50 Years Ago: Rolling Stones Go Technicolor on ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’
The summer of 1967 was all about exploring brave new sounds. It was the summer of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced and Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Everyone wanted to be part of the new paisley-colored psychedelia that was shading pop music, including one of the biggest groups on the planet: the Rolling Stones.
Using the kaleidoscopic Between the Buttons -- their fifth album, which was released earlier in 1967 -- as a starting point and Sgt. Pepper’s as a template, the Stones spent a sizable chunk of the year recording an album that was to rival the Beatles’ pop-art masterpiece. Released in December 1967, the result was Their Satanic Majesties Request, a tangle of psychedelic mannerisms and studio trickery, complete with vomit-inspired 3D cover art.
The sessions were a mess from the start. Between court appearances for various drug offenses and inflating egos all around, the five band members were rarely in the studio at the same time. Their producer, fed up with the delays and lack of focus, quit before things really got started, so the band, for the first and only time in their 50-year-history, decided to produce themselves.
A double A-sided single, "We Love You" backed with "Dandelion," was released that summer, and neither fared all that well (the former didn’t even crack the Top 40, despite backing vocals from John Lennon and Paul McCartney; "Dandelion" climbed to No. 14). Their Satanic Majesties Request turned out to be just as troubled.
The album managed to make it to No. 2, but it was almost immediately dismissed by both fans and the band. Keith Richards himself called the album “crap.” And these days, the LP is best known for its wall-art cover image. Still, a few songs stand out: "Citadel," which temporarily abandons the psychedelic tinting for straight-up guitar riffing; "In Another Land," the only Stones song to feature Bill Wyman on lead vocals; "She’s a Rainbow," the best track to emerge from the sessions and a Top 30 single; and "2000 Light Years From Home," a sonic freak-out highlighted by Brian Jones’ soaring mellotron.
The Stones would rebound the following year by returning to blues-based songs and further staking out their identity, kicking off one of the greatest runs in rock ‘n’ roll history with "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and Beggars Banquet. Their Satanic Majesties Request was their last album to not go platinum.
And it remains the most perplexing record the Stones ever made. But like almost everyone else during the summer of 1967, they were blinded by the candy-colored lights.