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Monday, February 16, 2015

Between the Buttons (1967)

by the Rolling Stones
Overall Rating =


From what I understand, there seems to be a misconception of the differences between an album that's underrated and an album that's overlooked. When an album is underrated, it's given some sort of attention; for it be under-rated, it's being valued as weak or inessential, but there's a following that might support it despite the criticism. Bob Dylan's 1970 Self Portrait is an example of an album where the critics hated it and convinced the people that hated it, but some black sheep (fellow online critics George Starostin and John McFerrin) actually find some goodness to it. Or since I'm reviewing the Stones here, their late-'67 Their Satanic Majesties' Request can be called an "underrated" album. It was scoffed at for being a psychedelic rip-off, but some might be fans of it for proving them to be able to morph into an acid-tripping sonic machine.

And yet, their first album from 1967 is not underrated. It's overlooked. In between the praise that Aftermath gets and the controversy Satanic causes, it slips through the cracks. It doesn't help that the band themselves virtually ignore it; Mick has called it filler-ish, and the only thing off of it to be performed live with some sort of frequency was the double a-side single substituting a couple of tracks for the US release. As you can plainly see from the grade I give it, I don't think this album should be ignored. It's not the experimental yet blues-soaked pop of its predecessor, nor is it psychedelic like its successor.

That might sound odd for a 1967 record, but remember that it came out in January, so it was actually recorded in 1966. No, stylistically, this is "Carnaby Street: The Musical". Taking Kinks-influenced music hall, Bob Dylan-esque wordgames and Beatles-level melodies, mixing it with their own misogyny and sarcasm, they create the ideal Swingin' London soundtrack, a style in which only The Who Sell Out and maybe something from the Small Faces could compete. While it's not exactly a concept album, there's a certain sense of unity to the LP (somewhat disrupted by the otherwise fantastic "Let's Spend the Night Together"/"Ruby Tuesday" single in the US version), so this is one where a song-by-song run through might be in order.

[Read on...]


  1. Funny, I completely hated this the first time I heard it. Thought it was a completely unlistenable mess, with the exceptions being the coda of "Cool Calm And Collected", "Miss Amanda Jones" and "Something Happened To Me Yesterday". As with almost every single one of my favourite albums, though, I felt curious some time later and listened to it again, and suddenly I couldn't see why I disliked it at all.

    I think the second side here is stronger than the first. My favourites on the first side are "Backstreet Girl" (somehow Mick asking the girl to accept his gifts sounds ten times more misoginistic than the rest of the song), "She Smiled Sweetly" and "Cool Calm and Collected" (the song goes somewhat quieter before the coda becomes completely wild, and I find the effect that creates fascinating), but I feel every single song on side two except "Complicated" (which is still a fine song, if only for how different it sounds from everytthing else here) is as good as those. And "Something..." is the best song. Flat out hilarious!

    This has become something of my go-to album whenever I want to listen to the Stones, but don't want to listen to the "Big Four". I'd probably give this a 14 instead of a 15, but it's definitely an excellent album that gets overlooked way too often.


    1. Honestly I think this is one of the few albums where both sides are extremely even, which is part of the reason it gets a 15 from me. Another reason is that, for all the praise people give the pop-era Stones albums, usually they're limited to the 12-14 range, which still makes them a step below the Big Four, when the songwriting is so highly consistent that I can't see why none of them get a 15. As I said in the conclusion though, this album with "Let's Spend the Night Together"/"Ruby Tuesday" and the stuff from the sessions that appeared on Flowers would be even stronger. I really wish someone would tack bonus tracks onto ALL of the Stones '60s albums; imagine how amazing a longer Aftermath could be or a Beggars' Banquet with Jumpin' Jack Flash, or a Let It Bleed with both versions of Honky Tonk Women. I think that makes more sense for the Stones than a Past Masters-type compilation