool too -- Mick as the lysergic prince locked up in his cranial tower, eyes dilatin' all over the place . . .

Next is "In Another Land", the only song (as far as I know) that Bill Wyman ever got to write and sing for the Stones -- and since it is also easily the most (unintentionally) HILARIOUS song they ever did, it's not hard to guess why. Driven mainly by the harpsichord (gack!) with the fey-est vocals you can imagine (DRENCHED with a leslie effect) . . . whoo! Let's just stop right there. Interestingly, the segue to the next song is the sound of somebody SNORING (Mick'n'Keef's commentary on the quality of Bill's song perhaps?)

Things pick right back up with "2000 Man", which starts as a country blues kinda song about the future and ends with some nice heavy organ-driven psyche rock. The lyric projects the "generation gap" into the future with references to plastic, computers, "my name is a number", etc. I suppose the year 2000 didn't turn out exactly like Mick pictured it (or did it?), but all sci-fi is really about the present anyway and on that level I'd judge this a pretty great song about the angst of the boomer generation in the 1960's.

Some coughing and mumbling between tracks, including the very audible comment "hey where's that joint?" leads into a reprise (sorta) of the first tune, rendered this time as a full-blown freeeak jam. My guess is it was assembled from a whole bunch of jam sessions, as there really isn't much of the melody to speak of (Keef sorta plays the tune on guitar at one point, overdubbed trumpets blare it out at another.) Mostly it's a parade of acid-damaged blues guitar noodlin', faux-Asian recorder runs, free jazz sax, pennywhistle, organ, lotsa hand drums, and everything else they could think of. Mick mostly pants, grunts, moans, yelps and howls wordlessly until the end when he recites the lyrics one more time (under a ton of echo), then there is a few seconds of very Stockhausenesque electronics and treated percussion noize. This is the Rolling Stones?!?!

The "back side" (heehee, get it?) begins with some mumbling cockney circus barker, then Mozartish piano tinkling plus strings (arranged by Zep's John Paul Jones) kick off "She's A Rainbow" which was the single from the album. And I'd judge a pretty damn good single for the time, being a nice mixture of pop-rock with Art Rock pretensions (the Sgt. Pepper comparisons start to be sort of inevitable at this point - but this tune kicks more ass than a whole pile of Moody Blues albums.) I also give points for the crypto-naughty lyric "she comes in colors everywhere" (even more blatant than Cream's lyrically similar "SWLABR" aka "She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow".)

Next track "The Lantern" is probably the least interesting tune on the LP (except for the Wyman tune which sucks so bad it's almost good.) Music hall piano plus some psychey guitar leads that are so cliched they remind me of the Monkees "trippier" records equals they had a few minutes to fill to complete the album I guess.

"Gomper" is also sorta non-descript, but gets a pass since it's more-or-less a modal psyche jam -- all those exotic hand drums again, Procol Harum organ, something that sounds like a dulcimer, and spastic overblown recorder lead up to a climax of "Interstellar Overdrive"-style atonal cacophany. Perfect lead in to . . .

. . . the super-heavy treated piano note clusters with backwards echo and tympani-like drumming that introduces "2000 Light Years From Home", the best (and probably best known) track on the album. If this was the direction they went in after 1967 I'd be a huge fan of this band! Some of the coolest mellotron playing ever recorded, and those big fat guitar notes melting your brain pan at the end . . . now THIS is what psychedelic is all about!

More mumbling cockney circus barker leads into the most blatant ripoff on the LP, "On With The Show" which simply takes the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" title track and moves it to the end of the album. And all those "caberet crowd sounds"? *cough* excuse me, I think the Mothers of Invention did that already (and a lot better too) on "America Drinks And Goes Home". Over "English music hall plus fuzz guitar" Mick sings through a megaphone for that Rudy Vallee stylee: "I bid you all a fond adieu / on with the show, good health to you!"

So I guess on the whole the second side really doesn't equal the first, the two "hits" on the back side being by far the best two songs there. Still, gotta give props for having tried to step outside of the Minstrel Show for at least a moment, even if it was just to step into a Magical Mystery Show of sorts.

* All right, I will admit they made quite a few good records between 1965 and 1972 -- but you gotta admit they are still the most over-rated musos this side of Eric Crapton. And those old fuckers just won't quit! I think 30 years of continuous output since their last decent album must be some kind of Guinness record.

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