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Between the buttons and between the lines: the Stones 1965 to 1967

When Mick and Keith were teenage buddies it was Chuck Berry they were talking at but by the time Mick was takin‘ his harmonica to Brian Jones’ blues bands on the East Side of London it was all about the blues until… until the Beatles started making beaucoup de bucks as a pop band taking the Shirelles to Chuck Berry and throwing in a sharper back beat and harmonies before selling it back wholesale.
Jagger had no idea, he was actually studying business and on the verge of becoming an accountant, and so he cowboyed up with Lennon and McCartney, figured he could make a lot more bread writing his own songs, and so with side kick Keef in hand performed a coup d’etat, not to mention a coup de grace on lost boy Brian Jones and released the Rolling Stones first (UK releases only, please folks) work of art Out Of Our Heads in July 1965. But back up a touch and you’ll find Glimmer Twins written “Play With Fire,” and “The Last Time” leading up to Heads (and none on the actual album, baffling enough) and “Satisfaction” leading away. Heads itself was first half Stones as usual blues and r&b all on the pop side covers and the second side increasingly moving to the new with the three song close all originals and great originals but not as great as the three singles just mentioned.
The singles were the emotional direction the Stones were aiming for, politics yeah, but sexual politics: “Play with fire” was all bravado and hard on, “The Last Time” a very clever Bobby Womack rewrite and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” a deal changing, tire slashing roar of frustration. Back in the day I compared 1965 Stones to 1978 Costello except Jagger was trying to bluff and call his way through his insecurities and Costello was revelling in them. The Stones were the better band (any band with Jones in it was gonna be better) and both were liars, or at least incomplete, essayist on sex. And anyway, there was one more song waiting in 65 – “Get Off My Cloud” which begged the question: would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone? Well, whether, to use a Biblical term, pissing on the wall (of garages) or getting thrown out of fancy restaurant, or having their heterosexuality questioned (kinda funny, right?), “Off My Cloud” was another Berry on top update and improved upon masterwork singles.
Five years ago I woulda said they don’t make singles like this anymore but Itunes has lead directly to the rebirth of the 3 minute self contained pop song. Now when Drake brings out an EP (as he did last week) check out the source with the Stones and the Beatles. You could make a case for the Stones being an ultimate charts able to sustain a career not just on the longplayer (45 minutes long albums circa Between The Buttons) but on the single as 6 minute (2 sides) radio ready artistic expression. We got as far as “Cloud” -this is what came next: “As Tears Go By”, 19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Paint It Black”, “Mother’s Little helper” “Lady Jane”, “Mother’s Little Helper”, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows”. “Let’s Spend The Night Together” “Ruby Tuesday”, “We Love You”, and “Dandelion”. I don’t think impressive quite says it –mindboggling, might. And mostly non-LP stuff as well. The subject matter is sex and class up till the last two songs where flower power derailed em for awhile -though from the prison doors slamming shut in “We Love You” to the nursery rhyme dippy ode to Keef’s son “Dandelion,” these are the only times the Stones beat ANYONE at the peace and love game.
The two albums that coincided with the run of singles was Aftermath and Between The Buttons -two slam dunk masterpieces which, along with Out Of Our Heads, all these years later, lies at the heart of the Stones legend. Now, I’m not claiming they are the Stones greatest albums, that would be Exile On Mainstreet, what I am claiming is whatever the Stones were and would be became in the steady growth of these three albums. On Out Of Our Heads, the album still felt like a secondary option -an after thought to the singles and not the album as single mind fuck minded ‘tude sound. Great, yeah, but not GREAT: it’s the difference between Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox. Aftermath is ineleuctable. The very first line (in an age obsessed mid-sixties) is “What a drag it is getting old” and here is how Side one goes :”Mother’s Little Helper”, “Stupid Girl”, “Lady Jane”, “Under My Thumb”, “Don’t Bother Me” and the side closing string bending, blues sending eleven minute long, will they never ever get there “Goin‘ Home” . Jagger is considering women and class till the very end where he brings it all back home…. Who else was writing about junkie housewives, and wasted aristocrats and masochistic chicks? Who does it now? I always found the punk complaint that the Stones were sell outs hysterically funny -selling out to who? The Stones hated the ruling class (“Lady Jane”) only a little less than they hated the working class (“Stupid girl”). By the time you get to Beggar’s Banquet Jagger wasn’t even trying to conceal his loathing for the back stabbing, money grabbing, self-loathing class wars that defined being English. Jagger was such a misanthrope and Richards such a snotty nosed borstal boy they even hated their own kind -Brian Jones, anyone? Side Two of Aftermath -all blues based pop songs, was almost as good as Side One.
And nothing was as good as Between The Buttons. That cover, somewhere in a foggy London morning, they looked chilled to the bones and it is only the chill that is keeping Jones on his feet. Between The Buttons is Jones album though it is hard to hear it because he didn’t write any of the songs. Not yet the numbed, drugged, joke he would become, Jones was taking the Jagger-Richards songs and moving them forward into a different type of rock symphony. While most people considered pop symphony’s a question of production, Jones considered it a question of sounds: from kazoo to sitar between the pulse and the heart of the songs.

From “She Smiled Sweetly” to “Calm Cool Collected” the years of disaffec
tion had worn the Stones down and they had fought themselves to a draw, for every “Yesterday’s Papers” and “Backstreet Girl” there was a “Connection” even if only a drug connection being made. Now that the Stones were there, where could they go? What was there to reach for? Musically, Between the Buttons found the Stones in the air of rarefied greatness the Beatles lived in: the times were hurling their generation to war and to the streets and Jagger couldn’t figure where he might need to be and all the anger and loathing for the world and the women he’d been a part of since 1965 seemed to be cresting out.

Richards was way too cynical to much care about the revolution and Jones was a bohemian and almost unconscious of the world swirling about him, but Jagger was a thinker and his concern was that forces beyond his control were throwing him into the front pages and sticking him into jails and he was stuck between complete contempt for all parties and a natural affinity for the side who had picked him for their own. Later on this would change on Jagger, by the 70s he was considered a dilettante petit bourgeois roue, with his cocaine and his stable of young girls, and his full fledged junkie partner in crime, and his faux-gay glam rock glimmer twins. But not yet -sure Their Satanic Majesties Request was next but Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Mainstreet (and exile in the South Of France) were round the corner…
Still, these three albums are what made the Stones the Stones…

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