CD Review of Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling Stones

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Their Satanic Majesties Request
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Released: 1967
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By late 1967, the Rolling Stones had already earned a reputation for being the baddest boys in rock n’ roll, what with their ragged appearance and their recent drug bust at Keith Richards’ home. It was in February of that year, and the bust went down as one of the more outrageous drug scenes in rock history. Among the guests police officers interrupted at Richards’ party was one Marianne Faithful (Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time), wearing little more than a rug for covering. Up until this point, one could argue that the Stones had done a good job of keeping their drug habits from interfering with the music.

With their second album release of 1967, Their Satanic Majesties Request, the drugs were singing just as loudly as Mick Jagger.

Opening with a big hippie sing-along called “Sing This All Together,” the Stones went all-out with a wobbly brass fanfare playing over clunky piano chords in the song’s intro. They invited us to “open our heads, let the pictures come / And if we close all our eyes together / Then we will see where we all come from.” Riiiight. As the assortment of exotic percussion instruments keeps the beat with the bass drum, and the gathered crowd sings along with Mick, the lingering picture in a sober mind is a bunch of stoned long-hairs sitting cross-legged in an almost-circle in the middle of Golden Gate Park, staring into space.

The tone-setting opener is reprised at the end of side one, putting to rest any doubts of what was going on when, following Brian Jones’ Mellotron intro, somebody can be heard asking the most important question raised during the recording of Satanic Majesties: “where’s that joint?”

Jagger himself dismissed the album as “not very good” in a “Rolling Stone” interview with Jann Wenner from October, 2003. More to the point, he explained that, “I think we were just taking too much acid. We were just getting carried away, just thinking anything you did was fun and everyone should listen to it.” In the case of “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” the band apparently thought that eight minutes of aimless, free-form “jamming” with bad-sounding guitars and people screeching like animals would be fun to listen to. Maybe.

But the album as a whole wasn’t all that bad. As far as psychedelic time-pieces go, one could hardly do better than “She’s a Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years from Home.” The former, with stops and starts bridged by an unforgettable piano melody, is sung so innocently by Jagger that the double entendre in the lyric sounds purely accidental (“she comes in colors”). The latter employs an artful use of a big psychedelic cliché – backwards tapes – for trippy and appropriately spacey sound effects in the intro. Appropriately, these songs also comprised the A- and B-sides of the most successful of the two singles released from the album.

The album’s other single was credited to its lead singer. “In Another Land” is the only song the Rolling Stones ever recorded with original bassist Bill Wyman singing the lead. The effect on Wyman’s vocals is akin to hearing someone sing under water, which is particularly disconcerting as harpsichord and wind sounds are heard swirling around Wyman’s unassuming vocals as he sings of walking among castles in some fantasy world with a fair damsel. Riiiight. The chorus brings us back to reality, with Jagger’s voice rising above the mix, wondering, “Is this some kind of joke?”

It certainly sounds that way – why else would the sound of a man snoring have made its way onto the record? And then there were those wacky lyrics about candy and taffy in “Citadel,” which is an otherwise cool-sounding ditty with the most memorable guitar riff on the whole album.

Admittedly, Satanic Majesties can be a fun record to listen to given the right circumstances. But fortunately, this stylistic detour turned out to be little more than a passing phase for the Stones, who simply got caught up in the madness of the times. By ’68, they would rediscover the blues and begin knocking out a series of classics with producer Jimmy Miller that helped cement the Stones’ reputation as “the world’s greatest rock n’ roll band.”

~Michael Fortes