The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request

Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)


1. Sing This All Together 2. Citadel 3. In Another Land 4. 2000 Man 5. Sing This All Together (See What Happens) 6. She’s A Rainbow 7. The Lantern 8. Gomper 9. 2000 Light Years From Home 10. On With The Show


Your brain on acid. For decades now, Satanic Majesties has been ridiculed as the epitome of psychedelic overindulgence, an incoherent druggy mess, and a rip off of Sgt. Pepper and blah, blah, blah. That reputation is why I made sure I had it playing faintly on my iPod as I sat in a circle with some of my friends in broad daylight near the John Lennon “Imagine” circle in Central Park and smoked weed for the first time. I thought the location and the soundtrack would lend an air of legitimacy to the whole experience – I mean, that’s what hippies did back in ’67, right? Smoked weed while watching Magical Mystery Tour and listening to Satanic Majesties, right? In any case, I didn’t even get high that time, so the whole thing ended up being a bit of a letdown. But if you’re expecting the same sort of disappointment from this album—and, in all likelihood, you are, since critics have probably been pounding how much it sucks into your head since as long as you’ve known about the Stones—then you’re shit out of luck. Because it (mostly) rules.

A bit of background. The police busted Mick and Keith at Keith’s home, Redlands, in February 1967 for possession of drugs and, allegedly, a naked Marianne Faithfull, which meant the Glimmer twins spent the year shuffling in and out of courtrooms and dealing with the media firestorm that arose from the bust. They also parted ways with Andrew Loog Oldham, fed up with him billing himself as the producer of all their previous records despite having no idea what he was doing and letting the engineers do all the work. All this turmoil, combined with the fact that the band members were all tripping off on acid half the time, unsurprisingly left little time for any sort of organized album sessions. Band members would randomly pop in and out of the studio without having any idea whether or not anyone else would be there, record their parts separately and go off on drug-induced tangents without getting any meaningful work done. Thus, the album took nearly a full year to complete. So lost in space and/or the judicial system were Mick, Keith and Brian during the sessions that freaking Bill Wyman was able to seize the opportunity and get one of his songs included on the album (“In Another Land,” which is GREAT, for your information. Great harpsichord by Nicky Hopkins, Bill’s dull-as-dishwater lead vocals treated with an “underwater”-type effect that makes them actually sound cool, fantastic backup vocals by Mick and Keith, and an entertaining Inception-esque storyline. Not to mention a guy snoring loudly at the end. Wild!). And when the album finally did come out in December, it was universally panned as a druggy piece of crap and a plagiaristic rehash of Sgt. Pepper. Sorry in advance about failing to diplomatic, but let me just say that anyone who said these things is a stupid fucking idiot.

Starting with the second charge first, Satanic Majesties sounds absolutely fucking nothing like Sgt. Pepper. I mean, do people actually listen to this thing or just perk their ears up at the part where Mick says, “Where’s the joint?” and then go “A ha! The Beatles liked drugs too!” Now, I’ve got absolutely nothing against Sgt. Pepper cause it’s got “A Day In The Life” on it, but it’s mostly a collection of fluffy Paul McCartney pop songs with a few “experimental” elements sprinkled on top. There are some “weird” things about it, yes, but overall it’s about as threatening as Dora the Explorer. Satanic Majesties, on the other hand, is dark and dangerous and freaked out. The demonic vibe of evil and danger that the Stones projected during their golden era, epitomized by “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Gimme Shelter”—the one that broke them free of the Beatles-copying stigma for good—originated here, not afterward. It was just expressed through psychedelia rather than “roots rock,” or whatever likely inadequate moniker you’d like to bestow on the band’s most celebrated output. The album also introduces to the fold piano-playing extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins, who would go on to be the band’s secret weapon for the next several years. Rest assured, whatever the hell the Stones were trying to do on Satanic Majesties, it wasn’t ripping off the Beatles. Yeah, yeah, John and Paul sing backup on “Sing This All Together” and pictures of the Fab Four stealthily appear on the hilarious album cover, which on the original vinyl release was in 3D (eat shit, James Cameron! The Stones beat you to it by forty fucking years! Hahaha!). First of all, from a purely geeked out standpoint, there’s a doll on the cover of Sgt. Pepper that says “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones” on it. And secondly, that stuff has absolutely no baring on the album itself. Would you hear a great loud, surging Keithian riff like that of “Citadel” on Sgt. Pepper? Yeah, I think not. The Beatles were too busy prancing around in their marching band uniforms and playing stupid circus music like “Mr. Kite” to come up with anything that ass-kicking.

I’d love to give Majesties an A, but there actually is some self-indulgent druggy bullshit on it that does live up to the album’s reputation and drags it down somewhat. Hippy dippy sing along opener “Sing This All Together” is merely cloying, while the eight and a half-minute second version is an endless, aimless noise jam (which I’ll admit has some pretty cool sounds in it, like Mick giving a test run to his monkey shrieks that he would of course soon put to full use on “Sympathy For The Devil”). “Gomper” is even more grating, featuring three instrumental minutes of Brian Jones jamming with himself on a bunch of Indian-sounding instruments, while “On With The Show” closes the album on an extremely disappointing note by completely dissipating the album’s dark, freaky atmosphere with some sub-Between The Buttons leftover dance hall fruitiness.

Everything else? Aces. You might know the single “She’s A Rainbow,” which might be the gayest Stones song ever, with its cottony strings and triumphant horn blasts and instantly dated “ooh la la” backing vocals, but it’s also extremely catchy and loveable. It’s the lightest, most buoyant song on the album other than “On With The Show;” everything else keeps with the shadowy vibe, like the foggy, haunting “The Lantern,” punctuated by searing blasts of Keith’s lead guitar fills, and “2000 Man,” which marries rootsy acoustic guitar with a strong, rocked up chorus and hilarious future shock lyrics. “I am having an affair with a random computer” might’ve just sounded wacky and absurdist back in ’67, but do you know how many people use computers for sex today? Like, everyone! The best song on the album, and one of the finest ever examples of psychedelic rock music, is “2000 Light Years From Home,” which simply would not exist without Brian’s spooky, masterful mellotron line, which is one of his greatest ever contributions to the band. It was also one of his last – this is the final Stones album where he has any sort of consistent input.

So yeah, the critics are wrong on this one. I’m not saying the Stones didn’t need to reverse course and make Beggars Banquet after this to cement both their continued existence and their total domination of rock music as we know it. I’m just saying that most of this album is really, really good.

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