Everything is going in the wrong direction…
Act/Artist: The Rolling Stones
Release: Between The Buttons
Release date: 20th January 1967
Let’s be honest, albums aren’t the first thing you think of when you consider The Rolling Stone’s legacy. Over the years they have had a few classics but when you’ve had as many attempts as they have (round about 25 studio albums, even allowing for the butchering US labels so enjoyed in the 60s), even the law of averages indicate you are going to hit the mark a couple of times.
Between The Buttons is often hailed as a classic Stones record but that just means it was made in the 1960s as opposed to being a genuine appraisal on the quality of the album or the songs on it. The UK version of the album holds 12 songs and you’re not going to find any of them bothering the top of Stones playlists for the vast majority of people…but after a few listens, that says more about how good The Stones were at their best and much less about the quality of the record.
There will always be selections by some fans that hail a track as a classic, that’s as much to do with what a person hears at a particular time in their life, or someone trying to be a bit too clever but when time is finally called on The Stones (and there’s no suggestion that is on the horizon anytime soon), it’s not as if Between The Buttons will be bothering the top of many Best Of Lists, although it does have an iconic cover.
When you’re making history or creating a legacy, you’re not fully aware of it, so it’s only natural that we’re going to have a different view on Between The Buttons now compared to when it was first released. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a very important album in the development of the group. It was the band’s fifth album in less than three years..and it came hot on the heels of Aftermath, the first album where the band had written all of their own songs. This was The Stones evolving from an exciting blues band to a band with its own sound and identity.
Aftermath, the band’s 1966 offering was good; it also had top-class songs like Under My Thumb, Mother’s Little Helper and Out of Time. With the song-writing partnership of Jagger-Richards slipping into a groove that upped the ante from just live shows and singles, there was a level of expectation surrounding this record.
The US got the much better deal of things with the American version of Between The Buttons hosting Let’s Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday; two songs that many people instantly think of when they consider the band. It also allowed the waltzing yet lyrically questionable Back Street Girl to be left off the collection, which was a good swap although Please Go Home was perhaps harshly dealt with. How can you fail to love a record that kicks into life with the pomp, confidence and swagger of Let’s Spend The Night Together?
The song may have been a little bit racy for the US media at the time, further proof that 1967 wasn’t the swinging lovefest it’s been made out to be but its classic Stones. Enjoyable, saucy and if you aren’t mimicking the Jagger strut while wagging a finger, there’s something wrong with you.
Ruby Tuesday is also wonderful, a classic single of the era. You probably can’t call it timeless because not too many acts would release something of its calibre so breezily these days. Proving that it wasn’t just the US who were a bit too uptight about Let’s Spend…, Ruby Tuesday, even though it was a B-side, got most of the radio airplay, This cemented the song firmly in the hearts and minds of the UK public and it’s probably still one of the most popular Stones songs.
As for the UK album, shorn of the lead singles that were released separately in January 1967, there was still plenty to like. Connection is in the mould of classic Stones, an upbeat, cheery and striding song that gives you a shot in the arm that gets you on your feet.
There is a feeling at times that some of the songs were churned out but they have their moments. The chorus of Cool, Calm and Collected could only have been shoehorned in tighter had one of the dandy footwear experts from Kings Road or Carnaby Street were on hand. There is a string of music hall numbers and quaint English charm across the record but this track is quite fun, which is a rarity for anything associated with the music hall era or style. The outro is completely overegged though.
All Sold Out only really suffers in comparison with The Stones back catalogue, if any new band came out with a song that sharp and focused it would have been a great hit and very well received. The band were at their best when they were creating short and snappy songs that got in and out without overstaying their welcome. The links to the early R&B sound were still in place, as was the case with next song on the record Please Go Home, but overall, there was an evolution to the sound of the Stones at this time.
Who’s Been Sleeping Here isn’t that great but Complicated and Miss Amanda Jones step things up a gear again with the latter having that sound that came to the fore a few years down the line, around the time that The Stones started fraternising with Gram Parsons. Which perhaps suggest that the group had that sort of sound in them anyway as opposed to jumping on Gram’s sound. Or maybe it just shows you that there isn’t always a great deal between R&B, rock n roll and country-rock, especially when you have some swagger and treated guitar. There may have been some filler on the record but the band were creating a better standard of filler by this point.
One thing I’ll never agree was a good idea was Jagger’s outro at the end of Something Happened To Me Yesterday. Ideally the song wouldn’t be on the record at all, it is a throwaway music-hall song but the jovial sign-off from the frontman is grating enough on first listen without having to contemplate hearing it every single time the album comes to a close.
Another thing that Between The Buttons has in its favour is that is better than the band’s other 1967 album, at Her Sgt Peppers Request…no wait, At Her Satanic Majesties Request. That was a clinker of a record but it probably should be hailed for the role it played in finally convincing The Stones to stop running after The Beatles and to harness their own sound. It’s also a good example of how the music industry was different back then. The Stones at their most psychedelic was their second album of the year and yet within another year, they were back with another album (Beggars Banquet) that had a completely different sound and a track listing which blew most other bands out of the water.
With so many bands pinpointing 1967 as a massive year or a time when they were at their peak, that certainly wasn’t the case for The Rolling Stones. It sounds funny to say for a year that saw the band release two records but with hindsight, this was a year to take stock, catch a breath and work out what worked and what didn’t. It was also a year with plenty of court trouble and as we’ll get to later on in the year, We Love You…which is definitely in my Top 5 Stones songs of all time. So yeah, not that bad a year.
Between 1968 and 1972, The Rolling Stones found their groove and produced a run of classic songs and albums that rightly see them hailed as one of the most important bands of all time. Singles, individual tracks and blistering live shows from ‘63 to ’67 saw the band hailed as one of the biggest and best acts on the planet but the end of the 60s and start of the 70s saw The Stones move up a gear, producing a higher level of consistency and setting the platform for decades of stadium dominating moves and sounds.
You should take Wikipedia with a pinch of salt at the best of times but whoever created a few of the sub-headings for The Rolling Stones career got it spot on. The period between 1965 and 1967 has been classed as the “Height of Fame” while 1968 to 1972 is the “Golden Age”. That’s harsh on some of the singles in the former era but for consistency and taking over the world one lick at a time, ’68 to ’72 was unreal.
And with all of the upheaval, it’s probably no surprise that Between the Buttons has been overlooked, even the band have been dismissive of it over the years (although Jagger didn’t even wait for the end of the 60s to denounce the record). It stands up well enough though and if Between The Buttons had been released by a band at a lower calibre than The Rolling Stones (which admittedly means around 98% of bands), it would be regarded as a great example from an exciting year of music.