It might have been the Summer of Love for everybody else, but 1967 was the year that everything turned upside down for the Rolling Stones.
The Redlands drug bust and the accompanying courtroom dramas, the riots when the band played in Poland, the accelerating deterioration of Brian Jones, the loss of manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, and the almost unanimously hostile reception for Their Satanic Majesties Request all conspired to ensure that a year that began with minor controversy (the band was forced to change the lyric to “Let’s Spend The Night Together” when they appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”) could only speed downhill from there.
Yet, 1967 is also the year in which the band released not one, not two, but three albums that today are regarded among their crowning jewels, culturally, creatively and musically.
Plus a fourth, the late ’66 concert recording Got Live If You Want It, that at least served as a barometer of how fast the band was now moving. And a fifth which, though it doesn’t actually exist in the real world, at least lives in the heart of every Stones collector who has lined up all their bootleg tapes in strict chronological order, and now marvels at the sheer diversity of all that the band was then attempting.
The Rolling Stones eased into 1967 on the back of what remains one of the most musically remarkable, and breathtakingly cohesive, records of their entire decade: Aftermath.
True, sundry, pinchy-faced commentators still grumble at the apparent misogyny that fuels its best known numbers — in his “Stone Alone” autobiography, Bill Wyman readily rattled off eight songs which “branded Mick and Keith as anti-feminist writers, making no bones of their taste for male domination and female submission,” while Stones biographer Philip Norman wrote of “Jagger’s shifting poses of scornful misogyny and little-boy winsomeness;” of “Under My Thumb”’s “crowing victory over a recalcitrant female ego,” of the “insistently taunting” “Out Of Time.”
Andrew Loog Oldham knew the truth, however. Aftermath, he explained at the time, was “an expression of the things around them. In the early days, audiences and fans saw themselves as a mirror of the Stones.
It’s still the same today, except everyone’s grown older and more mature. Mick and Keith write about everyday things that are happening, and their songs reflect the world around them.”
Indeed they did. Norman, again, calls the U.K. opener, “Mother’s Little Helper,” a “mockery of a pill-addicted housewife.” How readily he forgets that, at the time the song was written, the U.K. was being inundated by an ad campaign for the anti-depressant Librium, a reassuringly masculine hand patting a tense, depressed woman’s wrist, alongside the caption “there, there.” In other words, “though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill....”
It is this almost documentary style of songwriting that would remain the band’s stock in trade for much of the next crucial year, but it was not their only trump card. Across the course of Aftermath, Brian Jones was at the peak of his (occasionally debatable) musical genius, as he unleashed sitar, marimba and dulcimer across the electric noise of his band mates.
“Brian,” Keith Richard later reflected, “was one of those guys who’d say, ‘Oh look, there’s a bunc