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ALBUM REVIEW: "Their Satanic Majesties Request" (50th anniv. reissue) by The Rolling Stones

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
The 2017 ABKCO release of The Rolling Stones' "Their Satanic Majesties Request" (on the right), next to an earlier vinyl picture disc.
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ALBUM REVIEW: The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request (ABKCO) 2017 / 1967

It was 50 years ago last month that The Rolling Stones released what would become their most controversial record album, the misunderstood album, Their Satanic Majesties Request.

I’ve had different versions on vinyl and CD over the years, including a vinyl picture disc that was imported from Canada. The album has also played a role in my sync writing at Dust Devil Dreams. "Stones and oranges under a rainbow," which I wrote in 2013, is an example.

But this 50th anniversary release from ABKCO is the cat’s pajamas, daddy-o!

The patchy Between the Buttons LP had been released earlier in 1967, a year that would prove full of chaos and turmoil for the Stones, between drug busts, jail time, creative differences, stolen girlfriends, and disagreements with management, the Stones also had to contend with dramatic cultural changes and the fact that The Beatles had blown millions of minds that summer with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

And while everyone was excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s this summer, Satanic Majesties released less fanfare and, well, fewer “extras” with the reissue that I had a heckuva time tracking down. Seems they pressed a very limited supply of this one, oddly enough. I got copy #10,431 – and numerologically speaking that is “#9.” (1+0+4+3+1 = 9). I find that significant in its own weird way. Anyway …

In certain circles, particularly those where psychedelia is thoroughly appreciated, Satanic Majesties is a favorite. It has long been my favorite Stones album, as odd as that may sound to some. And while I like their bluesier and more aggressive side, there’s something about Satanic Majesties that casts a spell on me and gets me to play it over and over.

I was first exposed to this psychedelic album by a neighbor when I was in high school in Wichita, Kansas. The trippy, 3-D, lenticular cover by Michael Cooper, with the band dressed as magicians and wizards, with all sorts of esoteric, astrological images and overtones … it was definitely of its time and utterly appealing to this young rock fan who was obsessed with all things “Sixties,” roughly 20 years after the fact.

And now, 50 years later, Their Satanic Majesties Request (releasedon Decca in the UK and London in the US) stands as their most consistently interesting album. This package includes both stereo and mono versions of the album on both CD and vinyl, along with the LSD-inspired album artwork and the “It’s Here” maze, along with quotes from band members about the album, and a booklet of great information from rock critic Rob Bowman.

More of the artwork included in the reissue of Their Satanic Majesties Request. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Tracks that might be considered “filler” are quite compelling in the context of the times and what the Stones were going through – it was a rough time, and frankly it’s a miracle the record even got made and was released before the close of 1967, which was rapidly leading up to the topsy-turvy turbulence of the coming year of 1968 and a return to the blues-rock roots with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Beggars Banquet.

This was around the time The Monkees released Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd., and a few weeks before The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour – both psychedelic-pop masterpieces in their own right – and some four months after Pink Floyd’s stunning debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, an album which I would link to Satanic Majesties’ sound more than the more poppy and structured Sgt. Pepper’s, which had more to do with groups like the New Vaudeville Band’s 20’s-styled ’66 hit “Winchester Cathedral.” I guess that would explain The Beatles’ use of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s inclusion in the Magical Mystery Tour film, where they perform “Death Cab for Cutie.”

And despite the band members more or less dismissing Satanic Majesties as “flim-flam” (Keith Richards in his autobiography Life), the percussive and brassy “Sing This All Together” gives us the impression that the listener is in for a whimsical, disorienting-yet-satisfying carnival ride – one you’d likely never forget.

With Andrew Loog Oldham no longer on board as producer, not quite “getting” what the Stones were up to, the band produced it along with engineer Glyn Johns and working over much of 1967, the songs making up side one (aka “Frontside”), including the sadly underrated and very now “Citadel;” Bill Wyman’s cheeky, Syd Barrett-esque “In Another Land” (complete with snoring); the countrified “2000 Man,” (including lyrics where Mick Jagger admits to loving his computer more than his woman – how prescient!) and the jammy reprise “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” well, it’s already worth the price paid at the record store, either in mono or stereo.

The contents of the 2017 reissue of The Rolling Stones' 1967 masterpiece Their Satanic Majesties Request. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

But it’s side two (aka “Backside”) that really grabs your attention. Multi-instrumentalist and creative force Brian Jones is far more represented here, having played his Mellotron on the”Frontside,” here and there.

Note the carnival barker intro on the “Backside,” leading into the flower-power pop of “She’s A Rainbow,” where Nicky Hopkins’ piano tinkling and Charlie Watts’ thundering drums just pound into your skull. The mono version is a little more primitive, percussively speaking. But that’s great!

With “The Lantern,” another unheralded Stones gem, Jones’s Mellotron brings it on, as Jagger sings about a “lantern” being used to contact the lover from the afterlife, “if you are the first to go.” Again, this comes from a similar, Rennaissance-folk place, not unlike the baroque ’66 track “Lady Jane,” featured on Aftermath.

Great lyrics on “The Lantern”: “You crossed the sea of night / Free from the spell of fright / Your cloak it is a spirit shroud / You’ll wake me in my sleeping hours / like a cloud …”

One of the absolute highlights of the “Backside” of Satanic Majesties is “Gomper,” where Brian Jones gets to do his “India meets the Arabian nights” thing with a sitar-like electric dulcimer played alongside Hopkins’ organ, Bill Wyman’s fretless bass, and, of course, Charlie Watts’s adequate tabla playing. This one is best heard while stoned.

Oh, andwouldn’t hear anything quite like “Gomper” from the Stones until the 1989 track “Continental Drift,” a bit of an ode to the late Brian Jones and his collaborations with Morocco's Master Musicians of Joujouka, Sufi-trance musicians, featured on Steel Wheels and a song I addressed in a 2012 Dust Devil Dreams piece called "Stones, Jones and 'Continental Drift.'

But then we get to “2,000 Light Years From Home.” Everything about this song is like an acid-fueled trip through the universe. Jagger wrote it while in jail, following his drug bust that year, and it captures a certain loneliness in the Summer of Love.

There were a few other psychedelic gems recorded by The Rolling Stones during this period – “Dandelion,” “We Love You” and “Child of the Moon,” which were on singles and not included on a proper studio album, sadly, as good as they are. We insist that you seek them out.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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