Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Out of Our Heads (1965)

(Misbegotten first attempt here. Main song here.)
The Rolling Stones re-discovered Chicago Blues at a time when Muddy Waters was painting ceilings for a living. (Patrick King, Amazon review, 2006)

For my purposes, Out of Our Heads stands in for all five of the first Rolling Stones albums, staunch and enduring classics each one: with England's Newest Hitmakers, 12 X 5 (photo session for which used again here), The Rolling Stones, Now! and December's Children (and Everybody's). Stick all five in a CD changer, set up the playlist shuffle in digital, and see for yourself. The quality across the 60 songs (and various outtakes, demos, and whatnot) rarely flags, rarely falls below anything less than first-rate. I'm talking here about the US version of Out of Our Heads, but I'm not particularly splitting hairs over US and UK versions—it matters, I know, but that's what Wikipedia is for. This is approximately where the scope opens up regardless.

The playing is all in place, notably evident on the live track, "I'm All Right," which briefly reveals the dimensions of what all they were up to in performance too, and it's remarkable. Rhythm section sewn up tight and perfectly unconscious, the dancing prancing singer Mick Jagger working out his repertoire of stylistic conceits, and the guitar players Brian Jones and Keith Richards, defining fundamentals of the practicing rock band. On some levels it almost sounds ordinary now, perhaps from the overexposure, but even under withering scrutiny over the years it bears an indefinable magic spark. The music speaks for itself.
Recorded in Hollywood, Chicago, London.... We hope that this album gets you OUT OF your HEADS listening to it, as we got making it. (Andrew Loog Oldham, liner notes, 1965)
Talk about attack: Out of Our Heads was the third of four albums released by the Rolling Stones in the US in 1965. It included two of their biggest hits, later worn to nubs on oldies stations and elsewhere: "The Last Time" (#9 in the spring) and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (#1 for four weeks in the summer). They are great songs, of course—"Satisfaction" is arguably their greatest—and likely the reason the album became the band's first US #1.

Out of Our Heads is my go-to of the early handful from the expedient of living with it. It didn't hurt that it featured "Satisfaction"—that was one for playing over and over, which led to favoring the second side of the album where it was the first song. My brother got the album as a birthday gift the same year it was released. It scared me a little—their faces were put right in ours on the cover, and the music tended to be as dark as that cover, sultry, preening, brisk and economical, and infinitely grown-up somehow. And what did they mean "out of our heads"?
In the early R & B phase, they were wildly exciting but also crude, derivative, very limited, and they shaped up only as a short-term craze. But then, just as things were wearing thin, Jagger and Keith Richards suddenly upped and exploded as writers. Out of nowhere, they started churning out monsters.... All that mattered was the new sound—an adapted Spectorsound but less symphonic, less inflated—and the murderous mood it made. (Nik Cohn, Rock From the Beginning, 1969)
Out of Our Heads is actually majority originals. On the second side they are a supermajority, 5-1. The three best songs on the album are on that side—"Satisfaction," "Play With Fire," and "The Spider and the Fly"—and they are all originals. But the covers are not to be neglected either. The choice of artists alone is another kind of audacious by our present standards: Sam Cooke ("Good Times," a #15 hit for Cooke just the year before), Marvin Gaye ("Hitch Hike," Gaye's first hit, a #30 in 1960), and Otis Redding ("That's How Strong My Love Is"), plus Solomon Burke ("Cry to Me") and Don Covay ("Mercy, Mercy," a #35 hit the year before). As producer and PR man Andrew Loog Oldham mentions, the locations for recording sessions included the Chess Records studio in Chicago. These cats were getting around.

Out of Our Heads has a foot in the past and a foot in a past future. It's that old now. The majority of pop albums of the time were still mostly collections built around one hit single original with 11 covers of other hits of the day. But the Stones, following the Beatles lead (and Bob Dylan, of course), appeared to know what was coming, or they rewrote the rules book expressly to change that. Some of their covers are hits, some are not, and none are exactly by preapproved artists for a band of white British wannabes, except that rule got changed too approximately here. Essential.

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