Search This Blog

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons (US)

I consider this album to be as underrated now as I did when I wrote this original review. Some of the points that I made about the album are, in retrospect, dubious (Who's Been Sleeping Here? Dylanesque?) but this album seems unfairly dismissed by most critics and The Stones themselves. I should mention that this is the American version of the album,which substitutes a few of the songs for Ruby Tuesday and Lets Spend The Night Together - songs that were only released as a double-A-side single in the UK. Admittedly, however much I like or love most of the songs here, none of them are as good as Ruby Tuesday and Lets Spend the Night Together but considering that those two songs comprised one of the greatest pop singles of all time, it's hardly fair to judge the rest of the album against their peerless brilliance. 

From (Originally published 7 December 2003)  

1967 was a hell of a year for rock and roll. The Beatles showed the world how arty rock and roll could be with Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and its follow up Magical Mystery Tour. Cream fused the blues and psychedelia into a radically fresh new sound with Disraeli Gears. With their first two LPs The Doors introduced an unsuspecting world to some seriously dark, edgy music in a time when music was anything but. Pink Floyd out-weirded everyone with Piper at The Gates Of Dawn while the Kinks remained as British as humanly possible with Something Else.

The Rolling Stones, however suffered one of their most crushing failures with Their Satanic Majesties' Request, the band’s generally despised stab at psychadelia. What most people tend to forget is that the band released another album that year, an album that has since suffered a fate far worse than the universal condemnation Satanic normally receives: universal forgetfulness. Save for diehard Stones fans, how many people (even people familiar with the band) have heard of songs like Connection, My Obsession and Miss Amanda Jones? The saddest thing about this album is that unlike Satanic, an album that still divides listeners despite the emergence of some strong support towards it, Between The Buttons is a highly accessible album that should appeal to anyone who even remotely enjoys mid-sixties pop music.

Perhaps though, I am missing the point entirely and the reason why just about no one remembers this album is because it’s so radically different from what the band is usually loved for- grounded roots-rock. Not that this is an even remotely valid excuse, you understand. I’m not going to argue the band’s unmatched ability to take traditional rock and roll to the highest levels anyone had (ever have) taken it but please do not overlook the fact that their pop music is among some of the best ever recorded. Actually, it can easily be argued that the reason the band was so successful in their rockier endeavors was specifically because of this pop period. The band, after all did not go from being a cover group to the most successful creators of original “down and dirty” rock and roll overnight- Jagger and Richards needed time to cultivate their songwriting skills and mid-sixties pop music turned out to be the perfect means to do so. 

Though I have yet to hear Satanic Majesties Request, it’s doubtful that any other Stones pop release features songwriting that comes close to the dizzying heights that all twelve songs on Between The Buttons reach. This brings me to the heart of what it is that makes this album such a classic bit of pop music- The Rolling Stones, a band that tend to have at least a filler song or two on almost every album they have released, have presented us with an album where every single song on it is noteworthy in some way or another. Granted, few of the songs reach the level of say, Sympathy For The Devil or Wild Horses but they are not to far off and when an album consists of nothing but songs on that kind of level you know you’re dealing with something special.

The album opens off with Let’s Spend The Night Together, one of the two songs here that you may actually hear on the radio- unless of course you live in South Africa, where you’re lucky to hear even Satisfaction played. Though, it’s hardly much better (a little better, maybe but MUCH better, certainly not) than anything else here it does deserve all the recognition it gets. With its pounding, pacey melody and insanely catchy “Da da da pa pa pa” part doing everything to get itself stuck in your head for hours after listening to the song, Let’s Spend The Night Together remains one of the ultimate examples of fun, catchy pop music. 

The other song that you may recognize here is the third track, Ruby Tuesday, which just happens to be of the very best ballads the Stones have ever done and is probably my pick for the best song here. The quiet, gentle verses are probably the perfect retort to the usual complaint that Mick is incapable of singing with genuine emotion and the chorus features what just may be the best use of drums in a romantic ballad I have ever heard. Let’s also not forget the perfect instrumentation in the song: everything from the piano to the more exotic Mellotron (man, is there an instrument that Brian Jones couldn’t play?) help to create a perfect serene background for Mick’s haunting vocal delivery.

The only problem with these two tracks (Ruby Tuesday and Let’s Spend The Night Together for those who suffer from short term memory loss) comes down to the very simple fact that they are not actually supposed to be here. As was typical of record companies in the sixties, the track listing on the American album is not the same as the one on the British version. The track listing on the British albums were always the one that the band intended for the album so although I would be first to admit Let’s Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday are prime songs I just can’t help but feel that the flow at the start of the album is somewhat…off. 

Worse, the single track that comes between the two hits, Yesterdays Papers, one of my favourite songs on the album (notice how every song I mention is “one of my favourite songs on the album), can’t help but be overshadowed by these two behemoths surrounding it. Still, it’s a short, relatively subdued that manages to sport a chorus that is easily one of the most memorable moments on the album.

Connection, the song following Ruby Tuesday is another irresistibly catchy, fast paced pop song where the only notable thing about it is how unapologeticly enjoyable it is. The next song She Smiled Sweetly is a another ballad along the lines of Ruby Tuesday and is easily as beautiful as that song- the words “’nuff said” come to mind round about now. In fact, looking at the rest of the songs on the album, I’ve decided that it’s really quite unnecessary to go into how catchy, interesting and fun every song is because, as you may have noticed already, these qualities apply to every song here. Instead for the rest of this already overlong review I’ll just delve into the various things that make these songs stand out from one another.

 Take Cool Calm And Collected for example, which manages to be a stand out based on the rather simple fact that it’s really, really weird. Now, of course this whole album is somewhat different from what we have come to expect from the Stones but nothing else on the album could really prepare you for a track that could best be described as being a cross between the British sounds of the Kinks and- would you believe it- circus music. Yes, that’s right, circus music- as in music that they play at your average circus. And just wait until you hear the sped up, really circus-y coda, which will either leave you shaking your head in disbelief or, well that’s it really- if you aren’t bewildered by what you hear then you, dear reader, have clearly not been paying attention.

As for the next track, All Sold Out, this is probably the most Beatles-y song here with hilarious “hey, hey” back up vocals and this really gruff sounding rhythm section where, to be honest, I’m really not sure which instrument is being played. It’s probably an electric guitar but with this album you never can really tell, even with the new crystal-clear remastered sound quality. 

Speaking of great instrumentation, it’s about halfway through the drum-fueled My Obsession that I realize that this album is probably the drumming highpoint for Mr. Charlie Watts. Then again it’s not really surprising, after all his distinct, restrained and rock-solid drumming style actually fits pop music more than hard and heavy rock and roll, though he’s not half bad at that either.

The next song, Who’s Been Sleeping Here is probably the first Rolling Stones’ song where the Dylan influence is clearly visible with its prevalent harmonica playing and Dylan-esque vocals. Good song, through and through. Following this is yet another great pop song, Connection, (
actually it's Complicated - a significantly worse song than Connection. No wonder I had so little to say about it) a song that I don’t have much to say about it except that it’s pretty damn good, so let’s move on shall we. 

Miss Amanda Jones, the penultimate song, is probably the most rocking song here. Not that it ever becomes an actual rock song mind you, that “round and round and round” part that the song is based around is pure hooky pop music. This brings us to the last song on this spectacular album, the delightfully silly Something Happened To Me Yesterday, which sounds an awful lot like what Yellow Submarine would sound like if it was sung by the Kinks- if the Kinks were on several different hard drugs at once. Just in case that wasn’t enough the song quite fittingly finishes the album with a rather er, interesting thank you message.

This last message actually sums up the album perfectly: quirky, unashamedly British (or anti-British) and more than slightly silly but at the same time highly melodic and inventive. So unless you really hate 60s-pop music, I see no reason at all not to have this album occupying a space right next to Sgt. Peppers or The Who Sell Out in your music collection.

No reason at all. 

South African readers buy Between the Buttons from Take2.

International readers buy Between the Buttons from Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment