Friday, January 20, 2012

Through the Past Darkly with ‘Between the Buttons’

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Tap your foot and rhyme, trip back 45 years time… Swinging London in full swing… floppy hats and foppish brooches… skinny drain pipes and big round sunglasses under sunless skies… paisley, pinstripes, pop art… acid and nightly clubbing with Rock royalty… The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks… the artists’ art: Rubber Soul and Revolver, My Generation and A Quick One, “Sunny Afternoon” and “Over, Under, Sideways Down”… visitors from across the Atlantic: Bob and Brian bringing Blonde on Blonde and Pet Sounds back home… Chuck and Muddy stacked in the attic… out with Chrissie Shrimpton like yesterday’s papers; in with Marianne and Anita… all these ingredients in the soup of late ’66… when The Rolling Stones consumed their peers and times, the styles, the sex, the drugs, the lifestyle, the retro vaudeville and prog psychedelia, spat them out on a vinyl time capsule called Between the Buttons… see it more clearer…

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Between the Buttons starts as a laugh… a spate of writing in late 1966… Mick goes solo for the first time, discarding Chrissie with utmost cruelty on “Yesterday’s Papers”… Keith composes “Connection” without connecting with his mate, unknowingly foretelling
a year of police invasion, drug trials, diffuse work; “My bags they get a very close inspection,” he sings, but he has no idea what ’67 holds in store… a laugh… so completely unserious are Mick and Keith that they lose their most serious influences—black blues and R&B—to carbon copy the fashions of their white peers… Ray Davies represented on “Cool, Calm, & Collected” and “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”… The Beatles on “Yesterday’s Papers” (is that a pseudo-scouse counterpoint detectable during the final chorus?) and “Back Street Girl” (chanson by way of “Michelle ma belle”)… The Who thunders through “Please Go Home”, The Yardbirds swagger through “All Sold Out”… shades of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde in “She Smiled Sweetly” and “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?”, The Beach Boys in “Complicated”… and one sole nod to themselves, The Rolling Stones of the past reupholstering Chuck Berry in mod fabrics on “Miss Amanda Jones”… Mick knocks Chrissie at every turn—“Papers”, “Back Street Girl”—praises the “very complicated,” “sweetly smiling,” and “cool, calm, collected” Marianne Faithfull, who’d years later call her former beau’s late-’66 batch of songs “incredibly vituperative and misogynistic”… but is “Miss” Amanda Jones a Miss, or a Mister Brian, out at nightclubs, overindulging, distancing himself from the band he formed, “down and down (s)he goes”… Between the Buttons turning into a farce…

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… Olympic Studios: London…The Stones get between the fibers in November/December ‘66… Charlie Watts is allowed to scrawl his fuzzy cartoon on the back cover (“To understand this little rhyme, you first must tap your foot in time…”)… Gered Mankowitz fuzzes the edges with Vaseline on the cover… Andrew Oldham oversees much studio larking… Keith pumps organ into “She Smiled Sweetly”… Mick and Keith and Andrew loosen the reins to allow Charlie to take the lead with his hooky beats on “My Obsession”, “Please Go Home”, and “Complicated” as he had on “Get Off Of My Cloud”… Brian cuts loose with his Aftermathian marimbas on “Yesterday’s Papers”, his Parisian accordion on “Back Street Girl”, his recorder on “All Sold Out”, his sitar on “Cool, Calm, & Collected”, his wacky brass on “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”, his Dylan-harmonica on “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?”… what difference does a guitar make?...or the blues for that matter?... would Howlin’ Woolf have a larf mimicking Dixon of Dock Green as Mick does on “Something Happened to Me Yesterday?” (“If you’re on your bike, we’re wear white. Evening all…”)… is The Stones pretending they’re The Beatles, Dylan, or The Kinks—fellow English boys—actually less authentic than pretending they were raised on the Mississippi Delta or the Chicago pavement as they had in the past, before the critics wielded their inky swords in their direction, as they would when discussing Between the Buttons in the years to come?... you know, a lot have called them liars…
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…the dirt takes time to settle… Between the Buttons arrives on winter-hardened ground, January 20, 1967… Mick declares it better than Aftermath… Frank Zappa and Syd Barrett adore it… Brian Wilson, who was present at the track’s recording, would always praise “My Obsession”, and its carnival ground swirl is apparent in his SMiLE sessions… NME declares, it sends “the mind reeling and the limbs wheeling”, Crawdaddy insists “we’ll always be able to listen to the Stones and, most especially, Between the Buttons"… but is this true?... Richards glosses the album in his autobiography; Wyman concurs with critic Roy Carr’s assessment that the record is a “turkey” in his… just two years after its release, Jagger says the album “just isn’t any good,” and repeats this sentiment whenever given the chance in the following decades… Mojo magazine brands it a “lost” album, Rolling Stone calls its tracks “obscure” (then names the L.P. the 355th greatest ever made)… historians look back on it with disdain… to Nicholas Schaffner it’s a “limp noodle”… biographer Philip Norman says it lacks ideas and is overproduced… completely overlooked on all major Stones compilations… Between the Buttons is often hurt…
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Between the Buttons temporarily fits … a product of its time… a jolly precursor to a dark year…
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…controversy at the “London Palladium” T.V. show when those dirty Stones refuse to wave for the cameras like cheerful chimps, enraging a stodgy public not used to youthful snubbing… Mick and Keith set up by The News of the World, which is smarting from a defamation law suit instigated by Mr. Jagger, erroneously quoted admitting drug use in the rag (it was Brian, natch)… the cops smarting from their authority being usurped among the young by long-haired warblers… Mick’s first acid trip gone horribly wrong at Keith’s home Redlands when the party-poopers in blue arrive… Brian’s arrests… the trials… the jail time… the trip to Morocco where Keith hooks up with Brian’s ladyfriend, Anita Pallenberg, killing the Stones’ friendship for good… then the sharpening competition of their peers: “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Jimi and Jim, “I Can See For Miles”, Monterey Pop… all of this action overshadows Between the Buttons, pushes it over the ledge… but those in the know dig the truth…
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Between the Buttons… an album ripe for (re)discovery… yes, it’s mean, yes, it’s misogynistic, but the sounds resound… beautiful, brutal “Back Street Girl”; beautiful, beautiful “She Smiled Sweetly”… jaunty “Connection”, nightmare-inducing “My Obsession”, scathing “Miss Amanda Jones”… hilarious “Cool, Calm, & Collected” and “Something Happened to Me Yesterday” (Mick’s not such a bad barker, after all)… monstrous “Please Go Home”… funky “All Sold Out”… rolling and tumbling “Complicated” (hail, hail, Charlie Watts), transcendent “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?”… nothing overplayed; dated in the most delicious way… an instant, kaleidoscopic trip back to Swinging London, even for those of us who didn’t get to experience it first hand… Hi Mick! Love your latest…

Between the Buttons was released 45 years ago today.
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