Tag Archives: A Hard Day’s Night

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to…The Rolling Stones (Part 1 – The Decca Years)

– 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

A 1962 advertisement in Jazz News by a young guitarist named Brian Jones had consequences the blues purist could never have imagined. Jones’ ad, searching for similarly-minded musicians to play with, led to the formation of undoubtedly the world’s biggest rock band, and twenty two studio albums later they’re still going strong.


Twenty two studio albums is quite a body of work – there’s a lot of gold amongst those records, but there’s a decent amount of average (and even sub-par) material too. Given there’s just so much to get through, I’ve split this buyer’s guide into two parts – firstly the years between 1964 and 1969, when the Stones’ albums were released on Decca Records (or London Records in the USA), and the second era from 1971 to present, where releases appeared first on their own label, Rolling Stones Records, and then much later on Virgin.

A handy marker to distinguish releases between the two eras is the famous tongue and lips logo, designed by John Pasche. This was introduced in 1971 and appears on the sleeve of Sticky Fingers, their first Rolling Stones Records release, and onwards.

But first, here’s a guide to the first decade of the band – one that started innocently with a group of like-minded individuals paying homage to their Chicago blues heroes, and ended in a double-dose of tragedy.

Start off with: Beggar’s Banquet (1968, Decca)

Stones2Beggar’s Banquet marks the band’s first confident steps away from their former leader, Brian Jones. Up to this point, it was very much Brian’s band. He put the band together, he named the band (after a Muddy Waters song), and he was the driving force behind a lot of their early covers. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had other ideas though. This album represents a return to what they do best, compared to Their Satanic Majesties Request a year earlier. On that departure of a record they were still very much Beatles copyists, but with Beggar’s Banquet they were setting up their own stall, becoming a rock group rather than a ‘60s beat group. If there’s one Stones album that sets the template for every Stones record to come, it’s this one.

Follow that with: Let It Bleed (1969, Decca)

Stones3It’s a major understatement to say that the ‘60s ended badly for the Stones. First, the ousted Brian Jones is found face-down, floating in his swimming pool. Then Jagger watches from the stage at the Altamont festival as a fan is stabbed and beaten to death by the Hells Angels. Let It Bleed was released in between those two events, and the smell of death hangs over the record like a black cloud. ‘Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away’ sings backing vocalist Merry Clayton on Gimme Shelter (the L.A. Times reported that after recording that track, Clayton suffered a miscarriage upon returning home – yet another bad event surrounding this record). Their last record of the ‘60s, the Stones end the decade with the seven and a half minute long You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Taken at face value, it feels like a song about the death of the ‘60s dream, but it’s covered in hope – ‘if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.’

Then get: Aftermath (1966, Decca)

Stones4To the Stones what A Hard Day’s Night was to the Beatles, Aftermath was the first studio album consisting solely of Jagger / Richards compositions. It’s not their best record, by a long shot, but it shows that they could write a body of work without needing to go digging in the well of Chicago blues songs. The important thing here is that its Mick Jagger and Keith Richards writing the material, not Brian Jones – the first nail in his coffin, perhaps? Amongst the stand-out tracks are Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and Out Of Time (a UK #1 for Chris Farlowe) – but the centre-piece is Under My Thumb, the song that the band was playing when Meredith Hunter was killed at Altamont (the common misconception is that they were playing Sympathy For The Devil at the time).

Criminally overlooked: The Rolling Stones (1964, Decca)

Stones5Their debut record marks out their territory well – edgy, energetic and respectful to their R&B and blues heroes. A cover of Chuck Berry’s Route 66 kicks things off, with Mick spitting out the American towns in Bobby Troup’s lyrics. Thirty three (and a third!) minutes later, a cover of Rufus Thomas’ Walking The Dog closes the album by what the American release would call ‘England’s Newest Hitmakers’. They only managed one original composition – they’d work at this over subsequent releases – but the eleven covers they chose showed which road they were going down.

The long-shot: Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967, Decca)

Stones6Terrible cover. Supposedly the Stones’ worst album. A psychedelic cash-in. Believe what you will, but I don’t think it’s that bad. There are definitely worse Stones albums from this period (more on that in a minute). If you ignore the shameful lack of originality on the cover, and maybe sweep a few of the lengthier trying-too-hard-to-sound-psychedelic-and-out-there songs out of the way, it’s a decent listen. The obvious comparison – due to the cover – would be Sgt. Pepper’s but the Stones sound more like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Plus you get She’s A Rainbow – a celebration of squirting girls everywhere, with a string arrangement by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones – and 2,000 Light Years From Home, driven by one of Bill Wyman’s best bass riffs. Thankfully they would leave the joss sticks and kaftans behind for their next release – Beggar’s Banquet.

Avoid like the plague: Between The Buttons (1967, Decca)

Stones7Between The Buttons is odd in that each and every Stones album up to this point was a little better than the one before it. Each subsequent Stones album would have more Jagger / Richards compositions on it, culminating on the fully self-written Aftermath in 1966. But with Between The Buttons, their second attempt at this feat, they overreached and produced a boring, snoozefest of an album. Connection is the album’s only glimmer of hope, and even that is just two short minutes of schoolyard rhymes. If anything, it sounds like it was ghost written by the Gimme Some Money-era David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel. Speaking of buttons and schoolyards, I once ingested a button up my nose when I was at infant school. It was a more enjoyable experience than listening to this record.

Best compilation: Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) (1969, Decca)

Stones8At the last count, there are about three hundred and nineteen Rolling Stones compilations commercially available, all of varying quality. The band’s second hits collection, with a great octagonal cover, is arguably the better of the two released during the ‘60s. Dedicated to the recently departed Brian Jones, the album contains four white hot Stones singles – Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Ruby Tuesday and Honky Tonk Women – all available only on 7” up to that point. In fact, it doesn’t matter what the meat of the sandwich is, the very fact that the record opens with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and closes with Honky Tonk Women makes it one of the greatest records ever.

Best live album: Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970, Decca)

Stones9Great between-song banter – “I think I bust a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down…you don’t want my trousers to fall down now, do you?” – and audience chatter – “Paint It Black, you devil!” – make this a great listen. Those moments are so good, you could almost forgive them for sounding like the sloppiest live band ever to grace a stage. Because that’s the truth of the situation – they might produce the occasional lightning bolt in the studio, but on stage they sound resolutely awful. The very fact that most people don’t notice this is a testament to how good some of their classic material is. Who cares what they sound like, as long as they’re playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash?



Rocks In The Attic #355: The Beatles – ‘With The Beatles’ (1963)

RITA#355Of the three Beatles records with a 60/40 split between originals and covers, this one has to be my favourite. I’m not too fond of some of the covers on Please Please Me and Beatles For Sale. The latter album always feels rushed – which it was – although you can hear how strong their original material was becoming on that record. With The Beatles gets the balance just right.

At this point, they’re still very much a band with everything to prove. They’d soon be on the crest of a wave, but here they’re still paddling their hardest to get there. In an opener like It Won’t Be Long, you can see how the world fell in love with their optimism. Post-war austerity’s days were numbered. There’s a section in the Beatles Anthology TV series where It Won’t Be Long is used to soundtrack some footage of the band on a British seaside holiday. They’re all wearing old-style bathing suits, and having a blast of a time. It was probably one of the last holidays where they could live a relatively normal life without being mobbed.

One of my main gripes about their first record is that some of the covers seem to be a little on the soft side – worlds apart from the leather-clad rockers they started as. Still, one of my favourite songs on this second album is Till There Was You­ – not only a cover, but one of the soppiest love ballads you’re ever likely to hear. I think by this time though, they’re making everything they touch their own thing. It seems so perfect for McCartney, he might as well have written it. Six months later with the soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night he had the mastered the process with And I Love Her. Silly Love Songs was only just around the corner.

Of course, the really amusing thing about this record is that they made Ringo out to look like a midget on the cover…

Hit: All My Loving

Hidden Gem: Till There Was You

Rocks In The Attic #332: The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#332Strangely it took Apple records a long seven months after the Yellow Submarine film was in cinemas to release this soundtrack accompaniment.  That wouldn’t happen these days. In fact these days, the soundtrack albums typically beat the films to the marketplace in most cases. I guess Apple records was a relatively new to this sort of thing, so they can be forgiven. Still, it’s not a great album, is it?

The 1999 rerelease album (the Yellow Submarine Songtrack) is a far better collection of songs – being made up of the actual Beatles songs – both old and new – which appear in the film. The first side of the original soundtrack is bookended by Yellow Submarine (from Revolver) and the All You Need Is Love single from 1967. The excellent Hey Bulldog and the forgettable All Together Now were recorded especially for the soundtrack, while Only A Northern Song was a leftover from Sgt. Pepper’s and the delicious feedback of It’s All Too Much was from a session not too long after.

The second side of the album is taken up with excerpts of George Martin’s orchestral score for the film. This is probably the main reason why the album seems to sit uncomfortably in the Beatles’ official studio canon – for half of its running time, the Beatles don’t even appear.

Yet, despite the soundtrack album’s misgivings, the film itself is strangely enjoyable. The animation is great, and there are plenty of in-jokes and references for adult audiences. It’s almost a precursor to the type of film that Pixar would make a couple of decades later.  It’s probably a good film because the Beatles themselves didn’t have very much to do with it (aside from their very short appearance at the end of the film, in all their sideburned glory), because let’s face it, the quality of their films went quickly downhill after A Hard Day’s Night.

Hit: Yellow Submarine

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog

Rocks In The Attic #237: The Beatles – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964)

RITA#237Arguably the first classic Beatles record, and definitely the first one where the band seems to be firing on all cylinders, this is a great thirty minutes of music.

I’ve heard it said before that this was the first pop record where all of the material was written by its performers, and I’m not so sure about such a claim. I’d even doubt it was the first record by a beat group to be fully self-composed. Surely not…

Another thing I’ve read in the odd book or magazine is that one way of quantifying The Beatles’ classic period is their output between the crashing G chord that opens this album, and the crashing E chord that closes Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That’s too overly simplistic for me – there’s a fair bit of fluff between those two moments, and far too much good stuff on either side, especially after 1967, for it to make any sense.

The strength of this album really shows how weak its follow-up, Beatles For Sale, is. That album really comes across as a shuffle sideways, and shows a band falling back on safe material – rock and roll covers – back from even their Hamburg days.  If they’d have had time to compose a second album as strong as this in 1964, we might have another five or six Beatlemania-era Lennon & McCartney songs in the Beatles songbook.

Lennon’s output on this album is very strong, and I think possibly his strongest album in terms of compositions versus McCartney. I remember at one dull point during university, I counted the number of Lennon songs and McCartney songs on each album, and this album marks Lennon’s strongest count, with McCartney’s strongest period during Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour when Lennon had become disillusioned with the idea of being a pop star.

Hit: A Hard Day’s Night

Hidden Gem: Any Time At All