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“My ultimate aim in life was never to be a pop star” – Brian Jones
By 1967 The Beatles had thrown off the shackles of touring, and now they were concentrating purely on using the studio as another instrument. A tool to bring to life their visions of art through music. They had heralded clearly their intent early in ’67 with the double ‘A’ side “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, this truly was the age when experimentation in music began, and even gained chart success.
The Rolling Stones, billed as the Anti-Beatles, where the band who did not want to hold your hand, their message was more sexualized, steeped in gritty lyrics that were anchored in early rhythm and blues. These songs were galvanized with clever pop hooks to make them cross over to the teeny-bopper charts without losing any credibility. The two landmark albums released back-to-back Aftermath (1966) and Between The Buttons (1967) are still the soundtrack to the swinging sixties, a time capsule if you like without the clean cut image.
They had a secret weapon which The Beatles had not, in the figure of band creator and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones. In May 1966 this creative force came to fruition on the track “Paint It Black”. His use of a sitar, the Moroccan instrument and a music Jones was starting to immerse himself in, showed a change in their approach to songwriting. Brian Jones at this point was already becoming bored with the standard guitar, bass and drums sound. By the following year 1967, he further advanced his musical adventures, after Keith Richards and Mick Jagger got arrested for drug possession.
On release from prison, Jagger and Richards wrote the ‘jailhouse jingle’ “We Love You”, backed with the equally trippy “Dandelion”. On “We Love You” Brian Jones shined, even with the Nicky Hopkins playful piano intro, all instruments disappear under Jones’ hypnotic mellotron playing. A psychedelic riff which both drives and dominates the song. With the chance visit from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to the studio, a further catalyst was acted upon as both added backing vocals to the song.
All this musical presence could not take from what Jones was attempting. Heavy in the mix was tape-delays to create vocal effects, but this is what they were establishing with the follow-up album to Between The Buttons. It would be a release unlike anything they had done before, a style changing album without the rhythm and blues they had based their sound around.
The album unleashed on the 8th of December 1967 was Their Satanic Majesties Request. A piece of work which was critically hammered upon release. The media automatically dismissed it as a shoddy mess or at best an attempt to facsimile The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Housed in a gatefold three-dimensional cover, containing a strange inner puzzle, the album failed to garnish the impact which was hoped. In saying that though, the sales were strong initially, they did decline extremely quickly however, as the audiences found it too much of a directional change from previous offerings. For the more eagle-eyed the faces of all four Beatles appear on the cover, pointing to a tribute in part to their contemporaries, and friends.
With the passing of time, this album is credited as an artistic achievement if not a high point of The Rolling Stones output. The two monumental rock albums released in its wake Beggars Banquet (1968) and Let It Bleed (1969) overshadow its impact. But it is also worth noting, that The Stones have stuck to the same method of songwriting, the same standard approach to an album since the turn of the seventies, and have never taken a more dangerous leap as they did in 1967.
What once was described as an experimental waste of time, sticks out more so now, The Rolling Stones never again sounded like they did on Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the reason for this is Brian Jones. Although never writing a hit song, he did however act as a Brian Eno figure, bringing atmosphere and other dimensions to the standards Jagger and Richards were writing at the time. Here, on this album alone Jones plays mellotron, flute, percussion, saxophone, acoustic guitar, vibraphone, jew’s harp, brass, organ, electric dulcimer, recorder, harp, concert harmonica along with adding textures of sound effects.
This was a Brian Jones album, and the sad fact remains within eighteen months of the albums release he had been sacked by The Stones. Both his spiraling drug use, and unreliability had driven his band mates to oust him from the band he had created. Although, by mid 1969 it looked as if Jones was willing to work again, create music with rock musicians and had even begun writing his own music, but it would never come to pass. On 3rd July 1969, Brian Jones tragically died, an apparent drowning on the property he lived at although, some speculate he was murdered. A string of confessions, books written and a refusal by Sussex police to reopen the case stating the original ‘death by misadventure’ verdict was suitable to close the chapter.
Listening now to Their Satanic.., you cannot escape his unique touch on tracks such as “She’s A Rainbow”. Jones again uses the mellotron, although much more pronounced for maximum impact in the space destined “2,000 light years from home”. The albums standout rocker “The Citadel”, showcased Jones playing soprano sax and flute. His obvious boredom with the guitar as the focus instrument was now coming to fruition. It is true to say that both Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were, and still are the driving force behind The Rolling Stones. They have written, and knocked out hits since 1964, but Brian Jones was the creative force of the band opening the door to possibilities and taking risks.
After his drug implosion that door was closed and replaced with three chords and a catchy chorus. Brian Jones brought the sound of The Rolling Stones to the edge of the abyss, but unfortunately he dove right in and never submerged. It is true to say fifty years ago The Stones lost a part of their mojo, one which they have never recovered from. The influence of Jones still vibrates within music, the late Doors frontman Jim Morrison wrote a song for him (“Tightrope Ride”), American psychedelic band The Brian Jonestown Massacre idolize him, whilst musicians still learn his techniques to bring the same light and shade to their music.
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