This album was the first one by the Stones to include only songs penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was also an album that was closer to “pop” than any of their records before — or since. Many of the songs on Aftermath were later covered by other artists, many of them on producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label.
As with other Rolling Stones albums from the early part of their career, Aftermath had two different versions — for the US, and for the UK and Europe. The UK version on Decca included 14 songs and was released in April 1966, while the American version on London had 11 songs, among them their latest hit single, ” Paint It, Black”, that topped the charts on both side of the Atlantic in May.
Though the songs were written by Jagger and Richards, lots of the credit for making this album exciting belongs to Brian Jones, who played several, sometimes exotic instruments and gave the music its magical touch. Unfortunately, in later years Brian’s importance dissipated because of his increasing drinking and drug problems, but also because of his wish to play more blues-based music than the Stones were playing around this time.
Both versions of Aftermath are available on CD today; this review is about Aftermath UK.
The Rolling Stones — Aftermath: Track-by-track review
1. “Mother’s Little Helper”
This song could be just another pop/rock song. But it is not, for various reasons.
First of all, lyrics like “What a drag it is getting old” don’t sound like typical holding hands stuff. And it really isn’t: the song tells about a housewife and mother who needs “Mother’s little helper” to get through a busy day. This helper is a “little yellow pill”.
Musically, too, the song is not ordinary, especially when it comes to the instruments. Brian Jones plays an Indian sitar, something that was also heard on the Beatles’ album Rubber Soul around the same time.
This song was not included in the US version of Aftermath, instead being held back for the Stones’ next US single. It reached number 8 on the charts.
2. “Stupid Girl”
3. “Lady Jane”
A beautiful ballad, with Brian Jones playing dulcimer and Jack Nitzsche on harpsichord. Keith plays beautiful guitar.
“Lady Jane” has a very acoustic feel, and it sounds very “English”, almost like an old folk song. Mick is telling “sweet Lady Jane” (on his bended knee!) how he is committed to give his love only to her. He sounds like an old gentleman of the past.
There was lots of speculation as to who the lyrics are about: some even said it was about Henry VIII and Jane Seymour!
4. “Under My Thumb”
Bill Wyman (on bass) and Brian Jones (this time on a marimba, a wooden instrument related to the xylophone) start a riff that keeps the song together. Brian also plays acoustic guitar and piano.
After the last song, the chivalrous “Lady Jane”, is this song back to reality? It has a macho feel, and this time Mick sings about a girl who once “put him down” but is now under his thumb.
Under my thumb
The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways
5. “Doncha Bother Me”
Another R&B;/pop song. And again, not-very-nice lyrics.
Still waiting here for a single idea
In your clothes and your hair
I wore it last year
Oh no, doncha follow me no more
Brian Jones plays excellent bottleneck guitar. Mick plays harmonica. Jack Nitzsche adds some percussion. Keith is on acoustic guitar, while Bill and Charlie add their part in rhythm section. A simple song — filler? Maybe not, but not one of the highlights of the album either.
6. “Goin’ Home”
When released in the UK, Aftermath was one of the longest albums ever at 52 minutes. “Goin’ Home” is the longest song on the album, reaching almost 12 minutes.
It starts slowly. Mick could be singing about himself (and obviously is, after being on an American tour for 2 months):
Spendin’ too much time away
I can’t stand another day
Maybe you think I’ve seen the world
But I’d rather see my girl
When you’re three thousand miles away
I just never sleep the same
If I packed my things right now
I could be home in seven hours
I’m goin’ home, I’m goin’ home
From there it slowly grows and grows. Then it slows down a bit, Brian playing some distant harmonica, and Mick speeds up, claps his hands, Keith plays excellent vibrato guitar and finally the performance reaches its climax. The Stones manage to keep it together and maintain the interest for 11 minutes the same way as the earlier classic “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” on the album The Rolling Stones: Now! and later with songs like “Midnight Rambler”.
7. “Flight 505”
Mick sings here about how he felt fine at home but suddenly just decided to take a flight, to just about anywhere. (Flight 505 was in fact the one that took the Stones to their US tour.)
The lyrics tell how a nice flight (Mick “feeling like a king”) ends in disaster, at the bottom of the sea.
Ian Stewart starts the song with his piano, sounding like it’s being played in an empty room with lots of echo, then rest of the band joins in. Bill Wyman’s bass is featured very strongly. “Flight 505” is a slow rocker, with a catchy chorus.
8. “High And Dry”
Anythin’ I wished for I only had to ask her
I think she found out it was money I was after
High and dry oh, what a weird letdown
She left me standing here just high and dry
In the beginning of their career, the Stones were mainly an R&B; band, and most of their influences seemed to come from black American music. Later in interviews in magazines and in several books written about them, it became clear that British skiffle (a kind of country and western) and other white music also influenced them. There was even a time when Brian and Keith planned to start some kind of duo inspired by Everly Brothers!
During their American tour, Keith especially got more and more interested in country and western. “High and Dry” sounds very rural, almost like hillbilly music with Mick vocals and Brian’s harmonica. It was an early indicator of one direction the band would later head to.
9. “Out Of Time”
“Out of Time” is quite far from the Stones’ musical roots. It’s a big, strong ballad, featuring Brian Jones on marimba (the African wooden instrument that sounds like a xylophone).
Brian starts the song with a riff on his marimba (and also plays piano). Bill Wyman’s bass and Charlie Watts’ drums join in, Jack Nitzsche comes in on harpsichord, and then Mick’s vocals and the rest of the band come in. Later, the song grows to its climax with a chorus by Mick, Keith and Brian.
Andrew Oldham, the Stones’ manager at the time, wanted to become some a kind of British Phil Spector. Unfortunately, he never had the same talent (but surely enough ambition). He also seemed to think that writing songs closer to the mainstream might open the door for Jagger and Richards to become as successful as Lennon and McCartney.
This song gave Chris Farlowe his only number one in the UK in 1966 on Oldham’s Immediate Records, and was later recorded by both the Ramones and the Manic Street Preachers.
10. “It’s Not Easy”
Simple song, in which the most interesting thing is Bill Wyman’s fuzz bass. The album would not have lost much leaving this one out. Relaxed, easy, but also easy to forget. Next song, please…
11. “I Am Waiting”
Another beautiful song, another exotic instrument played by Brian Jones. This time it’s the dulcimer, an Appalachian string instrument.
I am waiting, I am waiting
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere
Brian Jones starts the song with the dulcimer. Mick sings the lyrics softly. It’s a beautiful, simple song, and Brian Jones, once again, makes it work.
12. “Take It Or Leave It”
This song was not on American version of Aftermath but was later released on the compilation album Flowers.
“Take It Or Leave It” is a kind of song you can imagine Andrew Loog Oldham wanting to produce: a slightly cheesy ballad, and a chorus with harmony.
The Searchers, one of the 60s’ most successful British pop bands with a clean-cut image, recorded the song, reaching number 31 in the UK charts.
This song has a fuzz guitar riff played by Keith Richards that was one of the Stones’ trademarks at the time (and earlier). “Think” is a kind of “compact” R&B; song that might have been released as a single.
It never happened, though. Instead, in 1966 British singer Chris Farlowe (who would later hit number one with “Out Of Time”) recorded “Think” and reached the UK Top 50 with it.
14. “What To Do”
The last track on the album is not a bad song, but surely not among the best of the disc. The American Aftermath didn’t have this one, but it was later released on the compilation More Hot Rocks.
Nothin’ to do, nowhere to go
You’re talkin’ to people that you don’t know
There’s na-na-nothin’, to do-do-do
You’re sick n’ tired of foolin’ ’round
Despite the message of the song, Mick sings passionately…and saves the song from being a total bore.
If you don’t know “what to do”, just turn the album over (or, today, press the play button) and listen to it all over again. Aftermath was a sign of what was to come.
Aftermath by The Rolling Stones
“Mother’s Little Helper”
“Under My Thumb”
“Doncha Bother Me”
“High And Dry”
“Out Of Time”
“It’s Not Easy”
“I Am Waiting”
“Take It Or Leave It”
“What To Do”