Rolling Stones: Through the Past, Darkly

In reality, their second greatest hits collection, released in 1969. Unlike the Beatles, The Rolling Stones did not produced great albums in the 1960s. Big singles, yes. Just not groundbreaking albums.

The greatest hits album collects their non-album singles during the second half of the decade. I still have the vinyl copy of this octagon-shaped cover.

This album closed out the decade for the Stones, on an uptick creatively, and recognizing the death of co-founding member Brian Jones.

The album reaches back to the 1966 album, Aftermath, for “Paint It Black” and “Mother’s Little Helper.” It concludes with the single “Honky Tonk Women” from 1969.

Until 1967, the Stones released a string of awesome singles, stumbling with “We Love You,” a rare dud. The Stones and the Beatles dueled on the charts and creativity, but Their Satanic Majesty’s Request was a pale attempt to match Sgt. Pepper, and “We Love You” was not “All We Need is Love.”

In 1968, the Stones came back strong with a single that turbocharged their sound, and a critically praised album, Beggar’s Banquet.

This album mostly covers the Rolling Stones fun period, light and breezy pop and psychedelic songs, mostly done acoustically with a few unusual instruments thrown in for quirky sounds.  After this album was released, the Stones would play the Altamont festival, the location of a murder and bad vibes, the nadir of the love and flower days of the 1960s.

Through the Past, Darkly

Side A

“Paint it Black”  One of the Stones’ most stylish songs, tough and aggressive, but using acoustic guitars and a sitar for the Eastern sound.  This song is often used for Vietnam-era films, it has that sound of the time, of battles and protests.  A number one charting song.

“Ruby Tuesday” A number one song, from the Between the Buttons album.  A gentle ballad about Keith Richard’s girlfriend, it has a lovely melody played by Brian Jones on the recorder and piano.  One of the most lyrically poetic songs the Stones would write.

“She’s A Rainbow” From Their Satanic Majesty’s Request album, Nicky Hopkins on piano steals the show.  Not exactly a rock song, more of a psychedelic-pop novelty.  The string arrangement was provided by John Paul Jones, later of Led Zeppelin.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” The song that re-established the Stones as a heavyweight band.  Gone was the psychedelia and goofy pop, replaced by the British blues and funk.  This was also the beginning of the familiar Keith Richard guitar riff that would adorn Stones singles for the next decade.  With this song, the Stones found their swagger.

“Mother’s Little Helper”  From the Aftermath album, a top ten hit, and surprising considering the lyrical content about the overuses of prescription drugs.  It has a bright and bouncy acoustic 12-string guitar groove with a mean bass track.  The Stones could sound bright and sinister at the same time.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” A double-A-side single (“Rudy Tuesday”) from 1967.  Failed to crack the top forty, it still got a lot of airplay, though not one of the more definitive Stones’ singles.  Famous for the Stones being forced by Ed Sullivan to change the racy lyrics on his show.

Side B

“Honky Tonk Women” A number one song in America, easily selling over a million copies.  The first song with new guitarist Mick Taylor onboard.  A country-blues song, it features some very mature Stones guitar work, which would be their meat and potatoes over the next five years.

“Dandelion”  One of my favorite Stones songs, a number 14 charting song.  It is bouncy and fun.  Interesting instruments, harpichord, Mellotron and saxophone instead of the usual rock instruments. Nice lead vocal by Jagger and soaring backing vocals by the group.  This could have been a Mamas and Papas song.

“2000 Light Years From Home”  Not exactly a hit, it is a psychedlic trip song with weird song effects, Brian Jones’ Mellotron provides the spacey atmosphere.  One of the better songs from the album.

“Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow?”  A top ten song, thought I’m mystified why. There is nothing special about this song.  It’s just a high production job that disguises a lack of anything memorable or original.

“Street Fighting Man” Another Richards riff, this time more of a power rock chords.  The song has a distorted sound, the result of playing it loud into the mic of a cassette tape machine.  It is an acoustic song with the exception of Richard on bass.  Nicky Hopkins, familiar Stones sideman, contributes the distinctive piano.  Jagger wrote the lyrics, reflecting on the student demonstrations in the Europe and the anti-Vietnam protests in America.  Incredibly, the song did not even make thee top forty in America.

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