Monday 27 July 2009

The MONKEES: More Of The Monkees

(#48: 13 May 1967, 1 week; 27 May 1967, 1 week)

Track listing: She/When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door)/Mary, Mary/Hold On Girl/Your Auntie Grizelda/(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)/The Kind Of Girl I Could Love/The Day We Fall In Love/Sometime In The Morning/Laugh/I’m A Believer

Around this time the first, and only, single by the Soft Machine, “Love Makes Sweet Music,” was around, a song which the Monkees at their best could have recorded and which I’m sure they would love to have recorded (although the heavier sonic picture, bottomed out by Kevin Ayers’ diagonally descending bass, is perhaps more in keeping with the early work of the Guess Who). Not only was it fitting that Robert Wyatt’s next venture into 45 rpm pop some seven years later was a re-reading of “I’m A Believer,” but I was also put in mind of his characteristic “mouth music” vocal improvising while listening to the middle section of the Monkees’ own “Your Auntie Grizelda.” This was Peter Tork’s first major recorded contribution to the group’s work, as lead vocalist, and Tork probably gave the song the treatment it deserved; written as a derivĂ© of the Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” with (hopefully) deliberately ludicrous lyrics (“I know she’s having a fit! I know she doesn’t like me a bit!”) and a liberal spread of whole tones in its melodic topline, Tork literally chews up the song and spits it out anew. Over the long instrumental break he begins to scat, mimic, raspberry, bleat, and the effect is simultaneously disturbing and uplifting, as the rhetorical emphasis of the drummer’s tom toms seems to confirm. I am certain that the younger Wyatt would have heard it and loved it.

The B-side to “Love Makes Sweet Music” was the extraordinary “Feelin’, Reelin’, Squealin’” with Ayers’ gravedigger vocal holding the song down while all goes untethered around him, including the uncredited guitar of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix and his Experience were booked to support the Monkees on tour in the States in the spring of 1967 but it was a disaster, and it is probable that the manufactured outrage of the likes of the Daughters of the Revolution was a convenient trope for Hendrix to get off the tour (in contrast, Hendrix’s British package tour conducted at around the same time, in the unlikely company of Engelbert Humperdinck and the Walker Brothers, seemed to work far more effectively; indeed Hendrix went on record saying how much he learned about stagecraft and handling audiences from watching Humperdinck onstage from the wings). Still, it’s hardly surprising that by the middle of 1967 the Monkees wanted to be more where Hendrix was, at least in terms of credibility (and in the case of Dolenz and Tork wandering around that year’s Monterey Festival, they literally wanted to be where he was). They were apt to conclude their stage act of the time with a purposely “freak out” performance of “Steppin’ Stone” and were therefore naturally impatient with their would-be paymasters who wanted them to stay clean cut, wacky and neutral, or work them into the ground in attempting to do so.

More Of The Monkees is the first album in this tale to be was released against the artists’ express consent; indeed, the group didn’t know that their second album existed until a slightly shamefaced Don Kirshner presented them with copies, complete with its cover shot originally intended for a JC Penney’s advertising campaign. Dolenz and Jones shrugged their shoulders and resigned themselves to the way showbiz went, but Nesmith and Tork spoke out virulently against the record; they had been assured that the second Monkees album would have given them scope and space for their own material, their own voices. The record was effectively disowned by the band since it was mostly taken up with songs supposedly only ever intended for use in their TV series, and mostly recorded against the band’s will.

Side one, however, holds together pretty well in itself. “She” begins with a “Wild Thing”-referencing guitar dive before moving into interestingly-constructed pop, the deadpan steadiness of the organ balanced out by the vigorous tambourine rattling throughout the bridge. Its stop/start motions and its varying angles of vocal intensity – group “HEY!”s answered by Dolenz’s anguished “Yeah?” (“YEAH!”) and downhill ski ride of “SHEEEEEEE…..” – are reminiscent of Them’s “Here Comes The Night” as filtered through the Arthur Lee of Da Capo (again, writers Boyce and Hart were keen to reference Love and the Doors, as well as the Leaves – who also covered “Hey Joe” – as aesthetic markers; they were almost as anxious to be hip as the Monkees themselves). Set against that, Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer’s “When Love Comes Knockin’” is efficient but unspectacular Brill pop although it does at least locate Davy Jones in his real, relatively undemanding element.

Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary,” however, is still a knockout; immediate exposure to its breakbeat – one of the finest uses of the tambourine in all of pop – signals how right Run-DMC were to acknowledge it, in their 1988 reading, as a forebear of hip hop. Unlike many of the album’s tracks, which literally required the group to do nothing more than put down a vocal or guitar line on top of a backing track pre-recorded in New York and bussed into Hollywood with firm instructions to do it as Carole King or whoever did it on their demo, everyone here sounds committed, even happy. “Hold On Girl” is necessarily a lesser piece, but still notable in terms of the album’s increasingly strange deployment of Davy’s vocal leads; here we have a harpsichord streaking downhill and Jones’ bizarre tiptoe croon of “Help is on its way” accompanied by dramatic pauses, moments of minimalism, and then sudden onsets of Latin percussion and handclaps.

After the aforementioned “Auntie Grizelda,” we reach “Steppin’ Stone” – a song deemed, largely thanks to the fact that the song was one of the first the Sex Pistols ever learned to play, the Monkees’ “punk” record and still a snarlingly startling pre-emptive declaration of independence. Its steely-scissored organ drive probably owes more to the Seeds than the Doors – and both melody line and rhythm are in considerably greater debt to “Liar, Liar” by the Castaways – but as a pop record it remains spectacular, Dolenz providing one of his most ardently scything vocal performances as he growls and hisses about fashion magazines and public scenes. “No girl, not ME!” he yells, before whooping (again, proto-Iggy style) “WHOA!” as the band race into the uptempo dodgem-dodging section of the song.

So how could Nesmith dismiss an album which by the end of its first side can be argued to have presaged punk, hip hop and Robert Wyatt’s End Of An Ear as “the worst album in the history of the world”? Even given the circumstances of its creation, some evidence for this is audible on side two. Neil Diamond’s “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” is a fine side opener and continues the writer’s early stylistic trend of gospel-type song structures sometimes pressed into modest lyrical irony. “Oh, how I wish tomorrow would never coooooome!” sighs Davy in mock-ecstasy as he rides the tough chorus, and then cymbals, handclaps and organ combine to increase the arrangement’s intensity with the arrival of the second chorus, before ducking down again to allow Jones’ spoken whisper of “I love you…darling!” (N.B.: the bonus tracks on the CD edition of this album include a far superior alternate take complete with hilarious spoken commentary by Tork over the instrumental breaks. Also featured is a prototype, Tork-sung version of “I’ll Spend My Life With You,” later to appear on Headquarters, which is quite, quite beautiful, Peter taking the band right back to Greenwich Village) Nesmith’s “The Kind Of Girl I Could Love” refines the Latin/country fusion set out in “Papa Gene’s Blues,” the simmering fury of massed percussion and hissed cymbals supported by a furiously insistent tom tom beat (perhaps slightly influenced by, or influencing, the work of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich – though it’s hard not to think of what a living Buddy Holly might have been doing in early 1967 - and certainly with more than a tinge of “Love Is Strange” in its structure) and some guttural guitar work from James Burton and Glen Campbell.

“The Day We Fall In Love,” a spoken word and string section feature for Davy, however, is simply creepy. Intended by Kirshner to be “I Wanna Be Free ’67,” the track almost entirely lacks the gormless innocence of its predecessor and its staginess is rather embarrassing, even though Jones does get slightly endearing on lines like “Whether roses are blooming, or snowmen stand by” and there’s a moment of genuine stillness when a lead violin hiss seeps into the cavity of silence caused by Jones’ “Time will stop”; the overall effect is not one of poignancy, but similar to that of Peter Wyngarde’s “The Way I Cry Over You”; in other words, one wants to walk very carefully and quietly away from it, one stealthy step at a time, before vanishing from the speaker’s view and running like blazes, and the Monkees themselves appear to have been of a similar opinion. “Sometime In The Morning” is a flaccid, under par Goffin/King midtempo number – another of those ‘phoned-in backing tracks - with a markedly bored-sounding Dolenz vocal; it aspires to the airborne harmonic adventures of the Association but remains firmly grounded.

But “Laugh” was the straw that broke many backs. Written by four anonymous hacks, doubtless all graduates of the Mitch Miller Academy of Yellowing Bouncing Ball Wholesomeness and noticeably absent from Kirshner’s otherwise gushing sleevenote, this song provides an unwelcome antecedent to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and one can hear the hapless Monkees grinding their teeth trying to keep their countenance throughout this thankless shit. “It’s based on the beat. Ain’t that neat?” is as visionary as the lyric gets, and soon the band are reduced to “Ho, ha ha ha!” mirthless backing vocals as Davy manfully negotiates the locker of “When you can’t find your shoes to cover your feet” and has to utter the verb “chuckle,” the latter answered not only by the band’s “ha ha ha!”s but by the most sardonic floor tom roll to be heard this side of Levon Helm. After this, even the normally imperturbable Dolenz and Jones had had enough, and soon Kirshner and other Screen Gems yeasayers were shown the door; Kirshner retaliated by inventing a group that wouldn’t talk back or get uppity, namely the Archies.

“I’m A Believer” was used to flesh out and conclude the album and it is impossible for this writer to be objective about its power and friendly persuasion; I will content myself here by saying that for someone who always considered himself an actor first and musician second, Dolenz is one of the great sixties singers; on “Believer” he sounds renewed, confirmed, reborn, euphoric, and all of the record’s irreducible elements – the steamship calliope organ, Dolenz’s “Ohhhh!”s and “AaaaaaaAAAHH!”s, his dazed disbelief at the rediscovery of life, the rhythm’s easy swing, the subtle “Wipeout” quote in the central instrumental break, the kissing curls of that guitar figure, the released ecstasy of that final, crucial vocal octave leap – point to the kind of 1967 that its generation wanted.

But finally its generation wanted more than the Monkees. They finally gained control – of a sort – and gratifyingly saw the apocalyptic “Randy Scouse Git (Alternate Title),” the first Monkees single to be entirely written and performed by the band themselves, become their second biggest UK hit. Of their subsequent albums, Headquarters (#2 through July/August 1967) and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn And Jones (#5 through February/March 1968) are both superb and nearly faultless. Then their actual creators – Rafelson and Schneider; remember them? – got bored and decided to kill them off with the help of Jack Nicholson; Head, as both movie and soundtrack album, is neither a deathless classic nor an unmitigated disaster – nothing including “Porpoise Song” could ever be thought of as the latter – but the producers’ self-imposed drift would continue into the likes of Five Easy Pieces and The King Of Marvin Gardens. As for the Monkees, they slowly disintegrated and wandered off to invent MTV or Metal Mickey, breed racehorses or return to the folk club circuit; but grown-up nostalgia demanded a partial reunion in 1980 with the surprisingly effective and timely Pool It! comeback album. Since then they have intermittently come together for old times, sometimes with Nesmith but usually without, but unlike the Beatles or the Experience they have all survived, intact, as individuals. And, by virtue of their TV show, they managed to get Tim Buckley on peak-time television for one of the few times in his entire life. How could their sweetest music not be loved?

Monday 20 July 2009

The MONKEES: The Monkees

(#47: 4 February 1967, 7 weeks)

Track listing: (Theme From) The Monkees/Saturday’s Child/I Wanna Be Free/Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day/Papa Gene’s Blues/Take A Giant Step/Last Train To Clarksville/This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day/Let’s Dance On/I’ll Be True To You/Sweet Young Thing/Gonna Buy Me A Dog

Here is the point where I was originally intending to begin this tale. The initial notion was to undertake this exercise as a semi-formal but private blog to be read by my wife only, and to cover only those albums which have topped the chart during my wife’s lifetime. The Monkees’ debut album would have been the first “new” album to make number one in this period – just as “I’m A Believer” was the number one single at the time of Lena’s birth – and after some debate about whether or not to include The Sound Of Music (the album which actually was number one on the day she was born), we initially agreed for convenience’s sake to stick with the Monkees and proceed from there. However, following fuller and wider discussion with Lena and others, I felt that it would be no bad thing to open the concept up further and try to tackle the lot. So, almost a year after I embarked on this story, I have reached its “starting” point and certainly do not regret taking in the whole picture, since it has been educational in more ways than one. Moreover, I have done my best to minimise any “personal” or autobiographical content; readers curious about the latter are directed to any of my blogs listed under the “Previous Form” heading at the top of this page.

The Monkees, as a record, is a perhaps unexpectedly rich starting point for a lot of things. But, in the beginning, it is worth briefly considering the supposed evil that svengalis do (especially given the hidden “evil” scrambled amidst that word) and wondering whether all svengalis, in the music business or elsewhere, are necessarily puppetising demons. Although this is the first number one album of 1967, The Monkees is at its core a 1966 record, and already gives indications that among their supposed controllers, artists as well as artisans were at work.

There was, of course, another American-based group with a strange British member who were assembled by an arty svengali intent on stirring things up as well as making a living in 1966. That the Velvet Underground have gone on to be lionised and elder statesmenised was always going to be inevitable; but listening to Jimmy Bryant’s fiddle scraping dronefully away in perfect John Cale fashion throughout Mike Nesmith’s “Sweet Young Thing” is in itself enough to startle me into rethinking history. Moreover, the glockenspiel pacificity of Davy Jones’ “I’ll Be True To You” – a song previously a UK top ten hit for the Hollies in early 1965 under the title “Yes I Will” - complete with grave low register vocals and a moderately menacing spoken interlude, would, if sung by Nico, have long since been revered as a spacious classic.

But it is not easy or convenient to consider Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider in the same hall of glowering mirrors as Warhol, even though both had their uncommon ambitions. I am unsure whether they viewed the Monkees, as David Thomson has argued, as their Dada project, but both were frustrated aesthetes with a lot of time and money to spend on correcting the perceived deficit. Mickey Dolenz has recalled how, when he attended for his Monkees audition, he was faced with a room full of Coca-Cola bottles, behind which the impassive heads of Rafelson and Schneider were barely visible. He eyed both producers and bottles briefly before casually moving one of the bottles a little further down the row and announcing: “Checkmate.” The thinking was rightly light as well as lateral and the job was his.

There is no question that the early Monkees music bears a general lightness – though using arguably heavier arrangements and musical set-ups – which was increasingly becoming absent from the work of the Beatles, and that this was the light which drew a few of Larkin’s fabled Cavern cloakroom girls into the Monkees’ embrace; the light itself may have refracted back onto the Beatles, given the very marked lightness of their next major work. The Monkees’ music, however, has very little in common with that of the Beatles. Their theme song does have elements of “Can’t Buy Me Love”’s swing but owes considerably more to the Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can”; similarly, the ecstatic jumpcuts of the verses of “This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day” are clearly modelled on “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” and there is a case for “Clarksville” being a speeded-up, de-neuroticised “Ticket To Ride” (and, unlike “Ticket To Ride,” the song bears a gleam of hope in Dolenz’s “I’ve made your reservation” in its final verse).

Listening to The Monkees, however, suggests an entirely different approach to pop. In particular there is a definite folk-rock aspect to its dozen songs, but a different kind of folk-rock from that popularised by the Byrds; in Nesmith’s songs in particular there is more than a hint of what was shortly to come from Buffalo Springfield – as Stephen Stills narrowly missed the Monkees cut and Neil Young contributed guitar to some of the group’s later 1967 tracks, this is not entirely surprising. Equally, however, there are signs of a grander fusion; “Papa Gene’s Blues,” written and produced by Nesmith and featuring a stellar cast – James Burton, Glen Campbell and Tork himself (at Nesmith’s insistence) among the guitarists, Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon on drums, etc. – offers an unlikely paradigm for Latin-folk fusion with its busy, multidirectional percussion working alongside Nesmith’s so-laid-back-he’s-horizontal lead vocal. Nesmith’s voice is noticeably more boisterous on “Sweet Young Thing” and seems to be approaching the territory of Arthur Lee (though co-writing the song with Goffin and King, at the insistence of Don Kirshner, may account for his exhausted sigh at song’s end); indeed, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, then the group’s principal songwriters and producers, are on record as stating that they were seeking with the Monkees to emulate the sound of LA bands of the period such as Love and (thankfully not evident at all) the Doors.

The Monkees theme itself, of course, despite (or because of) its peremptory door-slamming tympani thud of an intro, is all about lightness of approach and mind; they’ve got something to say but in truth are not too bothered about whether you listen to them or not, as demonstrated by Dolenz’s fractured “ahhh…” into a strange, brief reverb/feedback interlude before the song resumes its frantic, key-chasing cheerleader strut, complete with finger snaps and cymbals on which vinegar could sizzle. Still, did any album of this period begin which as forcible a self-advertisement? They were quickly creating their own mythology, and the cartoon aspect is carried over into tracks like “Let’s Dance On,” in which Dolenz excitedly goes through the Pony/Jerk card while other voices whoop (“Wooh!”) around him, a harmonica blasts its way out of the furnace, Spector’s “Be My Baby” bass drum/tambourine pattern briefly muscles its way into the picture, Hart contributes an earsplitting Vox Continental solo, and the general punk jumparound and, above all, the concluding cry of “Hey hey hey HEY!” reveal the truth – here we are witnessing the embryo of the Ramones.

“Saturday’s Child” continues this modified strain of garage rock, with drums stumbling out of its choruses, luminous 6/8 guitar triplets, the disorientated “She looks at meeeee….” which slows down to a reeling pause before restarting, the very dirty guitar playing of one or two or all of Louie Shelton, Wayne Erwin and Gerry McGee (all outstanding throughout the album) and the momentary forgetting that the song was written by David Gates. In contrast, Jones tremulously fumbles his Peter Noone-waylaid-in-a-Bolton-side street choirboy way through the ballad “I Wanna Be Free,” slightly off pitch but very touching (particularly on the moving “Say you like me”) as harpsichord and string quartet couch his quiet distress. “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” bears some superficial resemblance to what the Stones were doing at that time – both bands were using RCA’s Hollywood studios – but the swampy guitar exchanges are of a different fibre to those of Brian and Keith, the harmonica slightly more buried in the mix and Dolenz’s self-swallowing echo on the word “day” not really related to any Stone masonry.

“Clarksville” was their first single, a US number one and a UK Top 30 entry (since its chart run preceded the BBC’s broadcasting of the TV series here), and Boyce and Hart’s clear Vietnam analogy arguably goes beyond anything the Beatles were prepared to declare at the time (compare with “Taxman” for proof). The bounce is more pronounced but Dolenz’s voice is forlorn, alternately demanding and whimpering; against the onomatopoeic vocal cascades of railway lines and descending showers of guitars in the song’s centre, Dolenz offers a hesitant “Oh!” followed by a pained “Ohhhhhhh…” which is abruptly shut off. He doesn’t know if anyone, including himself, is ever coming home. This was hardly a candy and rainbow antidote to “Eleanor Rigby.”

But “Take A Giant Step” and “This Just Doesn’t Seem…” take pop in entirely new directions. The first is another Goffin and King number – and, as demonstrated by “Goin’ Back,” etc., the couple were looking to stretch themselves at that time – but its arrangement veers alarmingly between near-silence and gigantic explosions. There are tender harpsichord and glockenspiel, Dolenz’s voice conversational but with a surreptitiously creeping rhythm undertowing it. “Let’s leave yesterday behind,” Dolenz sighs, to be answered by pealing bells of single note guitar, and then, as the track itself can’t quite believe where it is heading, the “…outside your mind” is a hesitant trigger for a swirl of tremolo atoms before the music fixates itself on intense tom tom rhythms over which backward guitars slide and fervid atonality blossoms into the track’s collapsed centre – this too ends suddenly before the song pulls back to its original form but in execution and intent it subtly approaches the radicalism of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

With “This Just Doesn’t Seem…” the rules (if indeed there were any in the first place) get cut loose into the Pacific Ocean as we witness bitonal Indian-style interludes – with a ‘cello acting as feedback – and the aforementioned, careering “I’ve Just Seen A Face”-type swoon, Davy in his element, before in turn becoming a proto-psych rock workout, the ‘cello still prominent, and then resolving with Jones’ dazed “Oh my, oh my” over a ticking clock. Whatever Bobby Hart’s day band the Candy Store Prophets sounded like, this sounds like prophecy of a different order.

The album ends as only this album could; everyone from Kirshner on down realised “Gonna Buy Me A Dog” was a joke of a song and so the “goof” version was selected over the “straight” reading. Starting out as a lumbering 12-bar blues, Dolenz initially attempts to deliver the lyrics with a straight a face as is permissible, but Jones is soon distracting him: “You’re gonna need all the friends you can get, I’m telling you,” he grins, and Dolenz loses his countenance. “I can’t teach your dog to do that!” he giggles, while Jones snickers about the need to “train elephants” (a reference to Dolenz’s previous life as the juvenile star of the TV series Circus Boy). Comparable with the Velvets’ “Temptation Inside Your Heart” (though recorded two years earlier), the track eventually collapses in hilarious chaos, Dolenz’s offhanded “yeah, yeah”s balancing out Jones’ cries of “Can someone open the door and let us out? We’ve been in the studio far too long!” and recitation of increasingly absurd dance crazes. Too busy singing to put anybody down, generously overlooking the funniest looks they get, an uncaring cheerfulness that should never be confused with not caring, The Monkees revolves us into a 1967 dawn of perfect sunshine, the ideal introduction to all the colour to follow. What a world to be born into.

Monday 13 July 2009

The BEATLES: Revolver

 (#46: 13 August 1966, 7 weeks)

Track listing: Taxman/Eleanor Rigby/I’m Only Sleeping/Love You To/Here, There And Everywhere/Yellow Submarine/She Said She Said/Good Day Sunshine/And Your Bird Can Sing/For No One/Dr Robert/I Want To Tell You/Got To Get You Into My Life/Tomorrow Never Knows

“Evading any form of literal interpretation, Rothko's huge, indistinct, darkly vibrant blocks of colour are all about feeling and transcendence, about things beyond words.”
(Richard Williams, “Sounds Like Mark Rothko,” The Guardian, 1 February 2002)

“You should tell him that indistinctness is my forte.”
(JMW Turner)

Over the weekend we visited Tate Britain; for Lena this was an especial pleasure as she had not visited it since 1988, when it was still the solitary Tate Gallery. The current creative rejig of the gallery’s Turner stock centres upon direct comparisons with Turner’s late flow(er)ing work and Rothko’s Seagram murals. Looking at both sets of paintings anew (as is always the case every time I revisit them, in whatever setting or order), a presumably very facile point of comparison sprung into my mind. The point of disturbance in the otherwise unrelenting red and black m(or)ass of the Seagram appears in two examples; in one, there are not quite faint tinges of sky blue over which the black paint seems to have been applied particularly aggressively. The impression is of someone screamingly anxious to evade and erase the light of the day, the outside world, to imprison himself in their tormenting but secure world. In another there is what looks like daylight, purplish, but with such scrambled indistinctness that the light seems three dimensional, alive, challenging.

Whereas in Turner’s late seascapes in particular the painting is always directed towards this central beacon of light, indistinct but never harshly so. The details are scored down to a minimum of perceptibility – the crowds, the cliffs, are felt rather than explicitly explained – and all leads to this light, even the two-in-one reversible seascape (turn it upside down and it tells you the same story, or a parallel one). This world welcomes the light into its fibres, indeed cannot seem to function or even exist without it. Where Rothko’s world is all red and black, Turner’s is shiny and yellow.

In his cover collage for Revolver, Klaus Voormann – an old pal of the group from their Hamburg days, then playing bass with Manfred Mann – details the Beatles’ world as a black and white one, but its jumble is a challenge on account of its cheerful solemnity. The album itself – think of that title for a moment; a revolver can mean a long playing record, or the axis of gravity, or a gun – seems better equipped than most to embody both of the worlds described above. Turner’s cynosure of revelatory light is “the void” into which Lennon happily tumbles in “Tomorrow Never Knows” (so much so that the song was originally titled “The Void”). The Rothko darkness reflects Eleanor Rigby, or the self-denying, defeated protagonist of “For No One”; worlds carefully and deliberately sealed off from the outside; the dissolvable crowds cheering at Turner’s Portsmouth Harbour represent the hallucinatory coach parties of “Yellow Submarine.” Or it may simply be the case that Revolver presents fourteen different ways of looking at the world, every one of them wanting to make the world different, or invisible, or irrelevant.

In other ways, even before we penetrate the cover of Revolver and reach for the record, the Beatles are now definitively announcing themselves as somehow above the rest of us, while simultaneously sitting right by us. Voormann’s huge, rockface sketches of the four faces resemble a pop Rushmore – an allegory aided further by Lennon’s remarkable resemblance to Abraham Lincoln in his central snapshot – and the glum, bean counting “one, two, three, four”s which kick off “Taxman,” and the album as a whole, contrasts sharply with the throwaway time beginning of the “1-2-3-4!” which introduced “I Saw Her Standing There” just over three years previously.

Readers will have noticed the quite staggering speed at which this tale is currently progressing; we are now only a baker’s dozen of entries away from Summer Holiday but the world seems to have sped up to a point barely comprehensible; already we have arrived at Revolver, and it seems indecent that a year as abundant in radical long playing records as 1966 should only be touched upon twice (although most of these will be mentioned in more than passing as the story progresses), not to mention the fact that the rapid pace of this survey is in inverse proportion to the slow movement predominant in the album charts of the mid-sixties. Still, the speed seems to suit Revolver; the shaded back cover group portrait (with George bearing an uncanny resemblance to Keith Richards) helps nail it down as the Beatles’ “Mod” record, even if “Taxman” is its only really obvious link to that movement.

Ah, yes, “Taxman,” for many years this listener’s personal barrier to identifying Revolver as the best Beatles album. Musically it whacks the Pickett/Dorsey stop-start strut of “The Word” into narrower trousers; the track is almost bare save for McCartney’s juddering bass riff (and his subsequent psychogeometric guitar outburst) and was one of the most ferocious and unforgiving tracks the group had so far laid down. But while the notion of starting a Beatles album with a George composition was an admittedly pretty radical one, his sourly griping lyric and delivery are not in keeping with a helpful or useful revolution; the late Steven Wells summed it up, not entirely unreasonably, as saying, “Why should we pay for the upkeep of schools and hospitals when we could just shove it up our noses?” Instead of 1963’s four cheery chaps, here are a quartet of 1966 grumps holed up in Weybridge and Esher, moaning about the top rate of income tax to the pinched strains of Hefti’s Batman theme. Then again, Harrison has a go, however grudgingly, at both Wilson and Heath so as not to make the song sound like a Tory election manifesto, and it is arguable that the song’s mean spiritedness is gradually undermined by what happens on the remainder of the album.

And why, of all couplings, were “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” released as a double A-side single two months after Revolver came out, in direct contravention of accepted record company policy of the period? Partly it was because EMI needed a single and the group was then in the middle of an extended break following their retirement from touring and therefore without any new material to hand. But the nearness of the two songs helped demonstrate in microcosm the dichotomy that Revolver was trying to unravel; the division between hiding from the world (which results in death, either physical or mental) or deciding to join the world (which results in life, in all of its stripes). Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie live for nothing because they do not meet until it is too late; Rigby because she has cut herself off from the world so fully and definitively, McKenzie because no one listens to his sermons since religion has lost its meaning – some people in 1966, not necessarily excluding John Lennon, supposed the Beatles to be “bigger” than Jesus. Neither has the ability to communicate directly with the world as a whole, and the only memorial to either is McCartney’s song, with his unusual Home Counties-accented “lonely,” and the strings remorselessly scraping away, suggesting either Rigby placing her face back in the jar or McKenzie gloomily – or indifferently - sweeping away the dirt from the grave; something about the speed of their sweep also subliminally suggests Herrmann’s music for Psycho. As with “Yesterday,” climactic poignancy is reached with a prolonged high A over (the first half of) the final verse on lead violin (performed by the same violinist, Sidney Sax), though this too is brushed away by the brisk, matter-of-fact 4/4 and the final, coldly rationalist five downward steps into nothing.

“Yellow Submarine,” in contrast, could only have been given to Ringo to sing; its dead end is a more colourful one than anything Rigby could have dreamed up but it is happy, embracing, inclusive; the drinks party plays like the introduction to Cliff’s 21 Today gone seriously askew, Brian Jones and Marianne Faithfull clink glasses, everyone sings along and (through the assorted sound effects and brass band clip) George Martin introduces sampling to the world of number one singles. Isn’t this, the song cries, far more attractive a future than the no future we described on the other side? Furthermore, thanks to his lyric suggestion of “sky of blue, sea of green,” Donovan makes his long overdue debut in this story (see the latter’s 1968 McCartney-produced “Atlantis” for the sequel).

Meanwhile, in Lennon’s world, “I’m Only Sleeping” – some people think he’s bonkers but Lennon clearly doesn’t. Musically a development from “Girl,” in every other sense an immense step forward, Lennon floats upstream in innocuous ignorance of whatever the world – any world – might demand of him (a state of mind, as with so many stated on this record, not unconnected with Lennon’s then-recent introduction to LSD). Another track bearing the clear influence of Ray Davies, Lennon takes it slowly and sneakily; the chilling tinge of backwards Harrison guitar which answers Lennon’s “touch of speed,” McCartney’s dutiful, Boswellesque bass pauses, the unexpected jumpcut from the middle eight’s “taking my time” back to the verse, and the fast gat that concludes the track (and links it directly to the next) – nothing here is “as played on stage”; every move a trompe l’oeil.

Harrison follows with his second number, and his first Indian-flavoured Beatles song, “Love You To.” Recorded with members of the North London Asian Music Circle, and concomitant with important records such as the John Mayer/Joe Harriott Double Quartet’s Indo-Jazz Fusions – it is possible that some musicians played on both – the track signals Harrison’s increasing withdrawal from the banality of everyday “love” towards something more universal. “You don’t get time to hang a sign on me,” he sighs, still defiant. Lines like “love me while you can” suggest a mutation of the blues far beyond what the Stones or Mayall could visualise at the time. “Wake up all day long,” he dreamily chants in direct riposte to Lennon’s eternal sleeping, “Wake up singing songs.” Finally, he climaxes: “I’ll make love to you…if you want me to,” at which point the song speeds up from slow to a very bodily fast gat; perhaps the definition of “universal” here still has its roots in the earthy.

McCartney’s “Here, There And Everywhere” is likewise not quite as straightforward as it appears, with its author’s thin thirties croon (and the song’s old fashioned preface). Usually acknowledged as the point on Revolver where the Beatles meet the Beach Boys, it would not be quite correct to detect specific signs of a Pet Sounds influence (especially as that album had not yet been released while Revolver was being recorded), but the harmonies – particularly the descending ones heard in the final verse - and general air of disturbed stillness are clearly redolent of songs such as “In My Room” and “The Warmth Of The Sun.” Moreover, McCartney’s lyric moves almost imperceptibly from the first person (“Running my hands through her hair”) to a strange, unaccountable third person (“Someone is speaking, but she doesn’t know he’s there”). Structurally the song is immaculate, its quietly disturbing minor scale arch recalling both “Michelle” and the raga; Emmylou Harris would go on to record the definitive version of the song in 1976, every element a separate star connected in a convivial sky.

Lennon’s “She Said She Said” occasions the need to call up one of those crucial 1966 albums, Fifth Dimension by the Byrds, since this was another song inspired by a session (this time involving LSD and a disturbing Peter Fonda) with McGuinn and Crosby. Anticipating R.E.M. and the Paisley Underground as a whole by a generation, the song’s stuttering conversational nature dictates the paths of its melody; the diving refrain of “she said, I know what it’s like to be dead” suggests a ghostly conference with Eleanor Rigby, but the song’s gears constantly shift as Lennon’s mind wanders, most noticeably to the pained “When I was a BOY, everything was ALL RIGHT” – and Lennon would soon return to his childhood memories to fuel some of his greatest work.

McCartney begins side two with “Good Day Sunshine.” While the Lennon of “I’m Only Sleeping” stiffly admits dawn before abruptly dismissing it, McCartney welcomes in the rays, as evinced in the song’s introductory slow awakening of a low register piano/guitar throb. Inspired directly by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit “Daydream” – and recorded in the same week as “Sunny Afternoon,” in which the Kinks managed to fuse the disinterest of “I’m Only Sleeping” with “Good Day Sunshine”’s jolly barrelhouse canter, with a soupcon of “Taxman” real world cynicism added on the side – “Sunshine” jaunts down its lane with enviable confidence. Even McCartney’s “Burn my feet as they touch the ground” doesn’t come across as amiss.

Thereafter Lennon takes up the reigns again with “And Your Bird Can Sing,” the starting point for Big Star and power pop in general, and maybe also for Lindsey Buckingham – the cunning acidity of Lennon’s vocal and guitar work in particular – in which Lennon begins to subvert the whine of “Taxman” (“When your prized possessions start to bring you down”) and assert a new lightness and simplicity of approach. This is followed by the mainstream darkness of McCartney’s “For No One”; meanwhile, in this other, “straight” world, she’s finished with him and he wanders desolately up and down his snakes and ladders board, looking for a reason or resolution, but the song’s maze-like structure defeats him every time. As with Eleanor Rigby, he will not recover – “You stay in. She goes out,” intones McCartney in one of his most knowingly dispassionate vocal performances – and maybe he turns into Father McKenzie (closeted cloisters summoned up by Alan Civil’s magnificently irrelevant French horn figure).

Lennon again sweeps all of this desolation away with the acerbic “Dr Robert,” the closest Revolver comes to the Monkees, where he has a pre-emptive go at the snake oil salesman he is already feeling that Timothy Leary really is, including the mock solemnitude of the harmonium-underscored “Well, well, well” like stranded penguins impersonating Flanders and Swann; but, as with “And Your Bird Can Sing,” the song’s swing is so irresistible – Harrison masterfully, if unexpectedly, fusing Ravi Shankar and Chet Atkins in his guitar work - that the meaning is communicated directly through its undeniable good humour.

“I Want To Tell You” was an unprecedented third George song on the same album and shows him already to be reaching out somewhat further than either Lennon or McCartney was prepared to do at the time, not in terms of music – though the repeated dissonant piano figures (played by McCartney) in the verses are disturbing enough – but in the wider scale of outlook; can he commit to love? Who, indeed, is he? “I don’t mind…I could wait forever…I’ve got TIME!” George declares as Oriental curlicues descend. The Motown handclaps are almost surreal in their juxtaposition, and as George works out who he is, constantly changing the perspective – at the same time as a bored Irish-American actor was beginning work, on the coast of North Wales, on a television series concerning the elusive nature of identity and self – McCartney accelerates his upper register piano work until the track sounds like Varese acupuncture.

The track leads directly, if improbably, into McCartney’s own “Got To Get You Into My Life,” his attempt at Holland-Dozier-Holland – although it should be noted that, by the composers’ own admission, the rhythmic arrangement of “Where Did Our Love Go?” was directly inspired by the Dave Clark Five’s “Bits And Pieces,” and indeed McCartney’s voice is hoarse and passionate enough to stand comparison with the DC5’s Mike Smith. Though Lennon later went on record as saying he reckoned that the song was about McCartney wanting to try LSD, the song’s open embrace of life, its desperate enthusiasm, sweeps away so many cobwebs, as does the sterling five-man horn section work, led by trumpeter Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton (later of Aswad, among many, many other enterprises) whose orgasmic high C on the point of fadeout suggests paradise regained.

Then we reach the final track, and the world comes apart, or, more accurately, reunites.

The practice for the release of Revolver was to issue out two or three tracks at a time to radio stations. As with the album, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was deliberately left until last (although it was in fact the first song recorded for the album). The experience of the nascent listener in 1966 can only, from my perspective, be imagined; suffice it to say that it was a very long way away from “She Loves You” and yet in other ways no way away from it at all.

The first thing to say is that “Tomorrow Never Knows” could not have existed without Ringo – he came up with the title, and his drumming holds the whole structure together. Anyone still labouring under the illusion that Ringo was no good as a drummer should listen to his work on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and be lifelong corrected. Insistent, yet strangely relaxed; forceful, but never overpowering, even though it sounded like the universe reshaping itself for a rebirth. Out front – or wherever planet or Himalayan mountaintop he’s radioing in from – Lennon cuts up Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience and The Tibetan Book Of The Dead to reassure us that it is all illusion and that revelation is the only revolution that’s real. As his vision unfurls, the elements of the album all seem to converge into its central “void”; elements from McCartney’s “Taxman” solo, fugitive seagulls from “Yellow Submarine,” sitars, Mellotrons, backwards, reeled over, linked up live in the studio, and it is like some Northern/Eastern equivalent of Spencer’s The Resurrection, Cookham; Eleanor Rigby and the jilted lover are resuscitated (“It is not dying!”), the world reforms itself in a newly and more easily revolving shape. The upstream float of “I’m Only Sleeping” is superseded by the “relax and float downstream” of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and – George Martin’s final coup on an album of collaborative coups – the whole ends with the receding piano figure from the Goons’ “I’m Walking Backwards For Christmas” (and some reports state, if not MacDonald, that the piano part was played by Peter Sellers himself), the producer putting renewed vigour into those production ideas he’d come up with a decade earlier to accommodate Milligan’s world. There is some evidence of Who attack, but the overriding influence on the track is the Beatles’ own “Ticket To Ride”; the drone, the drums, are all accentuated and expanded here, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” became their key to the new kingdom; in now come Stockhausen (but don’t forget Joe Meek) and Cage (and the young Steve Reich), in (but of course!) comes India, and in comes a vision for which even the rest of 1966 hadn’t been prepared. The Beatles were now the mountain, and we were the awestruck monks at its foot, ready to worship and perhaps even to chant, however indistinct the words might at first seem.

Monday 6 July 2009


(#45: 30 April 1966, 8 weeks)

Track listing: Mother’s Little Helper/Stupid Girl/Lady Jane/Under My Thumb/Doncha Bother Me/Goin’ Home/Flight 505/High And Dry/Out Of Time/It’s Not Easy/I Am Waiting/Take It Or Leave It/Think/What To Do

A lifetime or two after the event, the wonder is how the Beatles and the Stones were ever set up as “rivals” when they were clearly on such different paths. Admittedly, the development of Jagger and Richards as songwriters wouldn’t have happened, or at the very least would have slowed down immensely, without Oldham buttonholing them, and all three were inspired by the example that Lennon and McCartney had set, but the Stones’ first album to consist entirely of original Jagger/Richards compositions shows little sign of any particular awareness of the Beatles, let alone any direct competition with them.

Except, perhaps, that the Stones were always keen to come off as a little darker than the Fabs. The cover of Aftermath sees them (and the Decca logo) drenched in radioactive purple, miraculously preserved; Wyman deadpan (and resembling a young Graham Gouldman), Watts cautiously grinning, Jones looking askance in terror at the impassive faces of the two men who had taken the group he had formed and named and led them somewhere else, nearly out of his reach.

I am mindful that Patti Smith, along with innumerable others, begins here but also that the version of Aftermath that she got was the American one with the single “Paint It, Black” substituting for “Mother’s Little Helper” as opener and “Goin’ Home” left until the end. Still, the Stones weren’t about album track sequencing alone and wouldn’t have been worth anyone’s bother if they had been; what mattered was that unweddable Mick n’ Keith purple, the remnant residuals of threat and menace, the hitherto unspeakable sensuality that sometimes overrides what to many observers still reads like unrepentant misogyny. But then again, as Smith perceptively notes, Jagger spends the records talking women down, pretending that he can dominate them, thereby revealing a subliminal will to be dominated, such that his Other finally becomes his “queen.” And sometimes, in certain Americas of certain 1965s, it was refreshing to the point of orgasm to see and hear someone unambiguously howling the reverse of anything Anita Bryant or Pat Boone could throw at their coweringly obedient subjects.

For this reason it’s a pity that “Mother’s Little Helper” wasn’t retained as the album’s opening track in the States – possibly its vaudevillian graveyard strut and innate Britishness were untranslatable, but substitute the word “graveyard” and those qualities would sum up Herman’s Hermits’ two US chart toppers from this period – since the song directly attacks what one might term the Stones’ anti-constituency; those who didn’t swing into line with the coming of the New Sixties Thing, who clung onto fifties or even forties behavioural notions of community, who were still paralysed by fear of falling, or poverty, or institutionalised sexism; the helpless housewives slowly killing themselves with tranquilisers as Housewives’ Choice competed with the Hoover for volumatic brain occupation. Richards’ opening guitar drone recedes into the foreground of the song’s intro in reverse as Jagger hisses, not entirely unhappily, “What a drag it is getting old.” Clearly inspired by Ray Davies’ character studies and song structures (“A Well Respected Man” in particular), “Helper” has little of the succour of the redeeming love that Davies has for his characters, however reprehensible they may be; Jagger seems to be revelling in the woman’s slow and steady decline as an ugly tongue of Leslie cabinet guitar sticks, Cossack red, out into the song’s fibres. The song itself appears to be played inwardly with elastic bands for guitar strings and a general, troublesome, lo-fi, skitty, skiffly rattle which reminded Lena of the Fall’s “Rowche Rumble” (a song not unrelated in terms of subject matter and the songwriter’s attitude towards his main character). And note that climactic “Oi!” directly after Jagger relishes the suicide’s demise. This was clearly not going to be a friendly, face-licking album.

The defence for the likes of “Stupid Girl” and “Under My Thumb” has tended to be that the Stones, faced with the spectres of the Who, the Animals and the reverse of their own coin, the Pretty Things, were forced to toughen up their act in order to keep their core (mainly teenage male) following and that the primary purpose of songs like these was to undermine and (with any luck) demolish the tired Denmark Street tropes of moon, June, cooing and inevitable/irreversible happy endings in the popular song rather than to have a go at women as such. My own feeling on re-hearing both “Stupid” and “Thumb” is that either could have been retitled “You Don’t Fancy Me, Then?” and that this is, as several intervening decades have since proved, simply a case of Jagger being Jagger. Still, both songs are musically inventive enough; Ian Stewart’s Booker T tribute of an organ pumps satisfyingly throughout “Stupid” and with Jagger’s increasingly hysterical putdowns – “She’s the worst thing in this world…yeah” (that “yeah” so languid you could place a teabag in it and drink it), “She pushes (or did I just hear “pusses”?) back,” “She’s the SICKEST thing in this world” – we are reminded not only of Iggy but also, a dozen years early, of the Elvis Costello of This Year’s Model. Their “Thumb” must be one of the few unfriendly songs to feature marimbas, though its slightly too dragging post-Motown undertow made it an unsurprising candidate (via Wayne Gibson’s cover, eventually a UK Top 20 hit single in 1974) for the Northern Soul treatment; still, I prefer and relish Tina Turner’s rendition of the same song onstage, directed fiercely and firmly at Ike and all others who would have sought to crush her.

In between these two songs we are faced with the ghostly – as in starved-sounding - “Lady Jane,” a dowdy Dowland derivĂ© which would have been comical had it not been for Jagger’s deadly seriousness of delivery and Jones’ deathlike harpsichord to render it into ice. Unthinkable from the Stones even 12 months previously, the song – an ode to, and lament on behalf of, marijuana – indicates with sweet starkness the general (virtually daily) raising of musical standards which 1966 appeared to demand from its leading practitioners; one can easily visualise their peers listening to the first four tracks of Aftermath, jaws irrevocably agape, for whatever varying reasons. Much more subtly and deeply than the easy shocks of “Helper,” “Lady Jane” already appears to see the car crash towards which it knows its decade to be heading.

As if slightly taken aback themselves, the group then retreat into R&B. “Doncha Bother Me” would be a routine workout except for Jagger’s self-accusatory cries of “Tryin’ to get high! Oh! NO!!” and especially Watts’ drumming work; he alternates between knitting needle stick inserts and violent cymbal and tom tom assaults, and the closing extended hiss of cymbals which seem to be drawing all of the oxygen out of Jagger is genuinely terrifying.

I will return to “Goin’ Home” later as it is the record’s clear, if initially unpromising, centrepiece (and major setpiece). Suffice it to say here, however, that the general standard of side one of Aftermath is so dramatically high – at least, musically – that the Stones may have been baffled about how to equal it on side two. Although there was no film to accompany Aftermath, its second side has the distinct flavour of “and other songs” and these songs’ main interest lies in observing how the Stones were developing as musicians rather than any intrinsic worth.

“Flight 505” is a semi-absurd shaggy dog story about a bored man who decides for no good reason to board a ‘plane. Yet its intro – distant piano jangling out the “Satisfaction” riff – gives the impression of “not quite here,” in a parallel but different world (as do the intros to several of the other tracks); so many echoes, too many living ghosts? Thereafter, however, the band quickly settle into a tough Motown groove, though the song itself is a straightforward post-Berry rocker; the performance itself is superb, clearing the ground for the great Stones rockers of their ’68-’72 purple patch, and Jagger is demonstrably having fun singing it. There are disturbing, infrequent blasts of fuzzed bass from Wyman – indicating trouble ahead – and a fabulous web of interweaving Jones/Richard guitar lines before the inevitable comedown of the flight into the sea. Jagger greets his own imminent demise with amused resignation; Wyman and Watts bring the song down to land with an ironic aquamarine bump.

“High And Dry” too looks forward to the goofball slacking of Exile (and is the ancestor of things like “Faraway Eyes”); a jaunty Surrey jug band stomp with gravelly harmonica, Watts’ subtly backward cymbals and Jagger mewling about nothing much. Their “Out Of Time,” however, is overlong – five and a quarter minutes – and rather pedestrian. Quieter than Chris Farlowe’s hit version and with marimbas replacing Mike Leander’s parodic baroque string arrangement, the song stretches out a little more (Jagger’s hapless baby now also being “discarded” as well as “obsolete” and “old fashioned”) but simply plods on for too long, Richards’ crisp guitar accents give the track a reggae feeling (and the acoustic guitar strokes irritate in the manner of impatient daggers), although the song’s structure owes much more to the Brill Building. “Sing the song!” squeaks a mirthless Jagger halfway through, and it’s clear how much Farlowe made the song pop; Andy White’s exuberant drumming, Joe Moretti’s lovely little Spanish guitar improvisation under the second verse, Leander’s bells, bass trombone and baritone sax, and above all Farlowe’s passionate, Springsteen-anticipating vocal – all of these combined to make it the perfect number one for World Cup week, a desperately triumphant V-sign to the past, to the war, a gasping embrace of the future and above all nowness.

“It’s Not Easy” is initially hilarious on account of Jagger’s attitude; his offhand “…living on your own,” his Dylan (“Hard Rain”) parody in his limp carrot of a “and it’s…haaaaaard,” and another swipe at his ex’s “stately home.” But the track steadily increases in intensity and by its end Jagger is raging and hissing his “haaaaaard”s. “I Am Waiting” is a slightly wan exercise in quiet/loud alternation, its folky ballad template, dominated by Jones’ deadpan dulcimer, and its hushed meditations (“Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere”) alternating with harsh rock attack, driven by the echoing footsteps of Watts’ floor toms.

“Take It Or Leave It” provides the only reasonably obvious sign of Beatles (in particular, Lennon) influence, though is far more markedly influenced by the ballad style of Roy Orbison, even if the Big O would have avoided the adolescent trapdoor of melting butter that is Jagger’s “it’s just my li-ii-yi-i-ife.” Once again Jones provides a subtle dulcimer (or possibly sitar) undertow, although the song’s overly casual construction is betrayed by the sloppy backing vocals which drown it out at fadeout. “Think” is a makeshift R&B thud, distinguished only by Richards’ snarling guitar refrain and more desperation on Jagger’s part; towards the fadeout he furtively cries “What about last year?” “What To Do,” meanwhile, takes the album out with its C&W lope, and here we find the boys still attempting to get out of Richmond; Jagger’s “nothing to do”s and “nowhere to go”s reminded Lena of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and even if the track didn’t feature on the US edition of Aftermath its sentiments would have immediately been understood by the thousands of garage bands who sprung up as a result of the Stones’ existence. Even so, it’s curious to hear Jagger taking out a song of desired escape with the lament “no way home” (accompanying his “sick and tired”) – again, seeing the signpost to 1969 ahead of anyone else.

The subject matter, however, inevitably leads me back to “Goin’ Home” (and not quite “back to Richmond”). The track starts off as an entirely generic 12-bar workout and indeed would have stayed that way had Oldham not persuaded engineer and sleevenote author Dave Hassinger to keep the tapes running. Even in its initial form piano and harmonica echo at each other like winding ghosts in the most forlorn corners of an abandoned mansion house, but once the song itself has been dealt with, Wyman switches to a one-note bassline and the real interest starts. Jagger starts to examine his little ad lib slurps and hiccups and mould them into an alien sculpture whose shape grows increasingly ominous. Watts’ drums do a sidestep before he and Wyman double the tempo. Gradually this Animals-ish blues number metamorphoses into a raga; even if Jagger’s “AL-right! AL-right! AL-right!,” together with the subsequent passage of foot stomping, directly predicate Noddy Holder and Slade (see “Gudbuy T’Jane” for proof), the embryos being created here seem to involve the Velvets’ “Sister Ray” and, of course, Patti Smith, as is inescapably evident in Jagger’s barks, hisses and whoops, all underlined by a curious but logical patience in the face of immolating fury. Both Richards and Jones harass Jagger, increase in volume and comment depth, hit back. On occasion Wyman switches to strobe bass, a humming throb predating Pink Floyd and Acid House. In amongst all this there are strange throwbacks to Stax in Jagger’s asides – “Sweet, sweet love,” “Sha la la.” The track eventually crouches down to meet Richards’ reverberating triple stroke chords before Jagger whips everyone back up with his “COME ON!” Wyman’s bass now begins to rove freely. “I’m gettin’ OUT!” howls Jagger with no small glee. Finally, and with welcome inevitability, the track drifts out of tonality, even as Jagger roars “MAKE SO SWEET!” Richards signs off with a crocodile rasp of a guitar kiss. At a shade over 11½ minutes “Goin’ Home” is the first of the great extended Stones setpieces and sees them finally cutting loose from the Beat Boom dummy into something they hadn’t even imagined before. It is arguable that the source of the real Stones innovations in 1966 lies in the extraordinary triptych of singles they released that year – “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Paint It, Black” and “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow?,” possibly the most extreme run of singles to be released by any artist in that year of extremes; and, though still a huge advancement for the group, Aftermath ultimately remains a curate’s egg of an album – the cake is still not quite fully baked, but, as will be expressly demonstrated by the Stones’ next entry in this tale, the cake will eventually emerge, fully formed and glorious.