The History of the Albums – n°298
With the brilliant Aftermath, not only did the Rolling Stones stay the course in the face of fierce competition, but they also gave us their first undisputed classic. It's a little bit the day when the Stones went from simple interpreters to genius musicians. If we compare retrospective analyses with today's analysis, we can observe a two-fold phenomenon that is rarely found in new releases. Given that everything goes very fast these days and that there are many more artists and bands, I have the impression that careers last much less time, as if everything was a bit immediate, like our massive consumption of music. In the sense that even if we often talk in retrospect about legends or extraordinary bands/artists, which distorts the debate a bit (without forgetting the fact that guys have tried almost everything in terms of innovation), I have this impression that we notice much more a progression and evolutions, whereas today we have the impression that they give from the beginning all the best they have. It's maybe where you notice the great artists/groups compared to those who will just temporarily mark the history of music, there's probably some of that too. In fact why I'm making this reflection, it's because when we analyze the Rolling Stones' career, we have noticed a constant progression from album to album, whereas nowadays the difficulty to make a second album after a success of esteem remains a task that few people manage to accomplish. It's probably also a story of lack of hindsight, but when I see the mentality of the artists of the 60s, that is to say, always wanting to improve, innovate, take risks and without wanting to give the content that the listener expected for the benefit of surprise and creativity, I must say that's why I admire those years. Besides, I don't think it's only the fault of today's artists, but given that everything goes very fast, an artist who is going to bring something new has a very high chance of being "copied" by other artists a few weeks or months later, whereas at that time artists/groups were lucky enough to stay one step ahead, since the music spread more slowly and less intensively.
I think it is important to make this parenthesis and this comparison precisely for the Stones, who with Aftermath succeeded in finally finding this expected consecration. It must be said that they started from a long way off, beginner musicians who ended up becoming just as popular as the Beatles in their country, even though they didn't write any original songs. In the space of 2 years, they managed to find their own singularity and to conquer America, while the task was complex and sinuous. The Stones made a place for themselves in a colossal competition thanks to the writing of their own songs, during a year 1965 of high level. As much to say that after 2 mythical singles and a good album Out of Our Heads, the expectation around the Stones' next album/single was really strong, as the Beatles knew with from Help/Rubber Soul. Once again the march was high, but the Stones were able to raise the level with Aftermath to make history once and for all. And yet what they had already achieved until the summer was already quite simply extraordinary, such as for example to impose themselves in the United States with No Satisfaction. For the moment we can not say that it was an exceptional case that is lucky, since the Stones will add the coup de grâce by wishing to leave a significant imprint in the United States, especially with the single Get Off On My Cloud released in October 1965 which will become their second number 1 in the U.S. charts. We could have thought that it would be enough, but not since they will also release a US album called December's Children (And Everybody's) in December. Manager Andrew Loog Oldham was convinced (and he was absolutely right) that the key to the Rolling Stones' success and longevity would be their continued success in the United States. Unlike other English bands, the US versions of the Stones' early albums are often better than the UK versions, which is a testament to the Stones' determination. To add a last element to the album December's Children (And Everybody's), there is a surprising cover of As Tears Go By, where we find for the first time the Stones tackle a Baroque Pop song. Just out of curiosity it's worth listening to it.
Although in December 1965, the Stones started working on the album Aftermath which will also be released on 2 different versions, the year 1966 begins with one of the most mythical singles of their career 19th Nervous Breakdown, in the heart of their US tour. One can clearly feel this rise in power, because with each release of singles the Stones were convincing as never before. Even if the single is not part of the album, because at the time it was fashionable to differentiate between a single and the content of an album, it is important to note the excitement around the upcoming release of Aftermath (although there is a nuance that I will explain later). What's great, and we see it throughout Aftermath as well, is the ability to progress without ever reproducing the pale copies of No Satisfaction. On the one hand, the Stones didn't really have a choice if they wanted to stay in the lead, while at the same time proposing a more artistic approach, especially after the release of the Beatles' revolutionary Rubber Soul. That's why the first elements that emerge from Aftermath are the multiplication of creative choices, studio work, more sophisticated production, musical openness, album concept and singularity. Obviously, the creativity was first and foremost in the fact that Aftermath is the first album to contain only original songs by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard. The essential experiments of Brian Jones. They will also call upon the engineer Dave Hassinger to give more depth in the textures, the total rendering and for the help of the artistic choices. If this review is based on the analysis of the UK version, the difference between the 2 versions is rather minimal (album length, tracklisting modification and few different songs), except that the UK version unfortunately deprives itself of the delicious Raga Rock single "Paint It Black", that's why the analysis will for once turn to the "Global" version of Aftermath.
However, despite the fact that success kept on beating even harder and the Stones were moving towards a more interesting artistic approach, things were not going so well internally. Tensions between the various leaders Brian Jones and Mick Jagger (mainly) were beginning to weigh heavily on their relationship. Brian Jones was often absent and high on drugs, which led Keith Richards to replace Jones on guitar several times and to finish Aftermath. Ironically, these internal tensions and competition certainly helped the Stones push themselves to make Aftermath an absolute classic, leaving an indelible imprint on the album. It's a bit of a cockfight that ended up turning out positively on the overall content. Besides, despite the differences, we can't imagine what the Stones would be without Brian Jones, because he's really the one who makes the others come out of their cocoons. In addition to the musical evolution that Aftermath offers, this album is also marked by the maturity of the members of the group and by the progression in writing and themes. Once again the spectrum of the Beatles' evolution remains very present as a means of comparison and in the Stones' ambition for this new project. The themes of Aftermath are not very joyful and very often oriented towards women. Of course, both then and now, the women's subjects treated in this way have caused some controversy, which did not prevent the album from being a real commercial success. There is a lot of satire and irony in it, which can sometimes lead to confusion or even be perceived as contempt for women or misogyny. In fact, I think the Stones wanted in an uncomplicated way to highlight the vices of love, hate and desire through metaphors and examples of women's types. The concept of Aftermath is precisely focused on specific targets, not all women are targeted. For example, the introduction Mother's Little Helper highlights the depression of a stay-at-home mother who has taken refuge in antidepressants, or in Stupid Girl, where the Stones point to this kind of "stupidity of admiration of the stars" instead of staying on their own, as well as on "Under My Thumb" which alluded to a game of dominating and frenzied sex. All the provocations are all quite legitimate to be taken as something insulting, but I think that this theme has come out of all the experiences of the band members, from disillusionment to sadness. Mike Jagger, who rightly states that he takes more pleasure in having a sexual relationship without a tomorrow to avoid falling in love and being disappointed afterwards. There are many hidden messages that need to be analyzed in hindsight, this is a situation that can also work if we "alternate roles" between women and men. Thematically, Aftermath brings out an "innovative" concept in the sense of freedom of thought and breaking the rules, not hesitating to be provocative. That is to say that even if there is necessarily some personal truth in the writing, Aftermath is turned as a character in the story who will simply tell his life and what he observes of the world. Moreover I will say that the Stones have remained true to themselves, that is to say to do the counterweight with the words of the Beatles, access on the love of women and the idealization of women.
Musically Aftermath shows a progression, especially because the Stones are moving out of their comfort zone. Without ever losing their Blues Rock essence, the Stones approach a kind of Pop Rock crosserver approach much more varied, which we call the Mod aesthetic. Articulated around the follies of Jones and Jagger, and very well mastered by Richard's musical technique, the Stones will give much more depth to their musical content. Aftermath is marked by the incorporation of exotic or unusual instruments, symbol of the experimental period. Like many classics, Aftermath contains excellent songs and very little filling. Even if the B side is not a demerit, the A side presents the best elements of Aftermath. First of all, the excellent song Under My Thumb, a lesson that anticipates the Glam Rock of the 70's. For the first time in their career, the Stones offer a song beyond the level of singles. It's very important to point this out because it was one of the weak points of their first albums. Then there's I Am Waiting, a psychedelic folk ballad that fuses with the Baroque pop aesthetic, truly distinguishing itself from a "weaker" B-side. It is also important to mention Mother's Little Helper and Stupid Girl, true pillars of Aftermath. Besides those I mentioned, and Lady Jane, a Baroque Pop experiment much more successful than their first try As Tears Go By, the rest of Aftermath shows again a progression in their Blues Rock songs. The only real downside to this UK version is, of course, the absence of Paint It Back, a masterpiece that would have made the classic Aftermath even more wonderful. On the other hand, although they are not the first to do so, the Stones are among the bands that will set the fashion for the promotional singles included in the album. Released some time after the UK version, Paint It Back will be the poster for the US version. A habit that bands will slowly take to introduce as many singles in their albums as possible, instead of leaving them as a separate entity. To conclude, if you want to start discovering the Stones discography for the first time, it is recommended to start with Aftermath and to get the singles released before this one.