I played rugby and cricket at school so it seemed perfectly normal to continue with these at Royal Holloway. Although I got into the First XV at rugby, I broke my leg after six weeks and spent the remainder of my first term on crutches and then spent the rest of my University rugby time in the Second XV.
Playing cricket at Royal Holloway was brilliant. A lot of the fixtures took place after the exam period was over and before term ended when there was nothing to do except develop the hedonistic sides to our personalities. Luckily the taxpayer was subsiding us with a grant. In my first year in the cricket team, Greg introduced us to the idea of the “bassett” whereby at the end of each game we had to vote on who had been the biggest wally and was instructed to wear a bar of soap on a piece of string around their neck for the rest of the evening. Luckily this all got written up in the College newspaper.
It was all very friendly but I took exception when in one of my first games, I made a fantastically impressive but unsuccessful attempt to take a catch and as I clattered to the ground without the ball, one of my teammates shouted out “That’ll cost you 5p”. Apparently, every time someone dropped a catch, they had to put 5p in the beer kitty. 5p! That was nearly half a pint! I was outraged and took this up with the self-appointed treasurer of the beer kitty after the game. 47 years later, Ben is one of the best friends I could wish to have and it’s his birthday today. I’m looking forward to sharing a lockdown pint with him in a few hours.
I have played cricket with Ben in many different teams. Royal Holloway, Tolworth Strollers, BBC Mishits but I can’t remember if he ever played for Tye Green. Here he is waiting to bat. Clearly Paul and I are already out, possibly to “The Beast of Blackfordby”. It seems to have turned Paul prematurely grey.
Ben has several rather unfortunate sporting allegiances. As if supporting Wolves wasn’t bad enough, he also claims to like watching Essex play cricket. I suppose someone has to. Luckily, he has excellent musical tastes and loves Half Man Half Biscuit and Bob Dylan as well as The Rolling Stones. He loves The Rolling Stones so much that a) he won’t forgive me for picking this record as my favourite and b) he has studied Mick Jagger’s dance moves so closely that at our wedding, someone who didn’t know him remarked that when he danced, Ben looked a lot like the Stones leader. Have a look and judge for yourselves.
I really can’t remember why I asked her to buy it for me for Christmas in 1967 but my sister spent a lot of money on this record for me. It had a lenticular cover which made it more expensive than a normal record. I played it a lot for 5 years until I sold it at Royal Holloway along with records by Yes, van der Graaf Generator, Colosseum and possibly some others. I think I’ve written this before: I don’t have many regrets in life but this was a huge mistake. I didn’t have any other Rolling Stones records beforehand and the only other record (as opposed to CD) I’ve got by them today is a Greatest Hits double record called “Get Stoned” (which of course is excellent as it has all the singles on it). Clearly nobody else in the universe agrees with me that this is their best record. I’ve just googled “Best Rolling Stones records” and predictably, according to the NME, “Sticky Fingers” is 1, “Exile On Main Street” is 2, “Let It Bleed” is 3, “Aftermath” is 4 and so on. “Their Satanic Majesties Requests” isn’t in the Top 10. I’ve never read “Esquire” but maybe I should because at least they have it at Number 14 and their review is spot on.
“History may be written by the victors — and the Stones are certainly that — but this album gets an unfair rap for any number of sins, from its awkward psych-rock contortions to eye-rolling pretension, and the pervading sense it was a Sgt. Pepper rip-off. And honestly, the majority of the album falls short compared to the best songwriting in the Stones’ catalog. But between the fearless and occasionally transcendent experimentation (including the band’s wackiest-ever arrangements) and Summer of Love standouts “2000 Light Years from Home” and “She’s a Rainbow,” any self-respecting fan is just being bullheaded if they don’t own this on vinyl.”
I guess I asked for this record when I was 13 years old because I had played Sgt. Pepper non stop for the preceding five months. Of course, there were the “Magical Mystery Tour” EPs and “Hello Goodbye” single to enjoy but I couldn’t possibly wait until Christmas Day for these so I guess that having bought “We Love You” in August because John and Paul had sung on it, I guessed (correctly) that this record would be excellent.
I do love The Rolling Stones music (although having just finished a biography of Brian Jones by Paul Trynka called “Sympathy For The Devil”, I have come to believe that Jagger and Richards were not necessarily the loveliest people in the Sixties.). I love the well known singles as much as most people (but maybe not as much as Ben). I have certainly tried to enjoy their LPs but I keep coming back to this, mainly I guess because it isn’t typical. It certainly fits in with my love of “progressive” or “underground” music in the late 60s.
I think, if you look carefully there is a lot of original and inspired creativity taking place on the record. Richie Unterberger celebrates “the album’s inventive arrangements, which incorporated some African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration”. Clearly, this record is not as rooted in the Rhythm and Blues that influenced most of their other work.
I even love “In Another Land” which was written and sung by Bill Wyman. I love the background harmony vocals. I never really appreciated that the snoring at the end was a rather misguided attempt at humour and not simply disparaging.
There’s a long improvised instrumental at the end of side 1 called “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)”. Matthew Greenwald wrote “One of the weirdest cuts to ever appear on a Rolling Stones album, this is essentially an in-the-studio jam. Built loosely on a Kinks-like guitar chording riff, the rhythm is a sea of African percussion and buttressed by some big-band horns, bells, flutes, as well as background noise and chants, which abound in a psychedelic splendor. Everything reaches a sort of aural climax, doubtless inspired by sexual experience. The last proper section revisits the album’s opener, ‘Sing This All Together’.” I happen to love it but, there again, I love “Revolution 9” on “The Beatles”. Interestingly, I’m not sure I’d give it the time of day now, if I hadn’t heard it before. Over Christmas in 1967 there were only two records to listen to (this and “Magical Mystery Tour”) and so I played both of them to death. Even now, listening to this recording now, it’s all familiar although it’s as far removed from “pop” as you could get. I think, when I was younger and there were fewer distractions, I was more prepared to give experimental music the time of day.
Side 2 is probably the stronger side. It starts with “She’s A Rainbow” featuring remarkable piano by Nicky Hopkins and a great string arrangement by John Paul Jones, later of Led Zeppelin. Bruce Eder wrote that it is “the prettiest and most uncharacteristic song that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ever wrote.” He compared it favourably with “As Tears Go By”, “Lady Jane” and “Ruby Tuesday.”
One of my favourite songs on the record is “Gomper”. Matthew Greenwald again: “Based on Moroccan rhythms and Indian melody lines, the song features one of Brian Jones’ finest performances on the album, this time on dulcimer.” Brian Jones plays tamboura, slide dulcimer, sarod, sitar, flute, organ, bass, tabla and other assorted percussion instruments. It’s very hypnotic and very redolent of 1967.
The penultimate song on the record is possibly the best known: “2000 Light Years From Home”. Apparently, Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics in Brixton Prison after his drug arrest in June 1967. It starts with some very inventive mellotron playing by Brian Jones. They played it at The Glastonbury Festival in 2013. It seemed very appropriate although I’m not sure that Mick was in the same key as the others.
I love this record but Keith Richards called it “a load of crap”. Mick Jagger said “there’s a lot of rubbish on Satanic Majesties. Just too much time on our hands, too many drugs. There was simply too much hanging around. It’s like believing everything you do is great and not having any editing.” Conversely, Stephen Erlewine called it “enthralling, not in the least because there’s no other record – by the Stones or anybody else – that sounds quite like this.” It got to Number 3 in the UK charts and Number 2 on The Billboard Charts.
So Ben, Happy Birthday. Sorry that you won’t agree with most of what I’ve written here. Please know that Friday nights talking bollocks to you and listening to you talking bollocks to me are among the most treasured nights of my life. How long before we can indulge again? “See” you at 6:00.