Monday, February 2, 2015

The Times of London: Between The Buttons


In my mind there are three truly great "lost" 7" British rock singles of the late Sixties and early Seventies. These are The Who's Dogs, The Small Faces' Afterglow (Of Your Love) and The Kink's Sweet Lady Genevieve. These were respectively released in 1968, 1969 and 1973.

Ironically The Who's extraordinary paean to the world of London dog racing is very redolent of the late-period Small Faces sound on Immediate and reached number 36 in the British charts. Afterglow was the final single the latter group released and would reach the same chart position - the group split up before the planned 1862 album was completed though some of the exceptional recorded work appeared on The Autumn Stone compilation. The Kinks Sweet Lady Genevieve was pulled off the concept album Preservation: Act I - the second of five such releases between 1972 and 1975. The single did not chart and the album made number 177 - the worst performing album the group ever released I believe.

If there is one long player from this period that I feel deserves so much retrospective appraisal it is The Rolling Stones' 1967 Between The Buttons - an album from which no singles were lifted and which the group themselves have been relatively dismissive of subsequently by way of the muddy production. The album was their fifth release and sits between the classic Aftermath - which fundamentally drew the group away from the rhythm and blues focus of their first three releases on Decca with tracks such as Under My Thumb, Mother's Little Helper and Think - and the flawed psychedelic experimentation of Their Satanic Majesties Request.

The album contains 12 tracks though two were withdrawn for the American release and replaced with the Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday single tracks. I am not overly fond of some of the songs on the album but on six tracks alone there is something so unique the group seemed to have captured about a time of clearly unrepeatable social flux and the spirit of a city now long lost to all hope.

The profoundly misogynistic Yesterday's Papers is the sole track from the album that tends to appear regularly on compilations but it is worth revisiting the pace of Connection (which Keith Richards himself claims is the best obscure Stones track in their catalogue) and the snarling All Sold Out. Something Happened To Me Yesterday harkens to a Vaudevillian note with Richards' first ever vocal appearance on the chorus section and a friendly Dixon of Dock Green spoken outro from Jagger. My favorite two tracks though are Back Street Girl's beautiful accordion and harpsichord waltz - the sole track on the album Jagger rates in hindsight - and My Obsession which surely can be read as one of the most sexually-driven songs of the period alike The Pretty Thing's Midnight To Six Man.  Personally, the ethereal atmosphere of Back Street Girl seems to sit alongside Van Morrison's Linden Arden Stole The Highlights as a piece of work that not only transcends our times but actually seems to flit in and out of linear time itself. The other tracks on the album clearly reflect Kinks and Dylanesque touches at points and are She Smiled Sweetly, Cool Calm Collected, Please Go Home, Complicated, Miss Amanda Jones and Who's Been Sleeping Here?

The album was initially recorded in Los Angeles and then in London's Olympic Studios in Barnes and the Pye Studios in Great Cumberland Place. Gerard Mankowitz's photoshoot for the cover took place on North London's Primrose Hill on a November morning in 1966. He used a home-made Vaseline-smeared filter to envision the band entering daylight from a night of toxic dissolution - Brian Jones' literal physical decline complementing this design perfectly. When the group ascended the hill around 6am that morning they met a local hippy character called Maxie who was already there playing his flute. On being offered a jazz cigarette by Jagger he replied "Ah breakfast!" The album reached number 3 and number 2 on the British and American album charts respectively.

Every other weekend I find myself walking over Primrose Hill on my way from North London into the West End and Soho through The Regents Park. I look over a city which has clearly and quite dismissively dictated to me and so many of my peers that the future lies elsewhere - our contribution over decades to its character and animation counting as naught. The view is of a now hostile, soured and clearly fractured metropolis. That strange overlooked album by The Rolling Stones yet sending the faintest of echoes from an inclusive time of cultural fusion across the class divide and through to an economic crossroads that no living city could but ever survive.

Well thank you very much and now I think it's time for us all to go. So from all of us to all of you, not forgetting the boys in the band and our producer Reg Thorpe, we'd like to say God bless. So if you're out tonight, don't forget, if you're on your bike, wear white. Evening all.