The Rolling Stones: Just How Bad Is “Their Satanic Majesties Request”? 

Rolling Stones Their Satanic Majesties Request

Mick Jagger: “In fifty years time, do you think people will laugh at this photo?”

The final part of a quest to discover whether it’s worth buying those early Stones albums on vinyl…

Their Satanic Majesties Request

Trying to buy an original copy on vinyl of “Their Satanic Majesties Request” for twenty quid is like breeding pandas. An awful lot of effort without much hope of success, and it just ends in disappointment for everyone involved. I trawled Spitalfields Record Fair and looked in every crate marked “Rolling Stones”, but to no avail…

A selection of the crates I looked in....

A selection of the crates I looked in….

I even found a Black Sabbath bootleg called “Their Satanic Majesties Return”…

Black Sabbath bootleg Their Satanic Majesties Return

Then, just as I was about to give up, I somewhat unexpectedly found what must have been the only copy in the place, just tucked away behind some hen’s teeth. The only trouble was, it was £30, and a second pressing at that, without the lenticular cover. It’s odd. What many people regard as The Stones’ worst album is also the rarest and most expensive.

Rolling Stones Records Satanic

I wasn’t going to pay £30, and in the end, with the end of a lunch hour looming like a big, looming thingy, I had to give up…

This was a bitter blow. If there’s one thing I dislike more than paying £30 for one record, it’s losing a bet to one of my friends. I may be able to find a good deal like Joey Essex can find Things He Doesn’t Know Yet, but there is a limit even to my powers of discovery and negotiation. To get an idea of how I felt, picture the inner turmoil, angst and frustration of Dostoyevsky when his wifi signal started playing up.

But just when I was working out how to review an album I didn’t own (there’s always Spotify, I thought) I found myself near Bond St tube station. I passed by the HMV. “I don’t suppose…” I thought to myself…

image

Sure enough, there it was! It’s a bit of a cheat, but you can buy the album for just under £18 if you are prepared to slum it and buy a brand spanking new copy on 180g vinyl….

It’s a bit daft, this record collecting lark sometimes…

I was £2.01 under budget. But what of the album? My task was not just to buy it, but also to praise it, if at all possible.

Five Reasons Why Satanic Majesties Is Worth Buying On Vinyl:

1. The World’s First 3D Cover!

The cover is lenticular, or at least early copies are…

Said Keith Richards, “That was acid. We made that set ourselves. We went to New York, put ourselves in the hands of this Japanese bloke with the only camera in the world that could do the 3-D.  Bits of paint and saws, bits of styrofoam.”

Sadly the reissue is not lenticular, so I have to imagine the excitement.

2. Think It’s A Wacky Title? You Should Hear What They Were Going To Call It…

The first title for Satanic…was going to be “The Rolling Stones Cosmic Christmas”.

The Stones also recorded several tracks that weren’t released including potential classics such as “Bathroom / Toilet” and “Gold Painted Fingernails”. As a sense of how good these tracks were, a recording of Wyman snoring on the settee in the control room did make the final cut.

3. Four of the songs.

Okay, it’s time to come clean. I don’t have five good things to say about the album as a whole. There’s four really good songs on this LP, two okay ones (one of which was covered by Kiss of all people)

…and four absolute shockers. I decided to make a few notes on a first listen. Here’s selected “highlights” of what I wrote…

Track 1: “Sing All This Together”

Notes: There’s a junior school music lesson going on in the background. With triangles: traditionally the instruments left in the music box at pre-school after all the tambourines and drums have gone. This stinks the place up like leaving a kipper under the bonnet of a Ford Cortina for a month. I hope the rest of the album isn’t like this. 

Track 5: “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)”

Notes: See What Happens? Sod all.

Genuinely terrible. Like we are three hours into a particularly interminable junior school music lesson which is interrupted by one of those Hari Krishna bands that used to bang their tambourines around Oxford St. Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, some jazz flute pops up. Possibly the worst song ever committed to vinyl.

Some Hari Krishna dudes, yesterday

Some Hari Krishna dudes, yesterday

Track 8: “Gomper”

Notes: Another shocker. The sort of track that even Tony Blackburn wouldn’t play if he were the DJ at your local Indian restaurant.

10. “On With The Show”

Notes: Oh dear. Utter tripe. A museum piece, if the museum was The Museum of Awfulness, in Awful Town, Awful Land.

However, it’s not all bad news.

There are some good songs on “Their Satanic Majesties Request”. I really like “The Lantern“. It sounds to me like a prototype of “Shine A Light” on “Exile On Main St”. “Citadel” is good, “She’s A Rainbow” is all chorus – a great pop song that I am familiar with through The World of Twist’s cover (I prefer The Stones version)….

….and “2,000 Light Years From Home” is a terrific song, albeit it belongs on a Pink Floyd album next to “Astronomy Domine”…

Overall, Satanic Majesties demonstrates that some albums are best heard on a format other than vinyl. Some albums need the skip button. The highs are great, but the lows are really terrible.

It’s not really a surprise.

Bill Wyman: “It was one of the three times we came really close to splitting up”

Keith Richards: “It ended up as a real patchwork. All a bit of flim-flam for me. None of us wanted to make it, but it was time for another Stones album, and Sgt Pepper’s was coming out, so we thought basically we were doing a put-on.”

To be fair, when making Sgt Peppers, The Beatles had quit the road, had George Martin as producer and were settled and happy. For the Stones, their relationship with producer Andrew Loog Oldham was about to end, both Mick and Keith were on bail pending appeal for drugs charges which might have seen them spend a year in jail, and Brian Jones was having residential psychiatric treatment.

I reported back to Chris.

“You’re right” I told him. “Satanic Majesties is 40% stinker, 20% average and 40% excellent.” He looked vindicated.

But we got one thing wrong. Taken as a body of work, the first six Stones records are amazing. They aren’t all dodgy Chuck Berry covers at all. There’s loads to enjoy, and they are a great introduction not only to The Rolling Stones, but also to American R&B, even now, some fifty years after “Satisfaction” first hit the airwaves…

Here’s a playlist of the best bits to save your skip button, including the single “We Love You”…



Categories: Rock Music

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27 replies

  1. for me,the stones are one of the greatest singles bands ever,who simply made a lot of albums,,and my fave is through the past darkly,followed by sticky fingers,but only cause of the andy warhol wrapping.

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    • I do like that “Through The Past Darkly” collection. You’ll be buying the reissue of Sticky Fingers then? Or is one cover enough?

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      • what i’d like is an original pressing of sticky fingers in good condition … lately i’ve found myself preferring that option to a new heavy vinyl,especially if its a digital remaster or even an analogy one if it’s had steroids rammed up it……the only new pressings i’ve liked are the mobile fidelity things. rave on mister…love reading your posts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed the series very much. At least two great Stones songs are on the first albums (Under My Thumb and She’s A Rainbow), maybe it’s worth a buy if I accidentally come across them for a fair price…

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  3. Enjoyed this journey a lot. I actually have a soft spot for this album – it’s a really interesting one. A curio piece, I guess – loads of charm and suchlike. And it baffles, of course.

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  4. Really enjoyed the series! Most of my favourites Stones stuff is from the first six albums (+Beggars Banquet), so I must go and buy them all on vinyl! 🙂

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  5. I’ve really enjoyed the series and was intrigued by what you’d make of this. To this day I think it’s still the only album I ever bought and played just once – I thought it was shite – and that’s 100% shite! Couldn’t be arsed to put the effort into even a second listen back then or since! However I will go back and try your suggested ‘excellents’ (even though my memory of the album suggests you’ve just done a great job of polishing a proverbial…….!)

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  6. OMG I want to send you money and have you go through those bins for me! I only have two or three of their records on vinyl (I have them all on CD) but you series makes me want them all! My last trip to Toronto was fruitless. I didn’t see anything remotely resembling what you have there. Yes, there were shops I missed (I only had two days) but wow. Those all look yummy!

    I’ve switched and am now listening to TSMR as I read this and type here and it certanly is quite the record. But I don’t discount it. With the Stones, even the later stuff, spend enough time with a record you’ve dismissed as crap and things start to shine through. It’s not that they wear you down, it just sometimes has to hit you in the right state of mind for it to work. This would be one of them.

    Nice work on hitting up the HMV for a sub-£20 copy. It ain’t an original, but the 180g would be lovely. And now you have leisure to find an original at a price you’re willing to spend!

    My sincere congratulations. You have done justice to these six records. And you’re lucky to have them on vinyl. WELL DONE!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you! I’m fortunate to have a regular record fair nearby where dealers trawl the country buying people’s record collections and sell them to the likes of me. And I agree that the best way to appreciate an album is to sit down and play it from start to finish, and give it your (almost) full attention. I enjoyed all the Stones albums and I appreciate them far more now than I did before this challenge.

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  8. Are you gonna review Let it Bleed or Beggars banquet?

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  9. Hi

    I just found that record with the funny thick photo on the front.
    Bought it when I was at university.
    Didn’t like it very much, so only been played a couple of times.

    Where do I get the best price for it?

    Are there auctions?

    L.H.

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  10. I have the mono(true) version of Their Satanic Majesties Request and would like to sell for ZAR1000.

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  11. Oddly enough, I’ve always enjoyed the record. And it’s highs are magnificent. I know if would shock some, but 2000 Light Years, for my money is better than anything on Peppers. It’s that good.

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  12. I think you have to have some sort of experience with hallucinogens to get this album, I love it one of my fav stones albums , if they did a nice reissue with we love you and child of the moon ,it would be perfect, great album cover, great songs , I think they did the acid thing really well.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Just listening to this strange album in mono from the new mono box and it explains me why I liked this back then, it just rocks harder and even the end of side one makes sense as an experiment this way (much less shrieking sounds and voices, more excellent bass, drums and guitar (it’s here that Keith explores the blues tunings that would turn up on Beggar’s). Still it is unexplainable why the singles Dandelion and We Love You were left off, just like the majestic Child of the Moon, proves how wrong that UK policy was for their albums, I wished they had mingled with it in the US just like before… and thrown out at least the first Let’s sing this all together and the last one.

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  14. Pity to find so many of the cliches about this album restated yet again. Readers not familiar with Satanic Majesties should listen to it from start to finish; they’ll find it’s a truly astonishing album that says more about London life in 1967 than the Beatles’ faux music hall Sgt. Pepper’s ever did. There’s not a single misfire on the album, and it’s best things (we do agree about which songs they are) still sound wonderful 50 years later. Satanic Majesties is about to be reissued (September 2017) and I suspect there’ll be a widespread correction of its status.

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    • Thanks for your comments Robert. Sorry to have lapsed into cliche – my only defence is that I hadn’t heard the album before, so was coming to it fresh and therefore that thing about things becoming cliches because they are true may apply. At least we agree on the better songs – and as you say the reissue will give those more familiar with the album a chance to hear it afresh.
      Cheers
      Steve

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    • I hope there is but even Abkco’s pre publicity was initially inexplicably negative at the start of a llong interview with their chief engineer, like a retread of original criticism.
      They even say that fans concensus is that Stereo is better than Mono. Also yes the LP must be listened to in full for the intended experience. I don’t regret having 17 copies.

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