Share this article

print logo

The Stones' 'Satanic Majesties' turns 50


The Rolling Stones, "Their Satanic Majesties Request: 50th Anniversary Special Edition" (Abkco two vinyl records and two discs, mono and stereo).

Keith Richards pretty much hates it. Mick Jagger mostly writes it off as a druggy detour that took forever to make because drugs kept getting in the way. Writer/annotater Rob Bowman says of one of the Stones' most important records "for the Rolling Stones, 1967 was the year from hell. Just as recording sessions were beginning, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were busted for possession of drugs. Brian Jones would be similarly arrested in May. All three appeared in court multiple times that year ... In March, Keith became involved with Brian's longtime girlfriend Anita Pallenberg causing a rift between Richards and Jones that never healed."

"Their Satanic Majesties Request" was the first Stones record they produced themselves. When it came out at the end of the year, it was dissed as the Stones' weak and aimless answer to the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Funny thing, though: Time always has other ideas about things. History always knows better. "Satanic" isn't universally dissed anymore -- not even close. Yes, there are a lot of new instruments that the Stones are playing with without knowing much about them (sitar, tabla drums, harpsichord) and a lot of the soundplay indeed now comes off as second-rate Pepper-corn. Anyone who expects coherence will be, as Mark Twain famously said, shot on sight.

But let me make a confession: I've always had a sneaking affection for "Satanic," from its ostentatious failed psychedelic cover (the cover process is technically known as "lenticular") to its music inside, which is so much sweeter and more lovely than most other Stones' blues burns -- "Why Don't We Sing This Song Altogether (And See What Happens)," "She's a Rainbow," "In Another Land." Let me, 50 years on, propose another way of listening to "Their Satanic Majesties Request." Forget Satan etc. "Sympathy for the Devil" from the next year's "Beggar's Banquet" wipes it out completely. And all the instrumental gew-gaws and electronic foolery. Think of it as the Stones suddenly, through drugs and sudden freedom, reasserting themselves as the nice, sweet boys they really were rather than the bad boys the pop world needed them to be, i.e. former art students (Mick went to the London School of Economics). It was the Beatles who were roughnecks from the Liverpool streets. The Stones only sold themselves that way.

On this record, they didn't itch for satisfaction. Nor did they need women to start them up so that women could be under their thumbs. They were suddenly free to mess around and see women as rainbows. Unfortunately, they had no older genius like George Martin around to guide them into masterpiece territory. So they went back into upscale post-blues territory with "Beggar's Banquet" and their later and some of their most famous music (Ahmet Ertegun was good for them.) For a short while during a messy and bad year they could play around innocently in recording studios. In honor of that "hidden" version of the Stones, this is a reissue as luxe as it gets--two vinyl discs, two CD's. both stereo and mono, elaborately presented liner notes, that quasi-3D cover. A very happy record anniversary indeed for a crummy year.

4 stars (out of four)


There are no comments - be the first to comment