Even though I didn’t for a while, I eventually got around to liking the Stones. It was the whole Stones vs. Beatles thing. I mean, where did anyone get off versing the Beatles, anyway?
It wasn’t like you had to choose one or the other, but you usually had a clear favorite. And which one it was said a lot about you and what other things you liked. If you liked the Beatles, you liked songs, melody, harmony and production. If you liked the Stones you liked rock and roll, and flirted with the dark side.
I was vaguely aware of this dynamic at the time. I was the typical “good kid” who liked nice things. The Beatles were nice, and, as Col. Frank Burns would say, it's nice to be nice to the nice, so I liked them. The Stones were not nice, so my Catholic upbringing allowed me to like them only so much. And yet my friends –fellow Catholics - did not appear to have this problem.
So you tell me, Stones fans. What was the attraction? It was clear that the cooler kids liked the Stones. Was it the bad boy thing? Or was it simply how great the music was? Even I noticed that. Well, it was all of the above.
Although the histories of the Beatles and Stones were all jumbled up for me at the time, it appears that the Stones got the later start. And as good as they already were, their artistic and commercial breakthrough – “Satisfaction” – didn’t occur until 1965, and their albums weren’t generally recognized as great until 1968 or so.
But ours would remain a not-quite-love/don’t-know-at-all relationship for a while. After the Beatles broke up, I was able to like the Stones more. Me and my friends immersed ourselves in “Sticky Fingers”, “Exile on Main Street” and “Hot Rocks”. Then I got annoyed with them all over again when they started calling themselves "the greatest rock and roll band in the world". It was bad enough that they were doing this now that the Beatles were gone, but then I caught the emcee saying it during the intro of “Get Yer Ya Yas Out” …in 1969. Sacrilege!
And then they gave me/us some valid reasons to not like them, putting out crappy albums like “Goat's Head Soap” and “It's Only Rock and Roll” (Whaddaya mean only! More Sacrilege!!), so I could safely ignore them until 1978 and “Some Girls” when I'm forced to like them all over again, over the objections of Jesse Jackson, no less. But by then, I'd loosened up a bit. (At this rate, I’ll be almost cool at 90.)
Since then, there was a long slow decline I could safely ignore.
And yet, I'd keep hearing that I had somehow still missed some of their greatest music.
So I made my way back to, oh I don’t know, 1966 or so. (Subliminal message: When I get “The Singles Collection: The London Years” for Father’s Day, I’ll be able to fill in a lot of blanks.)
But I have taken a shot here and there.
The only “pre-album appreciation” period records I have are “Now!”, “Aftermath” and “Between the Buttons”. The first is a good record consisting mostly of covers of rhythm and blues standards I might not have heard otherwise. I know I should like this record more than I actually do, but Mick sounds like the young British appreciater of this music rather than the master of it. The band does better, but I like them better still when they’ve fully come into their own.
The latter is a damned good album with hits like “Ruby Tuesday” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, and relatively obscure gems like “Connection” and “She Smiled Sweetly”. The rest is not brilliant, but more than adequate.
Which is where “Aftermath” comes in. What at first glace may appear as a typical hits plus filler record, turns out to be one of the great albums of the sixties.
Yes, I know we’ve been through this already with the Who (“Sell Out”) and the Kinks with (“Face to Face”). I’m not going that far with the Stones. After all, it’s hard to make better albums than “Beggar’s Banquet”, “Let it Bleed”, etc. But “Aftermath” is right up there. And anyway, they seem to be doing just fine without my help, thank you very much.
The singles “Paint Black”, “Under My Thumb” and “Lady Jane” kick things off. Not bad, right?
And you know how they get all authentic on you when you think they’re about to go soft? Out they come with the slide guitar and harmonica, and they start playing the blues. This is annoying to us superficial pop music fans, and I admit that this was my first reaction. But then I noticed that the bluesy songs (“Doncha Bother Me”, “505” and the 11 minute(!) “Going Home”) were being done with much greater authority, and they just kept growing on me.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Stones record without some great obscurities, like “Think”, “High and Dry”, “It's Not Easy” and the brilliant “I am Waiting”.
So if you’re thinking about giving these multi-millionaires even more of your money, you could do a lot worse than to shell out a few bucks for this wonderful record.
Which leaves just one last question: Aftermath to what? They were just getting started.