Saturday, August 19, 2017

Between the Buttons - Stones, 1967

The Beatles' Revolver was the pinnacle of the psychedelic era. How indeed could any songs surpass "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "She Said She Said," though somehow, mushroom-magically, there was "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night" from The Electric Prunes.  

Yet leave it to the stones to buck the system.  They'd fall into the mire later in '67 with Her Majesties Satanic Requests, but Between the Buttons was a last middle finger to the psychedelic hype until the Stones too were sucked in.  Interestingly, this stellar LP was hitless, with only "Let's Spend the Night Together" making it to the B side of "Ruby Tuesday" (neither of them released on the LP, but from the same sessions), but here were The Stones amidst their 60's best (to sum up the 60s, the best Stones album is the American compilation Flowers, but Between the Buttons is a forgotten gem nearly as important as Let it Bleed or Aftermath)

Keep in mind that the official version of the LP is the one released in Britain. It's interesting that when CDs were first created of the Beatles' catalog, the British LPs were the definitive choice, which only made sense. For the stones, though, it was the American releases, which concentrated more on the hits.  For our purpose at AM, this review highlights the original Decca release (the U.S. version was on London records. Rolling Stone, conversely, rates the American release as No. 357 of the 500 Greatest LPs of all time).

Between The Buttons is easily one of The Rolling Stones best albums. While you lose the hits "Ruby Tuesday" and "Let's Spend The Night Together" on the American issue, you gain by getting "Back Street Girl" and "Please Don't Go," two of the  Stones' best LP cuts.  Buttons, while essentially a "county" album more in line with the Byrds than the Beatles, catches The Stones at the beginning of the psychedelic era and indeed includes exotic instrumentation (harpsichord, marimba, banjo, kazoos) enhancing the group's sound without overwhelming it (as they would on Satanic Majesties) and displays some the funniest ("Cool, Calm & Collected," "Something Happened To Me Yesterday"), caustic ("Yesterday's Papers," "All Sold Out") and melodic ("Back Street Girl," "She Smiled Sweetly") songs that the band recorded.

The LP photography was by Gered Mankowitz who stated that he hoped "to capture the ethereal, druggy feel of the time; that feeling at the end of the night when dawn was breaking and they'd been up all night making music, stoned."  It's a particularly telling photo that appeared simultaneously with the arrest of Jagger and Richards on drug possession, but it's Brian Jones who, as usual, got the attention. Said Mankowitz, "Brian was lurking in his collar. I was frustrated because it felt like we were on the verge of something really special and he was messing it up. But the way Brian appeared to not give a shit is exactly what the band was about." 

On a personal note, I first heard Between the Buttons much later than 1967, at which time I was happy with my 45s, and willing enough to pay 45¢ for a hit like "Ruby Tuesday" (it was only an LP like Sgt. Pepper, that I spent the big bucks on). But in the late 70s, as everyone, ho-hum, was tripping the lighted dance floor to those other Bee Gees, I immersed myself in who I am today. I found a cassette of the American release for two bucks in a record store in Thousand Oaks.  I fast-forwarded past "Let’s Spend the Night Together" (which I’d heard countless times) to the second song, "Yesterday’s Papers." It wasn’t a good song, it was a great song. I thought to myself, "Where has this gem been?" I'd been listening to the Stones for ten years but I'd never managed to hear it. In short, I'd discovered one of the greatest albums of the '60s (keep in mind there are 100s). If you’ve never heard it, do so, but, you know, button up!