Tuesday, September 6, 2016

1966 - Aftermath

When AM is in its element, the articles flow cohesively through a common theme. We look introspectively at themes that range from era to genre. Over the next few weeks, AM will tackle a grander theme: the most influential LPs year to year. Certainly for '66 or '72 a plethora of albums vie for the top spot, but in an effort to create a musical evolutionary timeline, the rubric calls for one LP each year; not the most popular, not necessarily the best, but the most influential or evolutionary.
A logical starting point is 50 years ago, 1966. It's convenient yet less than arbitrary in that 1966 truly started the rock era from an LP point of view. Certainly something Beatles from earlier on would work, but '66 is a year that saw many of the era's most important titles. Honestly we're all in agreement on the significance of Blonde on BlondePet Sounds and Revolver and AM has covered each in depth. Lost, though, in the face of that triad, Is Aftermath, the LP that ushered in, five years early, the 70s.

Until the release of Aftermath, The Rolling Stones were simply the bad boy counterparts to The Beatles, without the substance; their careers based on blues covers and headline grabbing behavior. Obviously aware that Lennon and McCartney found a lucrative business in songwriting, Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham took it upon himself to lock up Mick and Keith until they came up with their own song. The result, "As Tears Go By," was a tad saccharine sweet for the Stones' posing, but was ultimately successful for Marianne Faithful and truly started the stones rolling, so to speak. 

By 1965, the Stones padded out their albums with their own compositions. Hits like "Satisfaction" (among the great singles of all time, and certainly the No. 1 guitar riff), "The Last Time" and "Get Off My Cloud" demonstrated the rapidly maturing savvy of Mick and Keith as capable auteurs true to their blues roots. But it was with their landmark 1966 album that the band could finally lay to rest their musical tributes and boast that every cut was theirs.

Marianne Faithful
The Stones' rebel manifesto challenged the older generation (who merely scoffed at The Beatles) while imperiously indulging in leering bravado. Oldham is quoted as saying, "It was a year when the Beatles were high but still hopeful, Ray Davies captured the essentially superficial, Pete Townshend got fed up on your behalf and the Stones took you home and took your clothes off."

Studio sessions for Aftermath took place at RCA in Hollywood during those days off between Australian and American tours. The leisurely pace of the recording meant that there was time for everyone to experiment with ideas and sounds due to the newly found confidence of Jagger and Richards, but also to the expanding horizons of Brian Jones who had picked up exotic instruments on his travels to decorate his already extensive repertoire. Sitars, dulcimers, marimbas and tablas may be a million miles away from the slide guitar blues of Elmore James, but Jones' new contributions to the artistry of Aftermath can never be underestimated. Paradoxically, Brian had by now lost his grip on the reigns of the band he'd founded. As Jagger and Richards combined to push the group further ahead, Brian was increasingly sidelined and, due to his mounting dependence on drugs, could never really compete. "He was already a guy who could no longer drive the car," Oldham stated, "but he sure could wax and polish it." That polish is what drives Aftermath and makes it among the Stones best. Although a bit front loaded with hits ("Mother's Little Helper," "Stupid Girl," "Lady Jane" and "Under My Thumb," Aftermath is more than just an A side of AM radio classics, it's the Stones becoming the Stones.

As great as their scrappy early singles and albums are (and they are), this is the sound of the band defining themselves as a band, at once turning the blues licks they cribbed into a career into their own remarkable take on the music they love, and at the same time being unapologetic and unafraid to say what's on their minds. In a way it seems like they took a great deal of confidence afforded by the "Get Off My Cloud" single and channeled it into Aftermath as a statement of purpose. 

"Mother's Little Helper" really sets the tone here, prying into the anxiety and paranoia of a modern world and a medicated reality. The misogyny in "Stupid Girl" and "Under My Thumb" serves mightily to reflect an uncomfortable truth in male-female relationships. Is there another song in existence that dares to point out the commodification inherent in hooking-up and the vitriol that almost always results so deftly as "Stupid Girl"? How about the facile re-assurances of a jealous lover in "Under My Thumb", where passion is traded in for fidelity? Or the rueful mortality of "Out of Time"? If so, can you dance to it?

Add to the mix the inscrutable Brian Jones, who, had he lived, probably would've made several unlistenable records in the '70s, but here is at his apex, adding the flourishes that help transform the work of Nanker Pheldge into timeless pop masterpieces.