The Rolling Stones – Aftermath

I can’t believe we’re roughly half-way through the  year and I have only talked about The Rolling Stones twice, and one of those times was the terrible (yet hilarious) “Dirty Work”. Time to talk about another good Rolling Stones album, because one actually does exist:

This photo was taken in Keith-O-Vision, a stunning representation of how Keith Richards sees everything.

This album introduces an ever-present element for all the albums after it, in that all the songs were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. After adopting this habit, all the rest of the band’s 730 albums were mostly written by or at least credited to Jagger and Richards. Interestingly, for the American version, this is not actually true, because apparently “Paint It, Black” was a group effort that was mistakenly credited to Jagger/Richards. I don’t know.

Like many British albums of the 60’s (and even some today), there are two different versions of the album, since apparently they don’t believe in putting hit songs on albums in England (I guess that would be the reason my favorite Stones song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was never on an album.) Hence, the UK version has a respectable amount of extra songs on it, but the American version has “Paint It, Black”, and that’s the album for me.

Indeed, the broody, sitar-driven, now-legendary track heads up the whole album. Though, as I mentioned earlier, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is actually my favorite Stones track, “Paint It, Black” is chronologically the earliest song they made that I would consider among my favorites. It’s really hard not to love this song, in my opinion. First off, the heart-rending lyrics of perpetual blackness over the loss of a loved one:

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

Second, the instrumentation is quite original for the times, and even unto today. The rumbling lower drums being played in kind of an “Eastern” way, the rolling bass-line, that endlessly repeating sitar riff, and like it is once in a great while, Mick Jagger’s voice is perfectly suited to convey the darkness of the whole thing. I’ve always been impressed by this song.

So why is it, immediately after one of the best songs in the Stones’ repetoire, do we get a song like “Stupid Girl”? I would have much rather gotten the UK’s opener, “Mother’s Little Helper” instead, since it’s so similar to “Paint It, Black” yet enough of a departure to kind of segue into the rest of the album. I’m not crazy about “Stupid Girl”, except that it lyrically exposes the trite meaninglessness of the female alpha class. I’m all about that. A lot of it has to do with the vocals, where Mick’s delivery sounds more like a 3rd grade boy taunting girls because he hasn’t yet hit puberty.

Next we have a great track, “Lady Jane”, which brings in an Appalachian dulcimer and some really cheeseball lyrics. One of my favorite things about this song is that the tune was outright “borrowed” by Neil Young for his album “Tonight’s The Night”, in the song “Borrowed Tune”, where he sings the main melody over and over again, and in the actual lyrics, admits to borrowing from the Rolling Stones because “I’m too wasted to write my own”. Indeed, if you’re going to borrow a melody, this one’s an excellent candidate.

Next is my mom’s personal favorite, the jazz-influenced and vibraphone-tastic “Under My Thumb”. There’s a lot to like about this song, and really I tend to enjoy it quite a lot when the Stones go for minor key arrangements, they seem to be really suited for it. I don’t actually know what the super-low distorted frequency instrument is, it could be a bass saxophone, maybe a synthesizer? Either way, there’s this noise that accompanies the song for the chorus portions, and I enjoy it because it’s blatty and really dark, but I’m not that good at picking out instruments, at least not without my super nice headphones. I just looked it up, it’s distorted bass, played by Keith Richards, and now I need to figure out how to make that sound.

“Doncha Bother Me” is a straight-up blues number featuring slide guitar and lots of stereo placement. A particular pet peeve of mine is when the drums get pushed all the way into one channel, which is the case for this song, and even the bass is only in the left ear. Annoying!

“Think” is much more like it, with only guitars being separated out into channels. I can tell that there is a lot of potential in this song, but the whole thing comes across as kind of a half-finished song, not only in arrangement, but it sounds like they weren’t even done recording it before saying “Right! That’s good enough!” before passing “Go!” and collecting billions of dollars.

We then get a little bit of rag-time sounding piano to open up “Flight 505” which sounds like it was recorded on the other side of an auditorium. The rest of the mix comes in with a kind of typical blues-based rock song. It’s up-beat and cool and I’m fond of it, but I am fairly sure they could have brought the piano in a little closer in the mix, as it sounds like it’s doing some cool things. Maybe I need a Super Audio CD Player and the SACD mix of this album to really be able to enjoy the piano. That’s not a bad marketing scheme!

“High And Dry” is, comparatively, a much more interesting song. I guess it’s because it’s Country, and the Stones always had an interesting take on Country music. This one features some splashy cymbal, of course all the way in the left channel, splashing away for the entire length of the song. It’s got some pretty good harmonica, played by doomed former frontman Brian Jones, who was also responsible for the sitar on “Paint It, Black” and the dulcimer on “Lady Jane”.

“It’s Not Easy” is another kind of throwaway number, I guess even really good albums need to be padded out on occasion. The song is about how it’s not easy to live on your own, and that’s about it.

“I Am Waiting” is a really good song, by comparison. It’s got a bit more of that psychedelic vibe that the album started with, with the inclusion of the dulcimer again, and even though the word “waiting” is annoying sung as “whiting”, this song has a beautiful melody, especially when the chorus kicks in after the first minute. I kind of wish this song was a little closer to the front or middle, because people less patient about the kind of dull songs preceding it.

Taking us home is the final track on the album, “Goin’ Home”, which is kind of an original blues song, not least for its length, which is close to 12 minutes. I have to applaud the song for that, and besides which it’s actually a pretty good song. Don’t expect a whole lot of changes to occur in the song, despite its length, this isn’t progressive rock, you know. About half-way through, the whole thing becomes Jagger grunting, scatting, and making other random noises while the band keeps a single note going, occasionally faster, often not. My favorite part is that there’s not even an ending proper to this song, it just kind of fades off.

Speaking of fading off, that was Aftermath and this has been another update. So long!

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