zaterdag 10 december 2016

Through The Past Darkly (Big hits Vol.2). The Rolling Stones

With another look at a The Rolling Stones album from 1969, Wo. again returns to his 1968-1969 album series. This time a greatest hits album from 1969. 

This album is from 1969 and I know the album, sort of, just as long. My neighbour friend Hans, who was a few years older, had it and played the most spooky song he knew for us. Drawing the curtains in his bedroom, shutting out as much daylight as possible, he put on this album by The Rolling Stones on his small record player and played us '2.000 Light Years From Home'. A song I definitely had not heard before, but made an impression none the less, because of the circumstances. The album was not a regular one but had more corners than four. It was not so much my initiation into albums, as an album that I apparently had to listen to. And that was a first.

For the rest I was not familiar with The Rolling Stones. I was a The Beatles and The Kinks fan in 1969. A matter of influences being passed onto/into the little version of me I was at the time. The Stones came somewhere in the mid 70s. The band was my own discovery. I bought this cd somewhere in the past 20 years and have not really played it that often. Until now that is. More nostalgia than a need to have it. Besides which Through The Past Darkly do I own? As was usual in the 60s, the U.S. and the U.K. tracklisting was quite different. I have the one that I have. 11 Tracks and they are all fantastic. 1968 - 1972 Era may be the band's album years, 1966 - 1969 certainly have the best singles as far as I'm concerned. With the exception of '19th Nervous Breakdown' all my truly favourite singles are here. Certainly several good ones followed, but hardly any beat this set of singles.

This is a five star compilation all the way. Opening with one of the best Stones songs ever, 'Paint It Black'. The song rose to the #1 position in NL twice, In 1966 and in 1990, due to the 'Tour Of Duty' soundtrack. Haunted, revved up, a hint at Indian music and so dark. Pounding bass and drums. This song has so much power balled up in it self. It just goes on and on. The difference between the Indian melody in the verses and the hard rocking chorus touches on total brilliance. The Stones had moved far beyond its R&B origins and started to truly show where the songwriting tandem Jagger-Richard would take the band to. The way it starts with the Indian melody, gives away nothing of what is to follow. There's anger in there. A lot to. A discontent that certainly was a sign of the times in 1966. A song that in 2016 has lost all it stood for, except the quality This is anger, big time.

At the time of double A sides a band did not have to choose between two great songs. The Rollling Stones had a few of these singles in a row. This was part of the second, 'Ruby Tuesday'. It was backed with 'Let's Spend The Night Together'. This ballad shows what the band dared to do in 1967. Jagger singing at his most sensitive. Flutes and pianos dominate the verses. They flutter away until they are reigned in each time for the chorus. Melodic, beautiful, sensitive. The difference with "Paint It Black' couldn't be larger and it's less than one year in between. Whoever "Ruby" is, Keith won't tell. "She's still alive, man", but most likely Linda Keith, his then girlfriend. A piano has come to the front stage with the Stones. In this case played by Jack Nitzsche. That piano played a big role in 1967.

Singles followed each other at an erratic pace. Every 12 weeks a new one, if not sooner. The final double A side was 'She's A Rainbow'. Another hippie song, slightly psychedelic. Again a piano that drives the song, now played by Nicky Hopkins and again that mix between fragility and rock. The Stones were onto a formulae that truly worked for it at the time. The song is playful, light, like the girl in colours, everywhere. The pace is kept going or dropped, adding to the mystique of the song. You never quite know what is going to happen next, until that faltering piano falls back in and slowly brings the song back on track. Mystical and one of the better songs of that psychedelic year.

After this single the hippie days were over for The Rolling Stones. They set the pace of the rock era next. 'Jumping Jack Flash' was the end of a trend and the start of a new one. Out LSD, in harder substances? The song has a loud riff and a pounding rhythm. Jagger is sneering, perhaps even having trouble to keep up really. This is the edge of his vocal range as we can clearly hear. Come the harmonies, things become very much better. The guitars add overdubs. A Hammond organ dives into the mix. Another great single. One of the all time favourites for many people. Not me though.

Only two years earlier, a minor hit called 'Mother's Little Helper' climbed the charts. Reading up on the 60s, the lyric is not so strange as I always thought. A lot of women were not happy, not coping and Mick and Keith knew all about the GPs spreading the pills to make the women cope instead of assisting them towards a working life outside the home. Things would change fast. I've always liked this song a lot. The melody just flows so pleasantly. The little extra chords at the end of the chorus. The simple but oh so efficient riff. And wasn't I my mother's little helper then? What did I know?!

The first of the double A-side singles is that great, fantastic single called 'Let's Spend The Night Together'. Utterly shocking of course, but such a beautiful song. Again this song has a strong piano and a fantastic drive behind it. Keith plays bass and pomps it  extremely hard, really pushing the song forward. It is just so good. You can hear the aroused youthful testosterone oozing out of every pore.  The lyrics match this music so well. This was a very conscientious choice, I think, to shock brave old Albion and the rest of the world as hard as possible. 50 Years later we just have a fabulous song, isn't that just great? And, Mick Jagger plays truncheons on the track, provided by two policemen who happened to walk into the mixing session, as the door of the studio was left open.

And The Stones rocked on. 'Honky Tonk Woman' was the first Stones song I got to know by my own volition and the newest song on the record, not to be found on any other record at the time. Raucous, loud-mouthed and straight rock and roll. A blue print for what the band was to deliver musically for years to come. Keith found his way into alternate tuning and plays the opening riff with one hand, Mick is finding his way into being a rock singer instead of an R&b and pop singer. A band in transition to its 70s status 'Honky Tonk Woman' is. With it the innocence of the 60s is left behind. The first song with Mick Taylor on it, released just before the death of Brian Jones, who still is all over this album, but less and less as a guitarist.

That is why the contrast with the next song is so huge, 'Dandelion', the A side with 'We Love You', is playful, light, gay. The Stones at its most poppiest. In great form again, but so different from the grim 1966 and the tending to rock 1968 and 1969. The idea makes me think a bit of the pied piper. Mick Jagger luring the youth with him, away from their parents who are worried about their offspring going to the dogs with this long haired, unkempt monsters. Just listen how neat this song is and you know better. Jagger even knows his literature. The arrangement also shows a lot of convention and hard work. A lot of effort went into this song with all the little extras that jump out at the listener. I just love it. Brian Jones contributes an oboe solo here and in the background you can hear Paul and John of you know who sing.

And then the dream of 1967 had ended. The final double a-side was released, the one I told you about at the beginning. The mellotron played by Brian Jones oozes strange sounds. Time for the great escape and perhaps this is just what the band hoped for after all the arrests for substances and time spent in jail. That was not what the band was in the rock and roll business for. Society was hitting back hard and trying to get back lost ground and authority. Hopeless of course, but try it did. So where better to be than '2.000 Light Years From Home' or more? It remains a strange song, but I like it none the less. The riff on the guitar in the background is just great. The mystique does the rest. ('We Love You' to my surprise, is not on the album. With that song, with its jail noises, the fun of Swinging London ended. Incarcerated Mick and Keith were, Brian constantly harassed.)

'Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadows' is an incredibly long title for a fairly straightforward rock song. In the meantime there's enough going on to make the song so interesting. The alternating time, the Dylanesque title and drawing out of the time in the song. The loud horns, the driving piano. This song truly rocks. It didn't become as great a hit as the other three big rock songs of 1965 and 1966, but it wasn't that good, at first. In 2016 I think it's great, but true, also, a bit messy it is. The focus of the other hits is missing a bit.

It all ends with what was my first The Rolling Stones' single. Either given to me or sold for a few dimes by that same friend, Hans. 'Street Fighting Man' with its 1967 photo shoot cover became mine and still is. Again a rocking song, but not the best Stones single is it? Of all the songs present here it is probably the weakest cut. At the same time there again is so much drive that many a band would have killed for such a powerful song, so everything is relative. There is a change in the instrumental section that is utter brilliance. Again it's a song about the sign of the times but a few months too late. The Paris 1968 revolution was won by De Gaulle, but the changes had been set in motion in the western world. Never to leave again. Although several are being challenged in 2016. It's a different anger also. The comment of a by-stander, not the self felt anger of 'Paint It Black'.

Two albums by The Rolling Stones released nearly simultaneously? It's not even three months between this one and 'Let It Bleed'. That would never happen in 2016, I guess. It happened in the 1960s. Musically a so much more interesting era. Things really happened, just listen what is going on in this selection of singles covering just four years. The Rolling Stones changed its music three times in such a small period of time and all changes fitted the band like a glove. The greatest rock and roll band in the world by the time 1969 had ended and forever it will be.

What grips me most though, are the changes we hear in this selection of hits. Because of the mix hustling the years it is a bit disguised. It's something I had never really realised before. If I take the main singles of this period, the band goes from rock and anger, through a song out to shock, to lovely, almost soft tunes. Songs that float, cherish, caress, only to return back to rock and/or anger and aggression. Finally, mid 1969, it settles in what can be seen as a sort blueprint for most of its career. Through The Past Darkly may just be the best compilation album ever as it is so focused. (Alright, there are the Red and Blue compilation albums of the main competition, I know, but they are less focused.)


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