Aftermath was the first Rolling Stones album to feature all original compositions. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went into the studio in Los Angeles with enough original material for an entire album. The days of searching for appropriate songs to quickly fill out an album were over.
While the content of Aftermath is less, even than some of their future classic albums, it is nonetheless an excellent album. What is interesting is that it could have been better.
The Rolling Stones released “19th Nervous Breakdown” several months earlier as a non album song. This classic, frenetic rocker was terrific with a dense and layered sound supporting Mick Jagger’s vocal. “It reached number two on the American charts and could have easily been included on Aftermath. Also the double sided single “Lady Jane/Mother’s Little Helper” was released in the United States.
During this time period a single could have both sides on the charts. “Lady Jane” which is included on Aftermath reached number 24. “Mother’s Little Helper,” which was on the English album but not the American release went top ten. Again this superior song could have been included on “Aftermath.”
Brian Jones had a field day on Aftermath. He played the sitar on “Paint It Black,” the dulcimer on “Lady Jane,” a sax on “Flight 505,” harmonica on “Goin’ Home” and an African xylophone on “Under My Thumb.” While Brian Jones influence as to the musical direction of the Stones was on the wane he continued to bring his musical genius to the basic instrumental tracks in the studio. Most of the instrumental surprises on the early Rolling Stones material were due to Brian Jones creativity and virtuosity with an increasing number of instruments.
“Paint It Black” is one of my favorite Rolling Stones singles. Its depressive lyrics and ominous sound built on Charlie Watts drumming with Brian Jones sitar weaving through the mix created just the right image for the Stone at this point in their career.
“Lady Jane” is a nice balled for Jagger, but I would have rather had “Mother’s Little Helper.” Brian Jones dulcimer gives the song a stately presence.
“Under My Thumb” is a classic up tempo rocker for the Stones with a creative fuzz guitar holding the sound together. “Under My Thumb” exploited sexual exploitation which was part of the Stones persona at the time. “Stupid Girl” explored the same theme but in a more immature way.
“Goin Home” is an eleven minute blues opus that closed side one of the American release. I think it is the longest Stones song on record. Most people either love or hate this song and since it takes up so much time, liking it is crucial to a positive opinion of Aftermath. “Goin’Home” is basically guitars and harp building upon each other while Mick Jagger’s vocals float in and out of the mix.
“High and Dry” features some fine acoustic guitar and harmonica that takes this song in a country direction.
Aftermath was an instant commercial success in the United States, rising to number 2 on the Billboard chats and selling over one million copies. It would remain on the charts for 50 weeks.
Aftermath is not only an excellent album is its own right but is a sampler of what was to come in the future for the Rolling Stones.