The Rolling Stones, Aftermath
While both the U.S. and U.K. version of Aftermath are re-released with improved SACD sound and spiffed-up original artwork in tactile-pleasing digi-paks, the U.K. version far surpasses the U.S. in just about every way. Damn those pesky ‘60s record executives.
The U.S. version of Aftermath (originally released July 2, 1966) starts off with everyone’s favorite awful ‘60s stalwart, ‘Paint It Black.’ Maybe it’s the song’s thirty-plus years of overexposure, but ‘Paint It Black’ really grates on my nerves. And for whatever reason, U.S. execs decided that the superb lead-off track on the U.K. version (originally released April 15, 1966), ‘Mother’s Little Helper,’ about suburban mothers popping Valium, just wasn’t gonna work; nope, certainly not as well as ‘Paint It Black.’ They were, of course, wrong. Play one song after the other: There’s no comparison. (Well, they’ve both got sitar in them.) Yet ‘Paint It Black’ endures as one of the Rolling Stones’ most popular songs, despite its obvious crap-tacularity, and ‘Mother’s Little Helper,’ still resides in relative obscurity (relative considering that we’re talking about the Rolling Stones here, and none of their songs are really all that obscure).
The next four tracks (same on both versions), the controversial ‘Stupid Girl,’ the harpsichord-led ballad ‘Lady Jane,’ the controversial and utterly cool ‘Under My Thumb,’ and upbeat rocker ‘Doncha Bother Me’ are all and each nothing short of brilliant. And they are, thankfully, found intact and in order on both releases. But then things go terribly awry ‘tween the two.
The R&B-infused ‘Think’ is shoehorned in next on the U.S. release, while the U.K. edition offers ‘Going Home’ to finish out side ‘A’ of the original record release. Sure, ‘Going Home’ is a bit hefty at 11 minutes, but it’s worth that much, if not because some parts of the interminable track are worth hearing, but because it’s a real journey to get through; in fact, it acts as a real changeover into the second side of the original vinyl. It’s interesting to note, however, that it may have been because of the song’s sheer length that U.S. record execs may have relegated it to the last track on the second side U.S. release. (‘What if we tack it on to the end of the album? Maybe by then the kids’ll be too stoned or something to notice how freaking long this song is!’ ‘Johnson, you’re going to go far in this business. Now let’s talk about that band you say will be bigger than the Stones. Who are they? Herman’s Hermits?’)
The two Aftermaths match up again with ‘Flight 505’ and ‘High and Dry,’ both fantastic, bluesy numbers. But then, for whatever reason, for whatever godforsaken reason, the single-best Rolling Stones song ever was left off the U.S. release. Welcome yourselves, new listeners, to ‘Out of Time.’ This is easily the album’s finest moment (on either version of Aftermath). A simple, light rhythm, a soaring chorus, a sing-along pop anthem, if ever there were one. And the impetus of many a dance party over the years, I’m sure. So why, why, why was this was omitted from the U.S. release? There’s some dark, dirty secret behind this somewhere, I’m sure of it.
Both versions plug along with ‘It’s Not Easy’ (classic early-Stones blues) and ‘I Am Waiting,’ a lovely acoustic track many know from the Rushmore soundtrack (where it was used as effectively as one could ever hope, which is to say ‘very’).
The U.S. release then thankfully peters out with the aforementioned epic ‘Going Home,’ while the U.K. version keeps chugging along with ‘Take It Or Leave It,’ ‘Think’ (inserted earlier into the U.S. release, but whose upbeat tempo and raucous meanderings are far more rousing here, as the album’s end approaches), and eventually rounding out with ‘What To Do,’ a quick, simple blues approach to a pop song: essentially what the Rolling Stones always did so well.
And all of this begs the question: Was the point to sell more records, or was it to sell better records? No, I’m not naïve, I know the answer is obvious, but it’s hardly the right one.