…why side two of Between The Buttons is a classic…
Or, part six of a quest to discover whether it’s worth buying those early Stones albums on vinyl…
(…read part one here to make more sense of what is to follow)
Between the Buttons
As King Minos of Crete discovered when his daughter Ariadne deftly palmed the handsome Theseus a ball of string and a sword before he was shoved into the hungry Minotaur’s labyrinth, it seldom helps your cause if your allies turn against you.
Having risen to a challenge to listen to The Rolling Stones’ first six albums and, if appropriate, find some good reasons to like them, I could have done without any negativity from within the Stones own camp.
I had some idea as to how the Cretan King might have felt upon seeing a sword poking out of the cake his daughter baked for Theseus “for the journey” when I assembled my defence of “Between The Buttons”, the Rolling Stones’ fifth UK album. It transpires that Mick Jagger talks about the album as he might describe an especially out-of-favour ex-girlfriend to whom he has just lost a paternity suit.
“I was really disappointed with it.” said Jagger, seemingly oblivious of my task of wanting to talk the album up. “I don’t know, it just isn’t any good. ‘Back Street Girl’ is about the only one I like” he continued, twisting the knife slowly but firmly, going on to describe the album as “more or less rubbish.”
So here we have poor old “Between The Buttons”, with a face even it’s mother doesn’t love. And yet….
It’s really rather good.
Bill Wyman: “Between The Buttons was the result of the first studio session at which we concentrated on an album as a finished product.” Rather than a collection of recording sessions packaged together, The Stones set to work on a cohesive whole.
To put the album in context, it was released in January 1967, five months after The Beatles’ Revolver, and was preceded by the singles “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows?” in September 1966 and the double A-side “Let’s Spend The Night Together” / “Ruby Tuesday” released contemporaneously.
Here are five reasons why Between The Buttons deserves space on your record shelf:
1. Brian Jones’ Weird Expression on the Cover Photo.
Gered Mankowitz took the famous cover photo on Primrose Hill after an all-night recording session. To achieve the hazy effect around the edges, Mankowitz used an ingenious DIY method – he smeared Vaseline on a piece of glass and took the shot through the glass.
In the middle of the shot is a strange looking Brian Jones. Mankowitz explained why:
“We endlessly found ourselves working in spite of Brian. During the Between The Buttons session he continuously tried to screw the pictures up: he was hiding behind his collar; he’d bought himself a newspaper and buried himself in it; he was just not cooperating.”
The reverse of the sleeve, on the other hand, reveals drummer Charlie Watts’ artistic talents, with a cartoon and accompanying poem:
2. Scary tunes!
“My Obsession”, recorded at RCA studios in Hollywood saw The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson pop by the studio to witness the Stones recording the track. Wilson thought it so scary, he had to leave the studio. He still describes it as one of his favourite Stones tracks, though.
3. More Shockingly Bad Attitudes Towards Women!
“Yesterday’s Papers” likens a relationship to a girl with the throwing out of the newspapers, which is pretty cold – and may refer to Jagger’s relationship with Chrissie Shrimpton: their relationship ended in December 1966. However, it is the pure cynicism of Jagger’s favourite song “Back Street Girl” that mixes a beautiful melody with the most breathtakingly unpleasant lyric addressed to Jagger’s lowly mistress, “Please don’t be part of my life / just keep yourself to yourself / please don’t you bother my wife / that way you won’t get no help / don’t try to ride on my horse / you’re rather common and coarse, anyway / don’t want you out in my world / just you be my back street girl…
Well, what right minded girl could resist?!
4. Back To Mono!
All reissues of the album since 1968 have been in stereo; the album’s mono mix has yet to see an official CD release, so buying the original album is the only way you will get to hear the album’s mono mix. Unless you unplug one of your speakers.
5. Side Two is a belter!
There are lot of good tracks on the first side, including “Connection” and “My Obsession, but Side Two is the most eclectic and interesting mix of Rolling Stones songs on any Stones album so far:
- “All Sold Out” sounds like an outtake from “Revolver”. The Stones blend R&B with a pop sensibility and infectious backing vocals.
- “Please Go Home” has a bluesy, feedback-drenched chugging guitar to accompany the Bo Diddley beat, and some striking vocal echo effects.
- “Who’s Been Sleeping Here” is a Dylan-influenced tune in a folk rock style. Very catchy and one of the best tracks on the album.
- “She’s Complicated” has a fuzzy bass line mixed with some organ flourishes and some insistent drumming from Charlie Watts.
- “Miss Amanda Jones” is a great R&B track that could have appeared on Exile on Main Street without sounding too out of place.
- “Something Happened To Me Yesterday” sees Jagger and Richards sharing lead vocals – Keith Richards sings the chorus – and – alongside “Cool Calm and Collected”* is the most vaudevillian track on the album, very much in the style of The Kinks. There’s a tuba in there, a Dixieland Jazz band, and a valediction from Jagger at the end which mimics the policeman in popular TV show Dixon of Dock Green. The song is apparently about an LSD trip…
The U.S. Version of the album is arguably stronger, omitting “Back Street Girl”, and inserting the superior (and less insulting) “Ruby Tuesday”, plus leaving out the Bo Diddley-esque charms of “Please Go Home” but kicking off the album with “Let’s Spend The Night Together”.
Producer Andrew Loog Oldham tells a good story about recording the latter song and how he averted a disastrous drugs-bust a few months before the famous one that left Keith and Mick (briefly) incarcerated.
Whilst the band were “smoking” in the control room during the sessions for “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, Oldham spotted eight policemen heading into the studio, intent on causing The Stones a little difficulty. He ran out of the control room and stopped the first two.
“Quick, Have you got truncheons?” Oldham asked. “Right, now hit them together”. The policemen obliged. “That’s perfect. Just what we need on the track. Could you sit down here and do it when we record?”
Oldham said “They sat down dead chuffed – forgetting all about trying to bust us – and we recorded two of them, hitting their truncheons together. It even stayed on the finished track, I think.”
In reporting back to Chris on a fifth successful album ticked off the list, he seemed much happier than I expected.
“I was expecting you to be a little more concerned by this stage” I remarked.
“Concerned? Nah. You were always going to find something. The real contest was not about those albums. The real bet is you finding a miraculously cheap copy of the Satanic Majesties album, and then somehow finding something to like in what is universally acknowledged to be one of the worst albums of all time! You still don’t have a copy do you?”
I bluffed. “Um, it’s all in hand…”
Sensing my discomfort, Chris laughed. “Of course it is!”
I think this was sarcasm.
“So, what is it? £20 and three days left? Good luck with that…”
So here’s the situation. As I write this, I don’t have a copy of Satanic Majesties Request. The next post will be in a few days. I have £20 of my budget left. The Spitalfields Record Fair is today, Friday 15th May, and if I can’t find a copy of SMR there for the right price (and they’ve all been double that so far), I’m all out of ideas and the next post will be very short indeed!
Wish me luck…
- Philip Norman: The Stones
- Bill Wyman: Stone Alone
- Andrew Loog Oldham: Rolling Stoned
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