Fifty years ago today, The Rolling Stones released Aftermath in the UK. It is lauded as a landmark LP in the annals of Rock. Consisting of only Jagger-Richards compositions and a broader palette of instrumental flourishes, it is the point at which The Stones mature and become more than a singles band with attitude. It is regularly regarded as a masterpiece.
Naturally, when I first listened to it properly in the seventies, I was unimpressed. The main problem I had was, ironically, the songs. The first side starts very strongly but the quality falls off a cliff for the last couple and side two struggles to recover. The UK version is too long at 53 minutes, of which 11 is the long jam, Goin’ Home, a simple idea stretched way beyond its effectiveness. Then, there are the lyrics. Andrew Loog Oldham had carefully constructed The Stones bad boy image as the anti-Beatles, but that conceit spilt into nastiness on Aftermath, especially with regard to women. This was unremarked upon in 1966, but, by the early seventies, Stupid Girl swiftly followed by Under My Thumb just tasted foul.
Aftermath was recorded in two chunks, 6-8th December 1965 and 6-9th March 1966, at RCA studios, California. During those seven days, they completed twenty-one tracks. That was actually luxury for The Stones, who were used to laying down a song in under an hour. They had time to tinker with odds and ends lying about the studio, including dulcimer, sitar, clavinet, koto, harpsichord and marimba. Under the polished encouragement of Jack Nitzsche, Brian had a ball messing about with all those sounds. So did Bill. Never has his bass sounded so bouncy, even when heavily fuzzed. Often, Charlie’s stern, regimented beat seems to admonish his frivolity.
In addition to the fourteen tracks on Aftermath UK, they recorded two phenomenal singles, 19th Nervous Breakdown and Paint It Black, their B sides, the melodic Sad Day and the appealingly apologetic, shambling Long, Long While, two songs that appeared on Flowers, the baroque Ride On, Baby and the delicate Sittin’ On A Fence, and one outtake never released, Lookin’ Tired. All, bar Lookin’ Tired, would perk up Aftermath, particularly side two.
It dawned on me. Twenty tracks totalling one hour seventeen minutes is the perfect double. The six additional tracks add some real class, an element of subtlety and a pinch of much-needed levity, diluting the ‘nasty’ songs very nicely. It could have been the first Rock double album, just beating Blonde On Blonde, and it would have been a far better entity than the neither-one-thing-nor-another single album.
Side One: Paint It Black/Stupid Girl/Lady Jane/Think/It’s Not Easy/Long, Long While
Side Two: Mother’s Little Helper/Sad Day/Take It Or Leave It/Doncha Bother Me/What To Do/Ride On, Baby
Side Three: 19th Nervous Breakdown/Flight 505/Out Of Time/High And Dry/Sittin’ On A Fence
Side Four: Under My Thumb/I Am Waiting/Going Home
Such a double gives it a fighting chance with that years’s Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) for value for money.
Have a listen to Long, Long While.