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The Rolling Stones' Abandoned Baby
on 20 March 2010
Parked unobtrusively between the critically acclaimed Aftermath and the misguided (though enjoyable) psychedelic pudding, Their Satanic Majesties Request, was this musical curiosity from the Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons. Released at the beginning of 1967, Between the Buttons emerged at a time when the Stones were jaded after three years in the limelight, and it showed; the album didn't really know what it was about and the band seemed momentarily bereft of inspiration. Consequently, this is the Rolling Stones album that time has all but forgotten, perhaps deliberately so; Mick Jagger later said he hated it.
Yet Between the Buttons is not really a bad album as such; it's just not a very memorable one. It contains a number of enjoyable songs, and in places it is musically quite stylish, lyrical and poignant, though the adjective of choice for all the tracks here on offer is 'lightweight'; no song from Between the Buttons will ever pop up on a list of the Rolling Stones' best. That said, there is a strangely modern feel to this album, and if I was hearing two or three of its songs for the first time, I'd never guess that they were four decades old.
The track list is a mix of high-tempo pop songs, some very English whimsy, and a couple of maudlin, downbeat tunes. A few studio 'effects' are in evidence and the guitars clearly benefited from a fuzzbox or two, though the reverb was overdone. All Sold Out, Connection, and Complicated are probably the pick of the upbeat songs, the latter especially, while My Obsession and Please Go Home, though interesting, are messy and sloppily produced. The two slow tunes, She Smiled Sweetly and Back Street Girl, are both endearing, with the second being actually quite beautiful. Something Happened to Me Yesterday is a five-minute whimsical effort that completes the set, and is unusual in that Keith Richards sings the chorus. The song is fun.
It's difficult to know who will buy this album now; Stones fans will already own it, and its reputation is not so great as to attract many curious listeners from the present. However, Between the Buttons, though critically damned over the years, is an eccentric and interesting collection that still deserves our attention. This album was probably the last gasp from the Rolling Stones as pure pop stars before they slowly morphed into "the greatest rock and roll band in the world" with the seminal albums Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed, so because of its role as an important link between the first two stages of the band's evolution, Between the Buttons deserves to be remembered and enjoyed.