Rock ‘n’ Roll Rewind: The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath

1 Dec

therollingstones-aftermath-cover

Note: This article primarily refers to the US version of the album. Having now heard the UK version, I realize my mistake. The four tracks omitted for the US version, “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Out of Time,” “Take It or Leave It,” and “What to Do,” range from good to great.

Place in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Canon: If Robert Christgau says the Rolling Stones are “the world’s greatest rock and roll band,” that’s plenty good enough for me. As for Aftermath, it’s their first album consisting solely of originals and ranked 108th on Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Albums of all Time” list. It was a huge hit on both sides of the pond upon its 1966 release, spending eight weeks at No. 1 in Britain and reaching No. 2 here in America.

Place in My CanonI’m familiar with a good deal of the Stones’ hits, any song Wes Anderson has used in any of his films, and the excellent 1978 album Some Girls. Why is that the only proper album I’m familiar with? Well, my father-in-law had a pristine copy in his vinyl collection, which came into my possession a few years ago, so it just kind of happened that way. Plus I really love “Miss You.”

Essential Tracks: Honestly, after listening to this album a few times, I found myself wondering if taking the “Greatest Hits shortcut” (i.e., listening to the band’s hits in lieu of the albums themselves) maybe wasn’t the best way to go after all, at least for the Stones. The two best tracks on Aftermath are also the ones you’d find on Forty Licks: “Paint It, Black,” which is essentially Rock ‘n’ Roll Coolness epitomized; and “Under My Thumb,” which, with its infectious, slinking marimba line, is so danceable it would make even the world’s least rhythmic person (my dad) discretely bob his head.

As I eventually found, the album does, in fact, have its share of more modest pleasures; they’re just overshadowed by the hits. “Lady Jane,” a dulcimer-driven stab at folk, is beautiful, strange, and a little hypnotic. The rollicking “Doncha Bother Me” finds itself located squarely at the crossroads of blues and rock. “I Am Waiting” is another gem, quiet and folky until it reaches its big, catchy singalong chorus.

Least Essential Tracks: The biggest problem with Aftermath is that it’s front-loaded. With the exception of “I Am Waiting,” all of its best tracks appear on Side One. So even without the 11-minute, seemingly endless “Goin’ Home,” on which Jagger just kind of improvises over eight minutes of uninspired instrumentation, Side Two would already feel like a bit of a slog. Of particular note is “High and Dry,” so repetitive and uninteresting it’s almost aggressively annoying.

Final Thoughts: Aftermath is interesting in large part because of the Stones’ refusal to stick to any one particular style. Tracks like “Paint It, Black,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Lady Jane” all clearly demonstrate how experimentation in rock music can pay off tenfold, but that still doesn’t make less-successful expermients like “High and Dry” and “Goin’ Home” much easier to stomach. Having said that, the album’s restless spirit makes it a perfect first entry for Rock ‘n’ Roll Rewind, as I try to figure out what I’ve been missing by not listening to classic rock. If Aftermath is any indication, the answer may be “a little bit of everything.”

Next Month: Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy

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