Satanic Majesties was different. The Rolling Stones embraced Flower Power’s cloudy romanticism. But just as counterculture’s utopian idealism failed to negate its gritty realities the hippy dream couldn’t nullify The Stones’ menace.
With Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s The Beatles were changing the face of popular music. Yet rock’s new aristocracy couldn’t gauge just how much. With the gauntlet thrown acts like The Beach Boys rushed to compete. The Stones, in contrast, were reluctant. They simply felt their hand was forced.
Across lengthy studio sessions Jagger, Richard and Jones accepted the stylistic cues of the seemingly new paradigm. Tape experiments, eastern riffs, lysergically contorted structures burst into colour. But this record was different.
Cynicism lingered. Satanic unwittingly belayed a deeper truth. Flower Power was a put on, a conceit.
‘Sing This Song All Together’ is its opening incantation. The band are perhaps a little dizzied by Summer of Love optimism but remain coolly detached. It’s far from righteous. They haven’t shed their skin as ‘2000 Man’ makes obvious as blues roots are taken cosmic.
Another truth. Flower Power kept sisters down. Take ‘She’s A Rainbow’. Read “She comes in colours” crudely. The record closes the with a journey to a strip club. The Stones wallow in the sleaze, decadence sure, but it’s true-to-life. For all its talk, counterculture’s women were still under men’s thumb.
So as the group struggled to record the album, Majesties unwittingly captured the truth of its times. As the band pushes toward an out limit they’d never revisit, their lysergic ambition is uniquely grounded. These five aren’t from a land of unicorns and far off castles but London streets.
As for the reissue? Well, the difference is mainly cosmetic. But that’s not our point.
Satanic’s significance is this: With age critical opinion has circled around. Generations discovered more to The Rolling Stones’ sixth than the boomers initially thought on offer. Both the band and many listeners dismissed the work as folly. So too did The Stones who jettisoned it entirely, stripping back before Beggars Banquet led the hopes and dreams of an entire generation into the charnel pyres of Altamont.
That’s another story. This album continued on a life its own. It’s been adopted as the cornerstone of neo-psychedelic canon. The Brian Jonestown Massacre made a career of it.
This record is iconic not only in its oddity but its defiance. Satanic subverted the energies of an era which ultimately failed to deliver. It was truly something else.
Words by Riley Fitzgerald