Disappointing Albums, Music

51 disappointing albums: ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ by The Rolling Stones

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Each week TONY THOMPSON discusses a ‘disappointing album’: why it’s disappointing, what that means in the context of the band or musician’s career, and what that says about changing critical tastes.

One thing must be made clear,” he says, this is not a series about terrible albums. They might be disappointing, but they are records that you need to hear.

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You can probably think of more disappointing albums than this one. Hell, you can probably think of more disappointing Stones albums. But this album has to appear in this column if for no other reason than the Stones themselves find it so disappointing.

Keith called it a ‘pile of crap’ or some such in his book, Life. Jagger has some affection for She’s A Rainbow apparently but remains immune to the charms of Gomper. Go figure! It was certainly disappointing at the time and widely seen as an attempt to replicate a Sgt Pepper-style concept record. The thing about a concept album, of course, is that it needs a concept and the Stones were too busy dealing with reality to have time for metaphysics.

Even by their usual standards, 1967 was a lively year. No sooner was Between The Buttons released then the Redlands bust happened. I won’t run through all the probably-not-so-sordid details, but we can assume that making an ambitious psychedelic soundscape was pretty far down on the list of priorities in its wake.

It was a good idea, and one that they might have executed with great flair, had they not been in jail and/or shagging each other’s girlfriends in Morocco.

Mick and Keith were facing serious time in the penalty box so they headed off to Morocco, as one does. Brian and his girlfriend Anita went too but Brian got sick in Spain. Anita and Keith found true love in the Jemaa el-Fnaa and Brian was unimpressed. His position in the Stones had been on shaky ground for some time and, yes, this is a long story. Try Zachary Lazar’s novel Sway for a zesty account.

By the time Mick had been compared to a butterfly on a wheel in the newspaper, and Keith had told a judge that his petty morals didn’t interest any of the Stones, the concept, if there ever had been one, was lost.

Bill Wynam saw opportunity in the chaos and recorded his first ever lead vocal and one of three Bill Perks originals recorded by the band. Somehow In Another Land was released as a single and rushed up the charts to number 87. But it’s not a bad song at all and sits very nicely among the other freak beat numbers on the album.

Did I mention that the Stones were in the process of parting ways with their manager and ‘producer’, Andrew Loog Oldham? This was the last album where he had any input. If you really don’t like this album, you can appreciate the fact that someone who heard it said ‘enough is enough’ and pointed them towards the god of studio thunder, Jimmy Miller. The follow up, Beggars Banquet, is a masterpiece. Nothing disappointing about it at all. The four or five albums that followed it aren’t too bad either.

So Their Satanic Majesties Request would have been the end of an era if it had sounded like a natural extension of Between the Buttons. Instead, it represents its own era. The Lantern, one of the stronger tracks, points forward in some small measure. Nicky Hopkins’ piano work and the little snatches of slide guitar would have found a place on Beggars or even Let It Bleed. Citadel, a great favourite among garage rock folks, is as close as they ever got to sounding like all the proto punk bands they inspired in the first place. If it had appeared on Nuggets, it would be another of those ‘lost’ classics that have proved so enduring. It’s sloppy, noisy, and glorious.

Why is it disappointing?

It’s a mess, as all of the Stones, even Brian, acknowledged at one time or another. It was a good idea, and one that they might have executed with great flair, had they not been in jail and/or shagging each other’s girlfriends in Morocco.

I suspect that if Brian had been in better shape, this could have been the Stones record where his eclecticism came into the spotlight. Instead, we got Gomper, a pretentious attempt to be Pink Floyd that falls flat on its face. Sing This All Together is hard work too. It starts promisingly with jagged electric guitar but descends into a jam session that might pass for free jazz if it didn’t sound like high school kids on mushrooms.

Why should you hear it?

2000 Light Years From Home is one of their best songs of any era and an authentic psychedelic high point. It hints at what this album might have been with a more focused approach. She’s A Rainbow with Nicky Hopkins’ nifty little piano riff is the other obvious highlight. It’s clear from the albums that followed that this band was capable of anything. It may be that the real disappointment here is the missed opportunity.

For the rest of this series, click here.

3 responses to “51 disappointing albums: ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ by The Rolling Stones

  1. You didn’t mention the 3D cover. The original LP folded out and had all this freaked out stuff to look at while you listened. The album is okay but nothing could live up to that packaging!

  2. A fine example of a could have/should have been disappointing album, with the size of the gap between the best of it and the worst of it being pretty stark. It’s also interesting to notice that it is not the first of this series where the late and great Nicky Hopkins made a borderline album sound so much better.

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