CK Retro Review: Between The Buttons by The Rolling Stones

It’s funny that Between The Buttons, released in the beginning of 1967, has the reputation of being a bit of a letdown album for The Rolling Stones after Aftermath (possibly in part because band members, particularly Mick Jagger, have always run it down in interviews). And yet, when you combine the UK and US versions of the albums, at least half the songs are stone-cold classics or at least close to that level. If the lesser songs are a bit bumpy, surely that can be forgiven considering the brilliance emitted by the cream of the crop. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

14. “My Obesssion”- It’s got a stop-and-start beat going on, only each time it stops, it has a hard time getting started again. It feels like a half-finished idea.

13. “Please Go Home” (UK version only)- The return to a Bo Diddley beat doesn’t produce like you would expect it might, in part because the efforts to psychedelicize just make it noisy. Production run amok.

12. “Cool, Calm & Collected”- I’m not sure if this combination of musical whimsy and social commentary was ever the right approach for the band. Brian Jones’ kazoo solo, an early piano appearance from Nicky Hopkins, Keith Richards’ trebly guitars, the frenzied finish: It’s a bit much, and yet intriguing as a road not taken again, probably for the best.

11. “All Sold Out”- The band had gone so day-glo around this period that when they tried to rock out on this track, they sounded a little out of practice, coming off a bit clunky and generic.

THREE STARS

10. “Complicated”- It starts off pretty catchy but gets repetitive after a while. Speaking of repetitive, by this time on the album, all the songs about Mick Jagger’s muses/femme fatales start to bleed into one another. But Charlie Watts gets a sort-of drum solo, which is new.

9. “Yesterday’s Papers”- Jagger has stated that this was his first ever solo composition for the band, music and all, and this melody he constructed is affectingly lilting. It’s a little busy production-wise, but there’s a contemplative feel to it that sets it apart.

8. “Something Happened To Me Yesterday”- Turns out Paul McCartney and Ray Davies weren’t the only Brit rockers wishing to bring vaudeville back to the masses. The way Jagger breaks the fourth wall at the end of the song would presage the Fab 4’s Sgt Pepper’s move a few months down the road. Even if you never figure out what that “something” was, this one is still a lot of fun, especially with Jones conjuring a whole brass band all on his own.

7. “Amanda Jones”- When in doubt, the Stones could always reach back for a Chuck Berry-inspired rocker and find  their footing. Honestly, Jagger’s concerns about Amanda’s class and nobility don’t really register, but the locomotive groove and Richards’ crunching riffage is more than enough to get the job done.

FOUR STARS

6. “Connection”- You might be surprised when you hear “Ruby Tuesday” is a Keith Richards solo composition. You’re probably less surprised that this one is too, right? The hardly-hidden drug references get hung on a jumpy arrangement that nonetheless finds a sturdy groove in just under two minutes. An oft-forgotten fun one.

5. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?”- If you’re looking for underrated Stones tracks, here’s a good one for you. It’s doubtful that it’s known to anyone but completist fans of the band, yet this one is nicely-executed mid-tempo intelligence. Dylan is the obvious reference, but Bob likely wouldn’t have ever tried an arrangement as sly as the acoustic-to-electric, quiet-to-loud strut the band pulls off effortlessly here. Plus Jagger walks the fine line between genuinely aggrieved and lashing-out nasty with nary a stumble.

FIVE STARS

4. “She Smiled Sweetly”- Richards plays organ and bass on this track, and for much of the song, it’s just those instruments and Charlie Watts on drums carrying the load. Watts is brilliant, proving that a slower song can have propulsion if it’s handled delicately enough. There’s something spiritual going on in the lyrics, in the way that the narrator can only find succor and soothing in the presence of the mysterious girl who turns his anguish into happiness with just a few words and a smile. The minimalism of this one allows it to sneak up on you until it’s gone and you’re wishing you can bask in its presence again.

3. “Back Street Girl” (UK version only)- Lyrically, this is as cold as anything, with Jagger essentially telling the titular character to stay in her place as his girl on the side and to not interfere with his public life. Yet the music won’t let things get too nasty, with the romance of the accordion and Jones’ vibraphone tinkling away on the lonely end. The melody is sadly pretty and Jagger sings with empathy for the girl that his lyrics are marginalizing. The Stones never had much use for tact in their songs, and it’s all the better they didn’t, because we might never have heard hard-hearted but honest slices of life like this one.

2. “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (US version only) – Do we believe Mick when he says this isn’t an everyday occurrence? Not so much. But everything else in this ingratiatingly direct proposition rings true. Right from the beginning when Richards’ piano comes charging out of the gates, the intentions are bracingly clear. The only brief respite is during a Beach Boys-style harmonizing session in the break, which seems designed to take the piss out of the pop singers who would mask their come-ons in euphemisms and pleasantries, a la “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” With those “ba-da-da” refrains seemingly everywhere, this is hooky, colorful, still convincingly Stones-y, and as joyous as they ever sounded.

1. “Ruby Tuesday” (US version only) – Yes, this song was completely written, lyrics and all, by Richards. I guess it doesn’t fit the image, although he would prove to be a reliable source of ballads for years to come. In this case, he writes a song that’s part character sketch, part broken-hearted farewell. The instrumental touches are all sensitively-rendered, especially the double-bass pretending to be a cello and Jones’ dreamily melancholy recorder. (Had I known that instrument could have produced something so lovely, I would have stuck with it after third grade.) Plus the production is one of Andrew Loog Oldham’s finest and Jagger connects with the lyrics so well that you can understand people not believing that he had a part of the writing. The band’s best slow one ever? You could make a pretty solid argument for it.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com. For more on the Stones, check out my new book Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, available for preorder at the link below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-The-Rolling-Stones/dp/1442254467

 

 

 

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