Nightman Listens To – The Rolling Stones – Aftermath!

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s fair to say that I haven’t got off to a flying start with respect to my Rolling Stones journey. It’s mimicking my first attempt, back when I was a lad – assuming there would be a treasure trove of new rock classics for me to discover, but instead finding a multitude of Blues covers and copies which did little to excite me. The bad news is that so far I still feel the same. The good news is that I remember Aftermath being the first album to actually excite me and contain some of those hoped for golden nuggets of goodness. So I go into Aftermath this time knowing and liking a few of the songs, but most of them I’ve since allowed to crumble into the darkest recesses of my memory. Here we go with Round 2.

Mother’s Little Helper‘ is thankfully one of the band’s first songs which doesn’t feel like a Blues rip-off. If anything it has more in common with the growing Mod movement than it does with Southern Blues. That strange little guitar riff is gold, the melodies are stronger than their previous originals, and while Jagger really goes all in on the guv’ner vocals, it’s an unusual little mystical ditty I had forgotten about.

Stupid Girl‘ feels full 60s, with the zany Scooby Doo keyboards and the shuffle rhythm. It’s another I’d largely forgotten about but it’s a step up from what they had done till this point. They take the melodies of The Beatles and spice it up with a grittier lyric. Two good ones and another two good ones right after this that I do remember.

Lady Jane‘ is one of the band’s more famous songs of this era and sees them in rare soulful, tender form. It’s lovely, though my one criticism is the stilted, overly theatrical vocal delivery as if Jagger has just been to elocution classes and been handed the lyrics to recite rather than sing.

Under My Thumb‘ has long been one of my favourite Stones songs. Probably since I first heard this album – this was the song where the band finally clicked with me as something more than Blues copycats. It’s fantastic all round – melody, instrumentation, that honking bass, the riffs. They even get away with making the handclaps not sound awful.

Doncha Bother Me’ is straight back into generic blues material. That’s a little harsh because there are twists on the formula, but it feels like a step down after the opening tracks. Love those cymbals coming in though and the little slip into falsetto. This is (mo) better blues though with a nice riff that stops just short of becoming annoying. 

Goin Home‘ is a risk. An eleven minute song by a band known for their short blues numbers – blues by its very nature a genre based on repetition. The first couple of minutes breeze by harmlessly enough. That final repetition of verse and chorus feels a little unnecessary and then the freestyling comes in to shake things up. This is largely Jagger grunting and singing a la Morrison in The End while the band mess about, growing and pulling back. This is okay for about three minutes but then it starts to get silly and they lose their ideas.

Flight 505‘ starts out with some distant old timey saloon piano before the rest of the band crash in with a party blues stomp. The only other notable thing here is the fat bass which tumbles over everything else when it comes, though the occasional machine gun drums are tasty.

High And Dry‘ continues the blues and Country sound but they give it their own voice instead of merely sounding like every other 60s band covering the blues. Interesting percussive stuff going on, some great harmonica and guitar all the way through – most bands simply had a fw pieces of harmonica but this cruises from start to finish.

Out Of Time‘ was the one I knew before I heard the album first time around. For whatever reason this seemed to be on the radio a lot when I was young, though it could have been one of the many covers. In any case it’s a song I’ve known for a long time – naturally I love the Manic Street Preachers version but this is fantastic too even if it’s a minute too long.

It’s Not Easy‘ has more of that fat bass sound and an effective blend of rock and blues. Again you can tell where their influences are coming from, but the formula has been shifted enough that it feels like a Stones song instead of something from the US from thirty years earlier.

I Am Waiting‘ is another sort of experiment. Hazy and more laid back in nature. Some of the vocals have that uber-heavy accent which I don’t go in for. About one minute in it kicks into another gear with a great vocal and melody before withdrawing for another laid-back – like an early version of the quiet verse loud chorus dynamic which other bands would run with.

Take It Or Leave It‘ starts with guitars and little bells like a sweet ballad. Indeed it progresses in that fashion musically. Lyrically it’s another matter. Most importantly you can see people singing along with any part of it, especially the la la ta ta stuff.

Think‘ continues the nice blend of acoustic and electric and better melodies. Both the verse and chorus are hook filled and the playing from all fronts feels loose and jubilant. Another good one.

What To Do‘ returns to the country swing and the barfly piano. As mentioned, till this album the band hadn’t managed to pull off that style in an interesting way but here they have. It has that sense of cynical fun and confidence merged with the melodic competence which had been lacking previously. I might tire of this one quicker than others, but for now it sounds fresh.

It’s easily their best album so far and the first which sounds like a full original. They had been relying on their swagger and energy on the previous outings’ dull covers and inadequate originals. The opening four songs here are gold before we take a detour into blues land. Luckily the more blues driven tracks sound more authentic – songs created by the band rather than borrowed ideas. I think finding their own voice is the big change here, followed by adopting a stronger sense of melody; plenty of the songs here are packed with hooks and choruses which crowds can easily latch on to while before the blues standards didn’t offer much in the way of melody. There’s a couple of songs I’d forgotten that I liked first time around, and they still sound good this time – I’m more hopeful now that there will be more surprises like this in future albums. It’s hard not to recommend this one.

Nightman’s Playlist Pics: Mother’s Little Helper. Stupid Girl. Lady Jane. Under My Thumb. Out Of Time. I Am Waiting. Think. What To Do.

Nightman Listens To – Out Of Our Heads – The Rolling Stones!

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We’re three albums deep and the band is still mostly a cover act. I’m aware that the US version of this album features Satisfaction, which it seems didn’t get a UK album release. That’s a shame, because I’m only listening to their UK stuff. Out of the twelve songs here, it looks like only three are Jagger/Richards originals, so that sucks. Let’s crack on.

She Said Yeah: I know this one, maybe not this version though. The production is terrible, leaving a very tinny sound and making everything sound muddled. A shame because they’re letting rip. This was always a fun song, and the band tears it a new ass. In a good way.

Mercy, Mercy: A nice guitar intro turns into an almost completely different song. The song is fine and is given that swagger and edge which the band had in spades, as well as added punch in the overdrive.

Hitch Hike: A more boring song with not much variance from the original. Any song which comes accompanied with a dance is probably going to be balls.

That’s How Strong My Love Is: A more interesting song which Jagger attacks with verve. The drums are decent, the guitar very repetitive. It’s under two and a half minutes long, but there’s a hell of a lot of repetition in there.

Good Times: A smoother song, as you would expect from a Sam Cooke original. The style suits Jagger’s vocals yet anytime he sings in this less raw style I always feel like he’s being disingenuous. It’s another song built on repetition, but it gets a pass thanks to being short and smooth.

Gotta Get Away: Another Stones original, this one is pretty smooth itself. Better melodies, unfortunate handclaps, rather nice. Even though I’ve heard the album before I don’t remember this, so it can’t have made much of an impression first time. I like it.

Talkin’ ‘Bout You: A lesser known Chuck Berry song, this one doesn’t really move. It’s very basic.

Cry To Me: Another slow one. I would have thought by this point that ‘the greatest rock band in the world’ would have been rocking a little bit more. I’ve never agreed with that term being assigned to the band though. Nothing wrong here, just I’ve heard the like of this five billion times before. Jagger gives it his all in the louder moments.

Oh Baby: More of a rocker, a straight enough cover of the great Barbara Lynn, it’s still not too different from any other blues song you’ve heard. But for Jagger’s mesmeric stage persona and a decent performance there’s nothing amazing here.

Heart Of Stone: Another Stones original, this one is as boring a rote as you could possibly get, aside from the more British downbeat, discordant feel. It may as well be a cover. Jagger’s solo is pretty tasty and the chorus is catchy, but the shell is worn.

The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man: There’s that honky tonk style I can’t stand. It may as well be Country. Guitars from fifty years before, repeat each lyric, 4/4, and completely drain any melody or hue from the vocals. I know some people love this stuff, but it’s just not for me.

I’m Free: This one though, I’ve always enjoyed. One of their first major self written hits and one which has stood the test of time. Here they don’t sound like anyone else, they’re not aping their Blues forefathers. They sound like themselves while being in tune with the other newly formed rock bands of the time.

If you’ve read any of my Beatles reviews then you’ll know how I feel about the early 60s practice of bands covering R’n’B songs to bulk out their repertoire. This is another of those albums – essentially a covers album with a few originals. The band don’t do anything out of the ordinary with the covers but by and large they still sprinkle each with their own style. The original Stones songs fare a little better, but we’re not reaching any exceptional heights. What we have is a talented, excitable band playing a bunch of average songs by people they looked up to, just to get another record on the charts. Mostly one for Stones fans only.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Gotta Get Away. Mercy Mercy. I’m Free.

Nightman Listens To: The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones

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This could be a slog. Similar to my Beach Boys post, I’m going to go through all of the studio albums – no compilations or live albums etc. That still leaves 30 albums, of which I’ve already heard… less than 10? Like I mentioned in my announcement post, I started going through Rolling Stones albums many years ago but found them too samey and with not enough standout tracks. Listening to them alongside The Beatles I found myself going back to The Beatles more and more and eventually giving up on The Stones. Maybe I didn’t give them a fair chance. From a blues rock perspective, they paled in comparison to Zeppelin, and from a songwriting stance The Beatles were just more enjoyable in every way. Still, you gots to listen to these things to know, so I may as well go back to the start.

This debut album came out in 1964 and like most of the other bands at the time consisted of a bunch of covers. It took The Stones longer to get the most out of their songwriting partnership, so many of their early albums had lots of covers, and that’s going to be part of the slog for me. I’m more interested in the original compositions once they come along.

Route 66: You won’t enamour yourself to me by having hand claps in your first song. Standard US Blues rock, played by a British white guy who at this point had probably never been to any of the places mentioned. It’s played with a youthful intensity and energy, but without much edge. Jagger’s vocals have a persona of their own, if not completely unique.

I Just Want To Make Love To You: The Etta James version takes some beating, so instead The Rolling Stones go for a breakneck pace. Musically it is very scaled back and simple. Those handclaps are back though they are mostly drowned out by the frenzy. Good harmonica and Jagger gives it all in a manic vocal performance, all in all a furious cover.

Honest I Do: A much slower song in standard blues timing and with simple blues riffs, punctuated by slightly more unusual jangling pieces. When you think of the Blues, it’s something like this that you think of. It’s mostly boring, all told.

Mona: Craig Mclachlan anyone? I suppose the echoing guitar was innovative at the time. As with most of these songs, there are so many covers of each one that it’s not the easiest job to find a favourite or one which sticks out. There’s no need for this one to be three and a half minutes long since it is so repetitive and would likely be served better shaving 30 or 60 seconds off.

Now I’ve Got A Witness: This speeds things up again. Standard blues scales and rhythm again, piano led this time, but the band are still giving their all. I think there’s something too laconic about most of the Stones songs which have always kept me from being a full blown fan. That and probably growing up in the 80s and 90s with rock music which felt much more vibrant and full blown and complex meant that I didn’t have as much affinity for the more stripped back stuff.

Little By Little: A harmonica intro leads to more standard blues stuff. It’s still played with energy but there’s only so many times you can hear the same riffs and scales before you get bored. The solo is good, the handclaps aren’t… I would have loved this at the time but all these decades on music has progressed so much for this to sound almost redundant. Using The Beatles comparison again, their songs from the same time just had that bit more creativity and something special. None of these songs are bad by any stretch, just even though they are new (ish) to me they feel like I’ve heard them a hundred times.

I’m A King Bee: Back to the slow Blues again. There’s a simple recipe – set your blues rhythm, select any random noun or subject, and write barely hidden simple euphemisms about love and sex and you’re done. It was fine in the 20s, 30s etc, but once we reach the 60s  with white guys adding their touches it doesn’t work as well. The repetition makes it feel more like mind-numbing dance music than soulful rock. That’s a huge part of the problem I always had with ACDC too.

Carol: And now we’re back to the faster blues. No difference in playing style or rhythm or anything really here. Still good as a standalone, or if you’re into that sort of thing, but an album full of it gets boring quickly.

Tell Me: Now this instantly feels different, and lo and behold when I check it turns out this is the first Jagger/Richards composition on the album. It doesn’t feel connected to The Blues in anyway and in more like a soft rock ballad or simple love song. It’s not quite the same style as what other British Invasion bands were writing – it has its own quality and is easily my favourite song on the album. I can’t say how much I actually like it, it’s probably made better by the fact that it’s so different from every other song so far. It’s sweet and simple and has a great chorus.

Can I Get A Witness: This song is almost always fun, this version is no different. As a standalone it will work great but surrounded by all the other similar songs it’s too much.

You Can Make It If You Try: The slower songs don’t even work as well as what I mentioned for the previous track. At least the faster ones have that effervescence, these ones sound too tired even if Jagger is spicing up the vocals.

Walking The Dog: More of a strutting rhythm. More annoying hand claps. Again.. pick your noun or subject and away you go. Even in 64 it sounds cliched, though I imagine the band brought this style to a much larger audience.

Pretty much what I remembered and what I was expecting – typical blues songs played well, but with not enough of a voice to make them stand out from any other version. The one original piece is good, the covers themselves are good, but there’s only so many of them I can take. I don’t have much to add – it’s not lackluster, it just seems that way, and there’s probably only one song I’d pick to listen to again. When I have my pick of cover artists and the originals, there’s nothing here to make me pick a Stones version over anything else.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Rolling Stones!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Tell Me