Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rolling Stones, Part 2

The Rolling Stones - Complete Discography - Part 2

December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965)
Rating: 8
"I said hey! You! Get off of my cloud!"
Best Song: She Said Yeah
Worst Song: I dunno.

       Blargh. Virtually every critic on planet Earth marks this as the point in the band's career where their reliance on covers finally reached its end, and I completely agree with that sentiment. "Talkin' About You", "You Better Move On", "Look What You've Done"...yeesh, they all bore me to tears. The band had done songs EXACTLY LIKE THESE loads of times before, and had done them better then. 
       And it's not like the originals are much better. "Gotta Get Away" and "Blue Turns to Grey" are both as forgettable as those aforementioned covers, and "The Singer, Not the Song" is only notable only for its ridiculous levels of sap. 
       Speaking of sap, everyone always seems to praise "As Tears Go By", calling it one of the band's best ever ballads, their first true success in writing a song of that type, blah blah blah -- long story short, they're all wrong. The song isn't bad, per se, but man, that melody is extremely forgettable, and come on...admit it...those strings, while admittedly revolutionary for the band, are kinda sloppy, and they really don't do anything for me. Not a horrible ballad, but just as forgettable as any other songs of the type from the previous four albums. (Heck, I think the pop covers like "Under the Boardwalk" from 12 X 5 are better than this, and those are critically panned!)
       So why on Earth does this thing get an eight? Because a handful of these songs are GREAT. My personal favorite, and probably the best thing the band had done up to this point, is the MARVELOUS "She Said Yeah". Can you think of any other song that the band released before this one that just contains so much unbridled energy and passion?!? For once, the band uses its typically murky production to its advantage, creating the ultimate proto-proto-punk song. Remember how I talked about that "grinning freneticism" found in England's Newest Hitmakers? This is grinning freneticism brought to its absolute peak. Don't tell me that the insanely fast riffage, catchy-as-a-cold "duuuum dee da dee dum dum" backing vocals, and Jagger's amazing delivery don't get your blood pumping. How could they not?!
       "Get Off of My Cloud" is another winner, but you probably already knew that. The chanting in the chorus is fun, the riff's good -- it's no "Satisfaction", but it's still great. Oh, and "I'm Free", while not a classic, is still a load of catchy fun. There are also two powerful live covers, and while "I'm Moving On" and "Route 66" are hardly all-time greats, they still work wonderfully. Just listen to those girls losing their little minds while Jagger goes crazy on the mic! C'mon, it's fun!
       Get the ones I mentioned, the rest can go die in a fire for all I care. ONWARD TO ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT.
Aftermath (1966)
Rating: 12
"The change has come, she's under my thumb"
Best Song: Paint It, Black
Worst Song: I really don't know, but I'll say Think

       It's not quite the big artistic leap that everyone makes it out to be, but it's still the band's best album up to this point -- by far. Gone are the days of plentiful pop and R&B covers, everything here is an original...for better or for worse. 
       You see, I quite like this album, but I do have one major problem -- nearly everything other than the first four songs and the very last one is completely forgettable. Sure, country-blues ditties like "Doncha Bother Me" and "High and Dry" are catchy and pleasant while they're on, but do I ever really feel the need to return specifically to them? Nope, although "Doncha Bother Me" does contain some killer slide guitar, and "High and Dry" has an awesome vocal melody (as well as some fun lyrics about being a male gold-digger). They're still just repetitive, derivative blues songs, albeit well-done repetitive, derivative blues songs.
       Other forgettables include the poppy "Think" and the boogie-woogie'n "Flight 505", which, contrary to George Starostin's belief, is not the greatest ever song about a fear of flying. I'm sorry George, but that award goes to King Crimson's "One More Red Nightmare"...
       But I digress. "It's Not Easy" is probably the best out of all of these middling tracks (which, ironically, come in the middle of the album, heh), if only for the fact that it has a very memorable vocal melody ("It's haaaaaaaarrrdddd"), and that it contains the wondrous lyric of "You got me running like a cat in a thunderstorm". Good job on that one, Mick.
       Oh, and the ballad "I Am Waiting" does contain some neat-o instrumental variation (bongos and such), but the melody is still rather expendable. But everything else? HOO-EE, BOY!
       The whole thing kicks off with everybody's favorite Stones track from this period, "Paint It, Black". know what? Who am I to disagree?!? This thing is just as incredible as everyone always says it is -- the thrashing drums, the evil-sounding sitar line, Bill's bass thumping, Jagger's brilliant delivery -- yes, it really is THAT good. 
       But nearly as good is the album's other hit, "Under My Thumb". Bill's bass line is the star here, delivering a brilliant counter-melody to Mick's vocals, and those marimbas work brilliantly as well. Throw in Keith's mocking, "*chink*"-sounding rhythm work, and you've got a Stones track for the ages. But hey, "Lady Jane"'s great too! Yeah, some would vomit at the femininity of it all (I'm sure Jagger singing the line "I quoth my love to...Lady Jane..." in a completely serious voice was enough to make a Stones fan go insane at the time), but gosh darn it, the melody is genius, the dulcimers are beautiful, and isn't that just aural heaven when the two acoustic guitars start arpeggioing over each other during the instrumental break? Ahhh....
       I also feel that I should mention the album's closer, the infamous, 11-minute blues jam "Goin' Home". As horrible as an 11-minute blues jam from the Stones circa-1966 may sound, it's actually quite good. It seems that the band is aware of the fact that Brian and Keith weren't exactly guitar heroes at this point in their career, as most of the "jamming" is essentially the band playing the exact same thing over and over and over again. No, all of the variety in "Goin' Home" comes from Jagger and Jagger alone, and while it doesn't go off without a hitch for all 11 of its minutes (I get tired around 7 or so), it still works to some degree. It also doesn't hurt that the main vocal melody that Jagger's is improvising and variating on is quite good, to begin with.
       So no, this isn't some massive step forward for the band. With the exception of "Lady Jane", "Paint It, Black", and maybe "Under My Thumb", everything on here could have fit in on 12 X 5 or Now!. However, this is indeed the first album where there is nary a "bad" song in sight. Everything on here is, at the very least, decent, and that's definitely a step in the right direction. If you've already heard Flowers and Between the Buttons, and you want something else in a similar style, definitely check this out. And, as it should go without saying, everyone needs to hear "Under My Thumb" and "Paint It, Black". 

Between the Buttons (1967)
Rating: 13
"All I want to do / Is to get back to you"
Best Song: Let's Spend the Night Together
Worst Song: My Obsession

       See, now THIS is a big artistic leap forward! Not a single song on here could be described as "bluesy" in the slightest -- this is straight, Kinksy Britpop. And it is glorious. Sure, yeah, just like Aftermath, there are a few songs that are quite forgettable, but the ratio of great-songs-to-decent-songs is much more in the favor of greatness here...if that makes any sense.
       Oh, and when I described this album as "Kinksy", I really meant it -- the band's style here is really quite obviously a take on The Kinks' brand of baroque pop. This is especially apparent in the piano-driven ragtime frenzy of "Cool, Calm, and Collected", which, while quite fun, is just a bit overlong. Still a neat song, though, if only for the fact that it sounds NOTHING like any other Stones song.
       "She Smiled Sweetly" is a beautiful, guitar-less (!) ballad with some great bass work, "Miss Amanda Jones" is a fun, catchy rocker, and "Who's Been Sleeping Here" is a very enjoyable Dylan imitation. "Yesterday's Papers" has some very interesting instrumentation, as well as an intriguing back story -- Jagger wrote the misogynistic lyrics about his ex-girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton, and while the lyrics aren't *THAT* cruel on their own (they compare yesterday's papers to yesterday's girl, i.e., something that can be easily thrown away), they take on a whole new level of meanness when you realize that THE GIRL ATTEMPTED TO KILL HERSELF AFTER JAGGER LEFT HER. Smooth, Mick, smooth.
       Other classics include "Connection" and "All Sold Out". Both songs are really fun rockers, and the melodies in both of them are absolutely BRILLIANT. I am speaking, of course, of the chorus of "Connection" (that part that I included as the album's selected quote) and the "You sold me out and THAT'S THAAAAAAAAAAATTTTT!!" hook in "All Sold Out". Good luck getting those two sections out of your head.
       And I'm sure you've heard the gorgeous, string-led ballad "Ruby Tuesday", one of the few songs from this Britpop period to have made any lasting effect on the band's legacy. It's not one of my very favorites, but it's still an absolutely excellent song...even if Jagger's singing can be a bit hokey at times.
       The other big hit of the album is obviously "Let's Spend the Night Together", and that's for good reason -- other than maybe The Kinks' "Brainwashed", it's the only song that I could classify as Britpop-proto-punk, and that's saying something. The melody, adorable backing vocals, and piano sections are its more "sissy" elements, but man, the sheer aggression found in Charlie's drums (and Jack Nitzsche's piano, to some degree) couldn't be classified as anything BUT punk. A classic, for sure.
       But sadly, it's not perfect -- songs like "Complicated", the closing "Something Happened to Me Yesterday", and ESPECIALLY "My Obsession" are rather forgettable. "My Obsession" actually comes close to being a downright bad song for me -- the start-and-stop rhythm is extremely irritating, as is the vocal melody. Blech.
       Still though, there are a lot of classics on here, and that's enough to make this the band's first real "MAN, YOU HAVE GOT TO HEAR THIS!" album. Get it soon...but not before some others. Heck, I even think Flowers is slightly better than this one. And speaking of Flowers...

Flowers (1967)
Rating: 13
"She would never say where she came from"
Best Song: Let's Spend the Night Together
Worst Song: Take It or Leave It?? Maybe??

       Apparently the band had enough material that only made it onto the UK albums to make it into a special US-only outtake collection. Well...almost enough, as "Lady Jane" from Aftermath and "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday" from Between the Buttons were thrown on here as well. But hey, all of those are great songs, so I'm not complaining!
       Thankfully, though, the tracks we've heard before aren't the only strong ones on here -- the rarities and outtakes are EXCELLENT. While not every track is "amazing" (otherwise it'd get a higher grade), for once there's not a single downer among all the songs -- everything on here's completely solid! 
       The funny thing about this album, to me, at least, is that it's both more "flowery" (heh) and aggressive than Between the Buttons. On the flowery front, we have the incredibly dorky cover of "My Girl", the ridiculously catchy bubblegum-pop of "Out of Time", and of course, the ridiculously beautiful "Lady Jane"-redo, "Back Street Girl". But flowery-ness aside, all of these songs are absolutely great (well...maybe not "My Girl"), and definitely among the best Stones songs from this period.
       And as far as rockers go, well, you've got the sonically BIZARRE Bo Diddley-riff-driven "Please Go Home" (check out that echo, and that feedback!), the frenzied "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" (which, now that I think about it, is also rather sonically bizarre -- how about that out of tune horn section?), and the thumping, sitar-heavy "Mother's Little Helper", which also happens to have a BRILLIANT bass performance from Mr. Wyman.
       I'm also rather fond of "Sittin' On a Fence", a great, beautiful acoustic number with some rather nifty lyrics ("One thing's not said too much, but I think it's true / Folks just get married 'cause there's nothing else to do"), as well as "Ride On Baby", which is yet another fun, catchy pop number.
       In short, this one is EASILY as good as Between the Buttons, and in my opinion, a bit better. If the idea of the Stones doing 60s Britpop doesn't sound sacrilegious to you, definitely check this out.

Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)
Rating: 12
"She comes in colors everywhere"
Best Song: In Another Land, She's a Rainbow, or 2000 Man
Worst Song: Sing This All Together (See What Happens)

       So, after all that Kinks-y Britpop, it seems that the band decided that the next stage of their career would be full-fledged psychedelia. And when I say psychedelia, boy do I mean it -- this stuff is REALLY trippy, and downright frightening at times. Everyone has always compared to Sgt. Pepper, but I don't really see it. Sure, Paul and John sang backup on "Sing This All Together", the cover is obviously a tribute to it, and the closing "On with the Show" is somewhat reminiscent of the title track, but beyond that? The similarities are virtually nonexistent.
       No, the clearest point of reference for this album (in my mind, at least) is most certainly Pink Floyd's debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The similarities are uncanny! I mean, think about it: they both feature an space-themed song, they both have a rockin' second song with a pronounced guitar riff, they both explore the darker, more frightening side of psychedelia, they both have a long, noisy instrumental in the middle of the album...see my point?? 
       But despite that, none of the songs here ever come close to feeling like they're ripping off Piper; no, for the most part, this is a very original album. But is it any good? 
       Yes, most certainly. It was absolutely panned upon release as a Beatles ripoff (incorrect), and of course, it also earned quite a bit of flak for its title, which was extremely controversial at the time. For anyone still, it's just a dumb joke, there's nothing remotely "satanic" on this album at all. So get over yourselves. Please.
       Anyhow, I'm sure you're wondering what it actually sounds like. For starters, it's definitely their most experimental affair -- lots of mellotrons, tribal rhythms, and at times, full orchestras! It's yet another extremely "sissy" album...the anti-Let It Bleed, if you will, but this really doesn't bother me. Why? Because the songs are so great!...for the most part.
       "She's a Rainbow" is the most famous thing here, and for good reason -- the melody is genius, the piano soloing is adorable (and catchy!), and the horn sections that spring up throughout are amazing. Plus, aren't those little chipmunk-sounding backup vocals neat? Oh, and don't forget the underrated, Bill Wyman-written (and sung!) "In Another Land". Sure, the verses aren't the most exciting things in the world, but that chorus is pretty swell, ain't it? That "I opened my EEEYYYYYYYYYEEESSSSS" line from Jagger sounds particularly cool.
       "2000 Man" starts out as an good enough acoustic ballad (which just so happens to include the hilariously accurate line "I'm having an affair with a random computer"), but it eventually turns into a loud, anthemic monster that rocks handily. Good stuff.
       On the bad front, we have "The Lantern" and "Gomper", both of which move at a glacial pace and have virtually no reason to exist. And don't even get me started on the NINE MINUTE noise-fest of "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)". Sure, yeah, the tribal grunts from Jagger are cool every now and then, but NINE MINUTES?!??! Ugh.
       A solid album. As far as the Stones' pop period goes, I would get Flowers first, but this is indeed a really cool album, if only to be able to hear the Stones performing music that you would NEVER expect them to be performing. But our boys would soon leave all of this "pop stuff" behind, as they were destined for bigger and better things....ah yes, I speak of the land of roots-rock. I'll see you in Part 3, ladies and gents.

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