So you’re probably aware of the new Martin Scorsese concert movie about the Rolling Stones. It’s playing in IMAX theaters here and there, which is great if you wanna see Keith Richards‘ wrinkles in Grand Canyon-esque proportions. I think I’ll skip it.
I have no idea why I’m writing this particular post on this particular day. Sometimes you just gotta follow the whims of The Great Magnet. So please indulge my exegesis on the perpetually misunderstood Stones LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Stones should never have attempted a psychedelic album. Conventional wisdom is partially right. Truly, Mick and co. had no business going lysergic, other than to escalate their pop-cultural Cold War with the Beatles. The Fab Four had just released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was the psych-pop shot heard ’round the world. You think the Stones were just gonna roll over?
They probably should’ve. Provocative title and famously goofy album cover aside, most of of the record fails to capture the whimsical trippiness of the era, instead offering a hodgepodge of half-baked musical motifs and self-consciously fanciful lyrics. Sitars, tremolo and hard panning do not a great psych record make.
Which isn’t to say there’s not some interesting music on TSMR. "Citadel" is fairly groovy, but Jagger’s paisley melodies just don’t fit his musical personality. He’s great as the sexually knowing über-cad, a guy with a forked tongue and designs on your daughter. Here, he just sounds silly. They should’ve sold this one to the Zombies, who know what to do with a trip-fop number.
Surely you’ve heard "2000 Man" in whatever Wes Anderson movie it appears in. I can’t listen to it without thinking of the Butterscotch Stallion or Jason Schwartzman. And I’ve had enough of that, thank you.
I’m sure the failures of this record aren’t for want of proper drug use. Maybe it was the wrong kind of drugs. Because only "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)" comes close to a proper outer-limits jam.
"She’s a Rainbow" features string arrangements by one John Paul Jones, who later anchored the low end for Led Zeppelin. His contributions don’t make the tune any better.
But "The Lantern," with its shuddering guitars and spacey vocals, is excellent. Check it out for yourself.
It’s not like the Stones can’t get psychedelic — it just needs to be part of the periphery, rather than front-and center. "Moonlight Mile," from 1971’s near-perfect Sticky Fingers, shows what the band is capable of when they employ psychedelia in service of a solid song.
You can’t really call Their Satanic Majesties Request a complete failure — it inspired Brian Jonestown Massacre. I think that’s a good thing. And dismal reaction to the album forced the Stones to focus on their real strengths— namely, hoary pop-rock with blues and country overtones.