Friday, October 1, 2010

ALBUM REVIEW: Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) by the Rolling Stones

Cover of "Their Satanic Majesties Request...Cover of Their Satanic Majesties RequestBy William Phoenix

Sometimes music is like wine or cheese. It gets better with age. Having said that, it's time to revisit an album from the past, boys and girls. In 1967 yours truly was still a little boy in elementary school in small-town Pennsylvania. At the same time, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were facing drug charges and the Rolling Stones' "Their Satanic Majesties Request" hit the shelves. For those of you too young to remember or to even be born yet, this record was their first foray into phonographic, phantasmagorical psychedelia.

Keith Richards, ever ready to talk sh*t about his fellow band members and past accomplishments, once called it "real crap". Sir Mick Jagger was less blunt but equally embarrassed. "I don't think any of the songs are very good" he confessed.

Rock journalists were also often unkind and many claimed that this record was a bad attempt to jump on the Beatles' bandwagon after the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Even the kindest critics were quick to point out that the record sounded nothing like the Stones previous releases. Writer Nigel Williamson stated: "Coming between 'Let's Spend the Night Together' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', it's an album unconnected to anything recorded by the band before" adding that the project was "a weird and deviant blip on the radar that doesn't fit on some conveniently linear graph of the Stones' musical development".

As always there is another way of looking at this recording. Some now claim that "Their Satanic Majesties Request" is actually a classic example of psychedelic sounds. In fact, some consider this better than "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" when looked at as a document of the first "summer of love" in the UK.

Indeed, the spacey experimentation and sweltering, swirling sounds on "Request" seem a bit more acid-influenced and perhaps better demonstrate what was for the first time possible in a recording studio. One well-known visitor to the recording studios during the making of this disc was Marianne Faithfull. If you listen carefully you will discover her voice somewhere in the assorted noise and drug-influenced chatter on a lot of the cuts.

When asked about the previously-mentioned recording sessions Faithfull once said: "It's very much of its time, but it sums up an era. I think it's been unfairly maligned." Perhaps she was correct. Perhaps the record deserves further consideration.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? The opening number is "Sing This Song All Together". This song is a mixture of interesting Asian percussion, bells, cool guitar riffs, free jazz and an old campfire sing-a-long. Add a chorus of hippies and Jagger singing "open our heads and let the picture come" and you have an oddly interesting introduction only very vaguely recognizable as something by the Stones. While it is true that the album continues along in a busy, druggy, crazy manner, there are some good tunes hidden here.

Upon reflection, the early experimentation with synthesizers somewhat admittedly silly atmosphere and creative use of tape looping makes the record alluring in its own way. Nevertheless, the disc does indeed contain at least a couple of classic cuts. For example, "She's A Rainbow" is a whirling pop orchestra composition with a characteristic '67 baroque personality. There is also the spacey, eerie "2000 Light Years From Home" which actually inspired David Bowie to create his futuristic "Space Oddity" a couple of years later.

Noel Gallagher, of Oasis fame, is another famous fan of this album. In 2004 he told the press that he wanted Oasis to record a record that sounded like a musical blend of The Stone Roses' debut disc, Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Their Satanic Majesties Request". Additionally, the band known as the Brian Jonestown Massacre think so highly of "Request" that they put together an homage album titled "Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request".

As Nigel Williamson states, this Stones record might be a bit "self-indulgent, sloppy and unstructured" but it's certainly not without merit. In fact, "Their Satanic Majesties Request" is also "one of the most gloriously spaced-out albums ever made." If you've never listened to The Rolling Stones' "Their Satanic Majesties Request", listen to it. If you've already listened to it ... listen again.

My name is Phoenix and ... that's the bottom line. Check me out on under the name William Phoenix!

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1 comment:

  1. Best review I've seen yet. I was in 1st grade, but had older sisters and cousins, so I was lucky enough to hear it, put it down for "copying the Beatles" and later discover it in the 70's after I dropped acid. "Oh, NOW I get it" LOL. My favorite is "On With The Show" which lives up to the old show biz adage "Always leave them wanting more". Mick's voice on this tune is smooth, silly at times, and downright awesome at others. Also listen during that track to Mick talking to some floozy at a bar (American sounding) I heard he recorded it himself to use on the albium, heard; "Scotch and soda" then a woman saying "You're not taping me are you?" Then she says " No, really, tell me all about this Jazz!" Too funny. Great on headphones.