The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

satanic

Unlike Sgt. Pepper’s embracement and fascination with the psychedelic world, Their Satanic Majesties Request is a bit more skeptical about it. With songs like 2000 Light Years from Home, we get a glimpse into the inner isolation aspect of the hallucinogenic drugs as opposed to the communal sharing; which we know is a documented path. In fact, it’s a direct precursor to songs like Space Oddity or Rocket Man dealing with the same subject; the difference being that the Stones foresaw that the summer-of-love thing would not last forever while they were right in the midst of it. Likewise, the imagery of In Another Land fools us into thinking it’s gonna be yet another by-the-numbers psychedelic song until the chorus arrives: “Then I awoke / Was this some kind of joke?”

The reason why I’m stating all this is to bust the myth that The Stones’ infamous psychedelic album is a mere copy or parody of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, there are things in common such as On with the Show closing the album and giving it a feeling similar to what the title track did on Pepper. And The Beatles’ faces buried in the colorful landscape of the cover art is definitely a direct nod. But on the whole Satanic is essentially The Stones’ take on psychedelia – much more dark and rocking (Citadel, anyone?) that The Beatles’ take. There are reasons for both to co-exist, in the same way that Norwegian Wood coming before Paint It, Black does not make the latter redundant. Plus, who wasn’t influenced by Sgt. Pepper back then?

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That’s not to say that Satanic is perfect. Like many other albums of 1967, it is a tad overreaching – things like Sing This All Together (See What Happens) just shout excess. It came from an era where pop artists suddenly realized they can do anything, that all boundaries have been removed; and that’s great but in retrospect that does not automatically mean that every idea they had was a good one. And when it comes to influence and innovation, Satanic definitely loses to subsequent Stones albums such as the back-to-the-roots Beggars Banquet and the genre-bending Exile on Main St.

All in all, this may not be the best Stones album, but it’s definitely another intriguing chapter in the discography of one of the most diverse bands to ever walk on this Earth. Forget the naysayers and definitely get this is you’re a fan of The Rolling Stones (especially the Brian Jones era) or just psychedelic rock in general. I know I was reluctant to listen to it for the longest time, and negative quotes from the band members certainly didn’t help, but its unique charm won me over right from the start, enough to assure a heartily thumbs up.

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Categories: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

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31 replies

  1. I tend to give this one a thumbs up if only for She’s A Rainbow. Aside from its place in my personal life it’s a hell of a song – pastoral piano, dissonant breakdown and lewd lyrics…
    I think of it as a big turning point for the Stones too – it’s like from here on out they decided to stop trying to follow and went out to carve their own sound instead – Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile… there was no more attempts at taking on something someone else had already done.

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  2. Thumbs way up. I love when ambition takes over.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thumbs down from me. Never been sure about this album, at the time it felt like the album they thought they should make rather than the one they wanted to make. Sgt. Pepper is a classic, Satanic Majesties isn’t even remotely close to that.

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  4. This is one of the only Stones albums I have ever owned along with the usual Greatest Hits compilations. I remember buying it on the same day as Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Oddessey and Oracle as an attempt to put Pepper in some form of context. I have always enjoyed the amateurish nature of the album and the thrown together and throw everything at it approach.

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  5. I never listened to this album when it came out because of the name and cover, which I was both fascinated by and terrified of. Only She’s A Rainbow was actually played on the radio, a great song which I loved then and now. So I give it thumbs up for the tittle, the cover, and She’s A Rainbow. Maybe the other songs are good too. Think I’ll finally listen to it. Thanks, Ovidiu.

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  6. Excellent commentary, Ovidiu! I continue to be amazed at your insight and stellar writing skills! I agree it’s not of the Stones better albums by any measure, but still a notable effort with a few great songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I just had to re-listen to it to make sure I was remembering it accurately (yes, it had been that long). Thumbs down. A couple of good tunes amid a muck of jellied eels. Back in the day I was fascinated by the kind of plastic 3D cover (which I think they stopped making somewhere along the way), but even then it was a hard album to get through. Thank God for “Beggars Banquet”!

    PS — What on earth was Keith playing through amp-wise? A transistor radio speaker with the treble all the way up?!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Haven’t listened to this in a while but never much cared for it. (Especially when one considers what followed.) I don’t even much like “She’s a Rainbow.” I see the vote is currently thumbs up so I guess I’m in the minority on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Two thumbs down from me. In fact this is one of the rare occasions that I wished I had more than two thumbs so I could signal my distaste for it even more.

    Still, at least it convinced them to stop arsing around and get mean again.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I view TSMR as a sort of watershed album – a couple of OK tunes, but it opened the door to what I refer to as the Stones “golden period”. Granted they’d been leaning toward a more experimental phase via some singles, but this album solidified that direction. No more “England’s newest hitmakers”.

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  11. So im guessing this is some kind of an unpopular opinion but… Satanic>Sgt Peppers. I might be saying this because I was always more of a Stones boy rather then a Beatle boy. And I always taught that Sgt is probably my least favorite beatles album. and im not just saying that to be some kind of a hipster, I just never liked it as much as the others. Thats not to say that i dont like it because I think its an amazing album I just don’t think it stands up with the others or to the hype. And Brian Jones was always my favorite.

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  12. I gave it a thumbs up…barely. I think you nailed it when you said it was The Stones take on psychedelia, the summer of love, LSD and Sgt. Peppers. I’ve a feeling the album is a deliberate tongue in cheek parody of the whole ethos and era. A kind of “in joke” between the band members. It didn’t take long for them to get it out of their system, and there’s enough to keep me entertained.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I had to give it a thumbs down. There’s so much better psychedelic music out there, and this was a one-off by a band whose strength was rhythm and blues and dirty Keef riffs. There’s some ok psych here (especially “2000 Light Years”), but overall it’s pretty embarrassing. Light up to the Small Faces’ “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s a thumbs up from me even though I didn’t love it last time I listened to it (few months ago). Aside from that last time, I’ve always found this a great album. So many textures and patterns that you can start following. Getting lost down a rabbit hole or staring at a Jackson Pollock painting, I guess. I think the last time I just wasn’t quite in the right mood …

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  15. A definite Thumbs Up from me, but then again, I am biased towards the Stones so weigh my vote accordingly! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I enjoyed this when it was released. It seemed adventurous and the other exceptional stuff was still to come. I had totally missed The Beatles hiding in the cover though. Nice one. For me, Stones dipped their collective toes in the psychedelic water and pulled them out again. It was never going to be a direction they would go in….but it was fun, I’m sure. “She’s a rainbow” and ” 2000 …” the most memorable tracks. Thumb sideways !

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  17. This is one of my favorite Stones albums.

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  18. Thanks for very incisive take on the whole aspect of Satanic’s notoriety.
    Sometimes when psychedelics hit there are brilliant concepts that don’t actually live up to their potential in the light of an reality-based day – however, at the same time those concepts can be actual excelled heights of brilliance that manifest anyway, TSMR is a perfect example. And fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It has its moments, but if it didn’t exist, the Stones’ unbroken string of brilliant records would be 6 albums long (Aftermath, Buttons, Banquet, Bleed, Sticky, Exile) rather than the widely accepted latter 4 albums. I love She’s a Rainbow, but all in all it’s the black sheep for sure.

    Interesting post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  20. First of all: Stones is not my thing, besides the fact that they are great as a live band.
    This album in particular I find to be amongst their weaker moments, a down’er from me.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I heard John Lennon once state that the best thing that happened to the Stones was that the Beatles broke up. Until then, the Stones were in constant competition and under the influence of the Beatles. Afterwards the Stones allowed themselves the freedom to go their own way, producing some of their greatest music. Songs like Beasts of Burden.

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  22. Love “Satanic” – in all its psychedelic glory. Actually I’m one of those who really dislike i.e “Exile” because it sounds unfinished and crappy produced. To be honest I like the wierder and non-fan-favorites of the band!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. When this album came out I was so pro-Beatles and anti-Stones that I would not even listen to it. In fact, I never listened to it until around 2004. I now have a complete collection of the Stones (and many other groups, including the Beatles, of course) and it is by far my favorite Stones album.

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