Between the Buttons was an album released in January 1967 by The Rolling Stones. Sonically, the album works well with the strong mid-sixties British rock that the Beatles produced with the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums while it also previews some of the more artful productions of 1967. Following the ambitious 1966 album Aftermath, this album is a further morphing of the band away from their R&B roots. The album is also the last in which founding member Brian Jones played a major role in song arrangements, although he would remain an official band member for another two-and-a-half years. Jones played a huge array of instruments above the steady rock and blues rhythms, giving the album a definitive musical edge. It was published simultaneously with the double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby Tuesday”, both of which were included on the U.S. version of the album. Between the Buttons was the last Stones album to have different versions as the record company practice was all but eliminated after 1967.
“Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a pure rocker with guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards taking on much of the musical details, playing guitar, bass, and piano on the track. The song reached #3 on the UK charts. Although this was the intended “A side” of the single, the 45 was often flipped over by DJs to play “Ruby Tuesday”, due to the then-controversial nature of the lyrics (with its suggestion of casual sex) most radio stations opted to play the flip side “Ruby Tuesday” instead, which went on to become a #1 hit in America. Possibly the best psychedelic song by the stones, “Ruby Tuesday” was recorded nearly simultaneous with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and explores similar musical territory. Jones led the way on this track, playing piano and recorder, with double bass recorded by bassist Bill Wyman (who pressed the strings) and Richards (who bowed the strings). The song also has a really nice melody sung by Jagger.
Between the Buttons was the last of five early Rolling Stones produced by the band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham and was recorded on a four track machine, with much “track bouncing” to accommodate the rich arrangements. Lead vocalist and songwriter Mick Jagger has expressed dissatisfaction with the end result due to the excess tape noise generated by track bouncing and excessive overdubbing.
Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones
|Released: January 20, 1967 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: Los Angeles & London, August-December 1966
Back Street Girl
She Smiled Sweetly
Cool, Calm & Collected
|All Sold Out
Please Go Home
Who’s Been Sleeping Here?
Miss Amanda Jones
Something Happened to Me Yesterday
|Tracks On Alternate Album Version
|Let’s Spend the Night Together
|Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Piano, Dulcimer, Vibraphone, Saxophone, Percussion
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion
The subtle bass-driven “Yesterday’s Papers” starts the album with a heavy dose of marimba by Jones. The song was written solely by Jagger about a recent relationship which went sour. Road manager Ian Stewart, a former player in the band, lent is boogie-piano skills to a couple of tracks. “My Obsession” is segmented into sections which each start over with a drum beat and contain some cool traditional rock sounds and Jagger swagger throughout. Stewart also plays on “Connection”, written mostly Richards (who shares lead vocals), a popular live rock song for years to come.
“Back Street Girl” takes a completely different approach. A pleasant and melancholy ballad with a well-crafted acoustic by Richards, a great melody by Jagger, and Brian Jones on accordion, giving the song some great depth and feel. Although this was excluded from the US version, this is one of the finest tracks on the album. “She Smiled Sweetly” continues the foray into different sub-genres, as a flute-laced organ introduces a moderate waltz with some nice rock elements, especially by Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts. The first side concludes with “Cool, Calm & Collected”, which alternates between the upbeat verses driven by the boogie piano of Jack Nitzche and the calm psychedelic choruses, which feature a sitar by Jones. Later in the song Jagger adds a harmonica and the song speeds up before reaching a crashing end.
The second side begins with the few songs on the album which feature a prominent amount of electric guitar, “All Sold Out” and “Please Go Home”, the second of which features a Bo Diddley-style “Hand Jive” riff. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” starts with an acoustic intro before breaking into good musical motif with piano, harmonica, and some exceptional bass by Wyman. “Complicated” is another song featuring a potpourri of sound while maintaining a very pop-oriented sound.
The album concludes with a perfect closer, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”. Here Richards adds some dry and pleasant vocals to this upbeat and happy-go-lucky duet, which sounds like it borrowed some of its sound from the Kinks. The song is allegedly about Richards’ first LSD trip, but it stays away from the deeper, surreal sound scape (which the band would explore on their next album), for a more upbeat sound with Jones playing a complex brass arrangement by Nitzsche.
In spite of the lack of defining electric guitar representation, Between the Buttons proved to be the most solid rock album of their early catalog. It also contains strong signs of the direction they would take on their late ’67 release Their Satanic Majesties Request, the most controversial album of their career.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.