Their Satanic Majesties Request Another Listen

Author: Bruce Jenkins   Date Posted:28 April 2020 

The 1967 album by the Rolling Stones received mixed reviews on release. Some dismissed it as a sub-par Sgt Pepper while to others it appeared to be desperately clutching the paisley coat-tails of Summer of Love psychedelic whimsy. Both responses were inaccurate. Their Satanic Majesties Request is, simply put, neither copy-cat nor cash-in. It fact it is a gem of 60s psychedelia that can still magick your socks off.

Satanic Majesties arrived late in 1967 following the marvellous 45rpm “We Love You” b/w “Dandelion”. The first thing that grabs your attention is the LP’s striking cover. The band sit, fantastically costumed, in a psychedelic landscape floating in a silver-blue sky bedecked with wispy clouds—or perhaps strands of smoke? As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the portrait was produced as a lenticular photo, giving a woozy depth to the whole mind-bending scene. You’d need to remortgage your house to buy a UK original today, but the re-issue is excellent and absolutely does the job.

The trippiness continues on the back, while inside the gatefold is a mandala (the study of which guarantees cosmic transcendence, or at the very least more wooziness) and a kind of hippy collage that owes much to Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch. It was, in short, a spectacular package for a band whose previous five album covers all sported no more than rather flat photos of the band.

Inside, the music makes great use of studio effects to enhance what are (mostly) very good Stones songs indeed. “She’s a rainbow” is such a timeless single it actually deserves its place on every psychedelic compilation ever made. A great melody and solid playing support a love song unique enough to bring a smile well into the twenty-first century. “Citadel”, drips with impressionistic alienation, while one cannot overlook the mellotron-soaked isolation of “2000 light years from home”. Underneath the pretty clothes beats a darker heart.

Really, the only low point on the whole LP is the last track on side one, the indulgence of “Sing this all together (see what happens)”. What actually happens is that a seemingly endless musical collage smashes up the opening song (“Sing this all together”) but with little sense of goal or purpose. Of course, that was the way of things then—The Beatles put an avant-garde collage on the White Album the following year—but one can’t help thinking that if “We love you” and “Dandelion” had been included on Their Satanic Majesties Request, it would have not had to wait decades for reappraisal, but would instead have been considered one of the jewels of the psychedelic era.

© Bruce Jenkins 2020

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