Written by: Paul Gleason
Dedicated to Anton Newcombe and Paul Trynka
There he sits, teetering precariously on the edge of Keith’s piano bench, playing the melancholic melody of “Ruby Tuesday” on his recorder. The date is 15 January 1967, and the Beatles had yet to release “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” and, of course, Sgt. Pepper. But Brian Jones was already setting the musical bar as high as it could go, contributing something experimentally feminine and tender to the sound of a group known for its machismo and tales of stupid girls forever trapped under the thumbs of their men.
As Mick botches the low note on which the first line of “Ruby Tuesday” ends, throwing off Keith’s harmony vocal (Brian, reportedly, sings the vocal harmony on the record), Brian steadfastly plays his recorder (and, the melodic crux of the song that he actually wrote, but for which Mick and Keith took the credit). He’s miming of course—they all are, except for singers Mick and Keith—but Brian has a confidence in the new song that his four bandmates belie, with their camp facial expressions and hippie clothes that just don’t fit well with them.
Four Stones make fun of psychedelia even as they embrace it, their youthful vigor betraying a childishness that demonstrates an unwillingness to embrace the culture that they helped create. Mick’s and Keith’s cries for satisfaction and endless critiques of women addicted to fashion or prescription drugs—there was always something wrong with women—found their antidote and became palatable because Brian repeatedly yanked the vulnerability out of his soul and added a layer of emotional depth to the Stones’ music.
Would the music of 1966 have sounded so disturbing, so naked, and so vital without Brian? “Paint It Black” couldn’t have been as dark and paranoid without his razor-sharp sitar melody; “Under My Thumb” would have been yet another misogynist anthem without his marimbas, which made Mick’s sexist words seem too easy, trite, and light; his dulcimer on “Lady Jane” gave the tune an Elizabethan vibe that somehow represented the delicate fears of the women whom Mick calls up for execution; and his guitar feedback blasts on “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” brought sonic mimesis to the song’s chronicle of sexual chaos.
But 1967 would be Brian’s make-or-break year, not only because it would send him on the road to Joujouka. You could tell that much from his performance on Ed Sullivan. Whereas Mick caved in to the corporate pressure to change his lyrics—he sang, “Let’s spend some time together,” instead of “Let’s spend the night together”—and offered up a rolling of his eyes as protest. But Mick’s eyes were just a gesture, and they somehow played into his camp take on psychedelia. (Eight months later, Jim Morrison told Ed’s “family-oriented audience” that they could, indeed, “get higher.”)
Mick, the former London School of Economics student and future marketer of a Rolling Stones credit card, thought himself greater than the cultural moment and movement that he represented. Brian, conversely, knew that he was a servant, a messenger, an angel of a new awareness. Whereas Mick and Keith were ensconced in tradition—Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and the like—Brian had completely absorbed these influences by 1966 and wanted to move on. The great American bluesmen, he figured, were avatars of mind expansion, visionaries of the dark night and the even darker pain that they and their ancestors had undergone under the whip of slavery and Jim Crow. Brian knew, utterly, that these brave men had created new forms to express the new (and pulsing raw) pain that they felt in their bones and had seen with their eyes. They weren’t pop stars—the Beatles and Mick and Keith were pop stars—but men who blew their very souls into their mangled harps and plucked their brittle steel strings with the work-hardened calloused hands of men who knew what coarse cotton felt like in the act of being picked.
Perhaps that’s why Brian looked like an angel.
Look at him when he and Mick introduce Howlin’ Wolf—“one of our greatest idols”—to British TV in 1965. Look at how he tells Mick to shut up so that Wolf can get up on stage where he belongs. Look at how he nods his head in time to Charlie’s beat whenever he plays “The Last Time,” a blond-headed angel of cool and confidence, somehow sexually available but as distant as Apollo—as ivory-skinned, as white-clad, as poetic.
But, most of all, look at the way that he subverts the authority of manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham and his adoration for all things Mick and Keith by transforming half the cuts on Aftermath—the Stones’ crucial LP of 1966—into an avant-pop masterpiece that truly mirrors the innovative spirit of Waters and Wolf, of Walter and Berry, by avoiding blues clichés.
Some people say that Brian—and, therefore, the rest of the Stones—was imitating the Beatles and their equally experimental Revolver LP, which also appeared in 1966. But Brian had the Beatles beaten by four months. “Paint It Black,” “Under My Thumb,” “Out of Time,” “Lady Jane,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” “I Am Waiting,” “Goin’ Home,” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” were already all over the airwaves before Revolver hit the shops.
And Brian and the Stones were not only redefining what rock and roll could do in the studio, but unlike the Beatles, they were playing their songs live. Whether staring or smirking, posing or running, Brian was magnetic. The girls wanted to fuck him, and the boys wanted to be him. Patti Smith herself, in a mood of giddy poetic remembrance, wrote about grabbing Brian’s ankle when she saw the Stones play at a high school auditorium in 1964 New Jersey. Smith’s speaker—Smith herself?—ends up soaking wet, in tears of beatific vision or in post-orgasmic flutter, it doesn’t matter.
But perhaps what does matter is that by January 1967, when Brian and the Stones played “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” for Ed and his crowd, the angel looks crestfallen. His eyes look tired under his blond bangs and floppy white hat. His eyes speak volumes about how he’s leaving something—maybe everything—behind: the band he started, his friends and flatmates Mick and Keith, and quite possibly the music that because it flowed so effortlessly and unimpeded from him, his life.
As early as 1965, Brian had told an interviewer that he felt that there was more to life than the Rolling Stones. It’s simply unimaginable to think that Mick and Keith would ever have the courage to say the same thing. But, by 1967, Brian knew that the Stones were mortal—and they were.
Tensions between Brian and Keith were at an all-time high after the Between the Buttons sessions, which had wrapped on 13 December 1966. The Brian-led “Ruby Tuesday” became the Stones’ fourth number one hit in the USA, while its flip side, “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” reached number three in the UK.
The Stones were on a commercial roll, and the hit single, which came out on 13 January 1967, paved the way for the release of the Between the Buttons LP in the UK a week later. Brian played on only eight of the album’s dozen tracks, perhaps because Mick and Keith didn’t want him to contribute any guitar or perhaps because he himself was already tired of an instrument that he’d played for so long. “Please Go Home” did feature Brian on guitar, but it was the sole tune to do so. The track had piqued Brian’s interest because it allowed for his imagination to take over. In so doing, Brian transformed Mick and Keith’s composition into a proto-space rock jam, with oscillators, theramins, and, maybe, a mellotron entering the fray.
On seven of the other tracks, Brian continued to innovate. Marimbas, banjos, kazoos, recorders, and vibraphones filled out tracks such as “Yesterday’s Papers,” “Cool, Calm & Collected,” “All Sold Out,” “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?,” and “Back Street Girl.” Brian even became a one-man horn band on album-closer “Something Happened to Me Yesterday,” on which he played clarinet, saxophone, and trombone.
One of the best songs about the LSD experience, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday” forecasted Mick and Keith’s bust at an acid party, which Keith hosted at his Redlands home on 12 February 1967. Facing jail time, Keith in particular needed to get away from stress, so Brian and his actress-model girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, asked Keith to accompany them on a visit to Morocco, one of Brian’s favorite haunts. The only catch was that Keith would have to provide the transportation; Brian didn’t drive, and Keith’s chauffeured Bentley limousine would provide the trio with enough room.
The trio left London on 26 February and made it as far as Toulouse, France. Brian’s asthma had kicked in so badly that he couldn’t breathe. Keith and Anita hospitalized Brian in Toulouse on 28 February and resumed their journey, on which they had sex in the back of the Bentley. Conflicted and confused, Anita flew back to Toulouse to visit Brian on 4 March. The founder of the Rolling Stones had been alone for a week, struggling to breathe. On 7 March, she accompanied him back to London, where he was re-hospitalized, and four days later, Mick joined them when they decided to fly to Morocco to meet up with Keith and some other members of the Stones’ inner circle.
By 16 March, Brian was again without his “girlfriend” and bandmates, with Mick heading home to London and Keith and Anita taking the Bentley to Spain. But Brian was inspired. The avant-garde Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin had told Brian – who, in their minds, was the most artistically innovative Stone – about the Master Musicians of Joujouka, a group of Jbala Sufi trance musicians who played rhythmically complex improvisational drone music. They made their music using reed, pipe, and percussion instruments such as the rhaita, tebel, and tarija. Strongly connected to the god Pan (or the goat god, Bou Jeloud) and Sufi mysticism, the music was reported to have the power to heal the sick.
The Master Musicians reminded Brian of what the American blues masters had already taught him – that music wasn’t a component of life but that it was life itself. And, as such, it was holy, healing, and restorative. Indeed, the music was so compelling and had such a healing effect on him that he thought it might heal the Rolling Stones. Having recorded the Master Musicians of Joujouka for the first time, he flew back to London on 21 March to bring the message to Mick, Keith, and the rest of the Stones.
Mick and Keith, however, were preoccupied by their court case, and they really didn’t have enough time to devote to the making of the follow-up to Between the Buttons – Their Satanic Majesties Request – on which the band had already begun working on 9 February. With the established Jagger-Richards-Oldham dictatorship falling apart due to drugs, legal problems, and arguments, Brian thought that making a more improvisational record that was influenced by Moroccan music would not only provide the Stones with some Pan-inspired therapy but also would give the band a new approach and a new sound.
The Stones, surprisingly, followed suit. They probably didn’t understand what the Joujouka music meant to Brian or its spiritual power, but they needed to do something in light of the fact that the drug bust had put on hold their traditional way of writing and recording. In other words, Brian didn’t convert anyone; rather, this most practical of bands had to improvise in the studio. Andrew even quit his job as their producer, citing the band’s lack of focus. Ever the lover of well-produced pop records, he didn’t like the new improvisational direction anyway.
Brian asserted himself, appearing on all ten of the Satanic Majesties tracks. “2000 Man” – probably the only track that could have appeared on another Stones album – was the only song to feature his guitar playing. The other nine songs, which include a host of now mostly forgotten Stones’ masterworks such as “Citadel,” “She’s a Rainbow,” “The Lantern,” “Gomper,” and “2000 Light Years from Home,” showcase Brian on flute, saxophone and other brass instruments, recorder, electric dulcimer, organ, and, most important, his new instrument of choice, the mellotron. The attentive listener can even hear Brian playing his own nose on Bill’s “In Another Land”: that’s Brian snoring at the track’s end.
Although exactly not replicating the sound of the Joujouka musicians, Brian’s mellotron transforms “2000 Light Years from Home” from a simple blues riff to a mystical masterpiece. He creates swirling and disorienting mellotron patterns to accompany Mick’s lyrics, which use science fiction devices to describe the loneliness of an acid trip gone wrong. But Brian’s mellotron serves as a counterpoint to Mick’s tale of isolation; it grants that experience the beauty that accompanies fear in the rituals in which the Master Musicians would participate. Festivals such as Aid el Kbir found a child donned in the coat of a ritualistically killed goat spreading fear throughout the village. While the Master Musicians played, the child would promote fertility for the village for the coming year. Brian’s mellotron, therefore, announces that the isolation of a frightening acid trip leads ultimately to a stunning appreciation of the interconnection and interdependency of all beings.
This may sound like a lot of hippie claptrap, but Brian’s performance – infused by what he’d seen and heard in Morocco – grounds the psychedelic experience in the rites and rituals of other cultures. And Brian’s greatest contemporaries – not his fellow Stones, but John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Philip Glass, just to name a few – had similar interests in fusing Western and non-Western spiritual ideals in music.
Nowhere on Satanic Majesties is this fusion more prominent than on the two versions of “Sing This All Together,” which open and close the disc’s first side. Keith’s blues riffs are everything he’s done before, and Mick’s lyrics are a load of platitudinous hippie claptrap, but they’re barely noticeable. Brian’s flutes, trumpets, and mellotron – not to mention the entire band’s use of cymbals, maracas, triangles, marimbas, congas, and seemingly ever other percussion instrument Olympic Sound Studios had available – create a sonic wall that sounds like the Master Musicians’ record, Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, which Brian recorded when he returned to Morocco in 1968. Structurally and sonically, the two versions of “Sing This All Together” are the only time the Stones on a studio album truly improvise. In addition, these Brian-led tracks achieve a greater sense of dark strangeness that the psychedelic records by the Stones contemporaries – The Beatles, The Doors, Love, The Who, The Moody Blues, The Zombies, and Pink Floyd included – ever achieve.
Their Satanic Majesties Request, which came out in December 1967, can only be compared to the Beach Boys’ SMiLE (which was recorded around this time but not released until 2011) and the Velvet Underground’s debut LP. All three records in their aesthetic of unexpected and avant-garde experimentation take music into previously unchartered and unexplored directions
But whereas Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, and John Cale have become lionized for their groundbreaking work, Brian Jones has yet to receive his due. Mick and Keith continue to minimize Brian’s contribution to the Stones – the band Jones founded and for which his uncredited writing contributed to the unique sound of many songs. In fact, Keith has even called Satanic Majesties a “load of crap.”
Comments such as Keith’s can easily be used to justify his theft of Anita from his friend, but also the public perception of Keith as the Stones’ musical centerpiece. Yes, the story goes, Keith became the master of the guitar riff – the rock-solid foundation of the Stones’ sound – whereas Brian became the ultimately unnecessary guy who augmented what Mick and Keith did with his psychedelic flavors.
On 1968’s Beggars Banquet, the Stones develop what’s supposedly their mature sound – a return to the blues after a couple years that, the band reports, were spent floundering in Brian-led psychedelic music, which was, they argued, the stuff of a deranged drug addict trying to copy the Beatles. The riffs on “Street Fighting Man” and “Stray Cat Blues” are indelible, and Keith plays the hell out of them. But are they and the other music on the album really so far away from Brian’s experimental tendencies? In other words, why are his contributions buried in the mix? And, most disturbingly at all and despite historical evidence, that he didn’t even play on or influence Beggars Banquet in the first place?
Brian plays guitar on “Sympathy for the Devil,” slide guitar on “No Expectations,” guitar and harmonica on “Dear Doctor,” guitar and harmonica on “Parachute Woman,” electric slide guitar and mellotron on “Jigsaw Puzzle,” sitar and tamboura on “Street Fighting Man,” harmonica on “Prodigal Son,” and slide guitar and electric keyboards on “Stray Cat Blues.” He only doesn’t appear on two tracks: “Factory Girl” and “Salt of the Earth.” These two songs – and perhaps “Prodigal Son” – are the only songs on Beggars Banquet that don’t smack in some way of Brian’s originality and vision. Mick and Keith, however, obscure Brian by mixing him low and repeatedly saying that the album is a return to their blues roots.
But what roots? The Stones—under Brian’s leadership from their earliest days—were always experimental. They made English pop out of the American blues and, in so doing, turned on a generation of young Brits to traditional American sounds. A pop-blues in the early-1960s was truly exceptional—thanks to Brian’s vision. And this vision continued through Beggars Banquet, after which the Stones became the most over-paid and over-valued bar band in the world.
Luckily, Brian, who died in the summer of 1969 having been fired from the band he started, wasn’t around to see the downfall of the self-proclaimed “Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.”
Luckily, we have Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka to prove that the man never stopped investigating and, more important, never stopped trying to make his band’s sounds fresh and vital.
Excerpted from Paul Gleason’s book-in-progress: Heart Failure: A Love Story