Aftermath was The Rolling Stones’ fourth album, and the first to consist entirely of Jagger/Richards compositions, one which saw them crossover from mostly R&B imitators to blues-rock innovators in their own right. 1966 was also the year when The Stones could finally rely on their own songwriting talents rather than that of others. Songs such as “Paint It Black” and the misogynistic “Under My Thumb” were each written during these sessions, proving that previous hits such as “The Last Time” and “Satisfaction” (the song of 1965, along with Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”) were no mere flukes. Looking back, Mick Jagger has described the LP as their “coming of age,” and an important one because “it was all songs we’d written ourselves, rather than a bunch of cover versions and some chucked together blues tunes that we claimed to have written.”
Other tunes including “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Lady Jane” and “Out Of Time,” revealed a new found sense of sophistication, albeit one deeply rooted in good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll subversiveness. Gone was Keith Richards’ beloved Chuck Berry, usurped instead by exotic instruments that came with exotic names. Apart from guitar, drums, keyboard and harmonica, Brian Jones brought in marimbas, sitar, an Appalachian dulcimer, and even a Japanese koto. So with Jones busy experimenting with his weird toys, the bulk of guitar duties fell into the lap of Keith, a responsibility that would help prepare him on future releases.
Opening with “Mother’s Little Helper,” a cheeky take on the rising use of prescription drugs by British housewives, the album quickly shifts gears with the garage rock female putdown of “Stupid Girl,” the mock-Tudor “Lady Jane” (replete with dulcimer), and the melancholic “I Am Waiting.” And as much as they always had one eye on the pop charts, the Chess Studios revival of “Doncha Bother Me,” “High And Dry” and the 11 minute “Goin’ Home,” each proved that the boys hadn’t turned their backs on the blues entirely, especially the latter, with Jones’s haunting harmonica wailing in the distance behind Jagger’s vocal improvisations. The whole thing comes across as an early ancestor of their other extended blues number “Midnight Rambler.”
“Flight 505” is entertaining but insubstantial, yet points to future hit “Brown Sugar,” while “It’s Not Easy” is merely a respectable bit of filler. Jagger and Richards attempt at writing another pop number in “Take It Or Leave It” is utterly forgettable, although redeem themselves (slightly) on the catchy “Think,” a very typical mid-60’s pop-rocker, before ending with the very un-Rolling Stones Tin Pan Alley “What To Do.” Had they replaced these last two tracks with just “Paint It Black” then Aftermath would have been a much stronger album.
From here the band would go from strength to strength, not easy in a world dominated by Dylan, The Beatles, and of course The Beach Boys breathing down everybody’s necks. Then there was also The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and The Who, each of whom were also pushing the envelope of popular culture. Without a doubt, the mid to late Sixties was arguably one of the most competitive periods in late 20th century music.
Sadly, Aftermath would mark one of the last albums on which Brian Jones would make a considerable artistic contribution. As Jagger and Richards grew increasingly confident as both songwriters and performers, Brian became ever more isolated from the group, unable or unwilling to write any songs of his own, he began to retreat further into a life of decadence and dissipation, distancing himself even further from his once beloved band mates. Still, Jones remained a vital part of The Stones’ image, and an extremely fashionable one at that, with his impeccable attire and trend-setting outfits, there could be no getting rid of him just yet.
Running at over 53 minutes, Aftermath was The Rolling Stones’ longest record yet, and whether it’s the UK or US version of the album (one could argue as to which version is superior), it marked an entirely new phase, both for them as well as many of their fans.