The Rolling Stones’ “Aftermath”

Cover of Rolling Stone's Album "After-Math"

I’ve been listening to The Rolling Stones’ album “After-Math” from 1966 this week. This was their fourth album in the UK, but their sixth released in the States. Quite impressive, either way considering their first album had only come out in 1964. The UK and USA releases had different cover art and different track listing. The UK release instead starts with “Mother’s Little Helper,” one of my favorite Stones songs. That and three other tracks are missing from the American version that I listened to. In their place, it opens with “Paint It Black.” A song that I also love, only not as much as “Mother’s Little Helper.” This album was excellent from start to finish, either version.

“Aftermath” represents a significant point in the band’s evolution. Previous albums consisted mostly, if not entirely, of cover songs originally performed by blues and soul. This album shows the band venturing further beyond their initial blues inspiration into more other territory. Guitarist Keith Richards and vocalist Mick Jagger wrote all of the songs, according to printed credits. Brian Jones most definitely contributed to the songwriting, especially on “Paint It Black.” Also, “Aftermath” presents a set of songs written together, as opposed to a collection of individual songs.

I Am Waiting

On the second side of both the UK and US release, “I Am Waiting” provides a gentle folk-inspired rock ballad after the more rocking “It’s Not Easy.” The intro and verse feature instruments played gently, resulting in their identifying characteristics becoming hidden. There’s a harpsichord, dulcimer, and acoustic guitar weaving together a tapestry of chords textured by arpeggios. A haunting bassline quietly emphasizes the chord progression, while encouraging the cautious suspense of a hide-and-seek game. Restrained drums beat pull the song from one bar into the next, without emphasizing the beat. Jaggers sings the verses gently, with even softer backing vocals singing in unison on key phrases.

The band play the choruses much different from verses. Dulcimer and guitars join in a jangly strumming rhythm. The drums approach a rock beat, with the hats giving a jazz dance over the beat, the kick drum emphasizing the first beat and the snare providing hops across the remaining three beats. The bass guitar gets played more strong. The vocals are sung more strongly.

The lyrics consist of verses, choruses, and a refrain. Normally in songs, every chorus has the same lyrics, giving the listener a hook to return to. Here, a separate refrain provides that function, with “Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere.” The chorus each consist of four lines, the second and fourth being some variation of “You will find out.” Each of the first and third contain an internal rhyme, dividing the line into two parts.

Stand up coming years and escalation fears
Oh yes we will find out
Well like a withered stone, fears will pierce your bones
You’ll find out

Think

The Rolling Stones close out the first side of the US release with “Think.” Jagger and Richards wrote “Think,” but the song already received release as a single by Chris Farlowe. The more filled out soul-rock Chris Farlowe version is fair enough, but I definitely prefer the more raw rock sound of the Rolling Stones track. It opens with a blues acoustic guitar intro riff, joined then by a second acoustic guitar strumming chords, drums, bass guitar, clean electric guitar, and a fuzz electric guitar. The fuzz guitar mostly plays extended notes, letting them fade out. Richards originally meant the fuzz guitar in “Satisfaction” to be played by horns; the fuzz guitar here performs a similar function. A significantly clean electric guitar plays a solo, backed by that fuzz padding the background.

The song has two different types of verses, with one feeling like a bridge. The overall song structure, with the two verse types labelled as VerseA and VerseB is: Intro-VerseA-Refrain-Chorus-VerseB-Refrain-Chorus-VerseB-Refrain-Bridge-VerseA-Refrain-Chorus-Outro. The first and last verse follow a chord progression of IV-V7-IV-V7, which is a progression leading the listener to a cadence, providing a floating sort of suspense. The refrain gives that cadence, by staying on the tonic chord. Now we have resolution, but extending it gives desire for movement. The chorus rises up to IV, holding that chord, and then closing with a I-VII– IV. The flattened major seventh is a particularly blues-rock borrowed-chord. The other verses start with this borrowed chord, following a series of descending chords: VII-V7-IV-II7. The use of sevenths on each second chord pulls the listener towards the next bar by creating a mild-dissonance asking for resolution.

Doncha Bother Me

Perhaps the song that most got stuck in my head is the stomping blues track “Doncha Bother Me.” Brian Jones provides essential electric slide guitar between each sung line. His slide guitar drew me into the song, and the vocal hook of “Doncha bother me no more” increased the catchiness. Piano, acoustic guitar, and drums provide rhythm, panned hard left. The electric guitar is panned hard right. Vocals and bass sit right in the middle. Cross-talk between mics (and perhaps on the tape machine) pulls this hard-panning together putting the listener in the room. I’ve seen some documentary footage of the Stones doing overdubs on songs, and they would sometimes just have the previously recorded tracks playing through a speaker in the studio rather then into headphones. While this robs the engineer of the separation of tracks (a preferences especially in the 90s), it increases the live-sound of the room. It’s more pleasing and gives the recording a more warm human feel.

The choruses use a blues-inspired chord progression of I-IV-I-IV-I-V7-IV-I. And the verses go into a more energetic rock feel with V7-V7-IV-I. The piano drives along with a boogie-woogie rhythm throughout, drumming up in intensity during the verses. The drums move between stick and snare sounds. The vocals deliver a line, then the slide guitar rises up in response.

I said, Oh no, don’t you follow me no more
I said, Oh no, don’t you follow me no more
Well, pick your own mind and don’t you touch mine no more

Neil Young’s “Harvest”

Album cover for Harvest by Neil Young

I’ve been listening to Neil Young‘s fourth album “Harvest” from 1972, this week. Last year. I spent a week with his third album “After the Gold Rush” from 1970. The two albums differ little in sound and composition style making them almost feel like two parts of a double-LP. Those songs where he does venture beyond the folk country-rock prove to be the weakest tracks; The unnecessarily cinematic “A Man Needs a Maid” and the dramatically orchestral “There’s a World” impress with their aspirations, but fail to actually be enjoyable songs. “A Man Needs a Maid” features some of Young’s best singing and a great melody. A stripped down version proves to be much better.

Old Man

I had difficulty choosing between “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” Ultimately, I decided to focus on “Old Man.” “Heart of Gold” provides a great example of Young’s country-rock style. “Old Man” intrigues me far more from a songwriting perspective.

The chord progressions is.. well, strange. From what I can gather, Young and band perform the song in the key of D major, with frequent dips into D minor and maybe G major. I do not believe rock musicians discuss theory to this extent; while they understand theory, they probably played what sounded right for the song.

For the verses, the chords are mostly D-F-C-G. In the key of D, that’s I-II#-VI#-IV. In the key of D minor, that’s I-III-VI-IV. In the key of G, that’s V-VI#-IV-I. With all of this potentially borrowing of chords, I try to follow the feel of the melody and other instruments to determine what feels like the tonic. The proves elusive too. Therefore, I assume we have frequent key changes. The verses open in D major, shift to D minor, and return to D major. That makes it I-III-VII-IV, with middle to chords in the relative minor key. The chorus in that case, following III7-I, started in D minor but focuses on D major.

All this modulating combined with Young’s unique singing voices gives the song a pensive and unresolved eerie feeling. That works well for the contemplative lyrics. The speaker talks to an old man, inspired by a conversation Young had with the caretaker of a house he’d recently bought. He shares that while they may have had different lives, they really aren’t that different from each other. At their hearts, what they need is love. There’s not a consistent rhyme scheme from one verse to the next, but the lines do rhyme. Most frequently, there’s internal rhymes with single lines.

Old man, look at my life
Twenty-four, and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two
Love lost, such a cost
Give me things that don’t get lost
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you

The Needle and the Damage Done

Young again defies the constraints of key in “The Needle and the Damage Done.” They used a live recording featuring only vocals and guitar for the album track. The audience remains attentively quiet through the performance. This delicately pensive pained song bemoans the heroin addiction and its consequences. He picks dancing arpeggios throughout the song, like trills over the chord’s root note.

The song is mostly in the key of D, but borrows chords frequently. There is no chorus here, but rather a series of short two-line verses followed by a one-line refrain.; though its not a strict refrain, as the lyrics vary considerably. The first and second lines rhyme

Also, where most songs return to the tonic at the end of the refrain, Young ends on a major supertonic. This complete lack of resoluton makes that major chord feel lost and longing. This provides subtle emotional impact, supporting the lyrics. The chord progression for verses is an unusual I-VI#-VIX9-IV-iv-V#-VI#-IIIb-IIsus-II. With all these borrowed chords, I can’t for certain pin down the key; However, listening to the melody, I believe I have identified it correctly.

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done

Words (Between the Lines of Age)

The song “Words (Between the Lines of Age” closes the album. Former Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young band members Stephen Stills and Graham Nash provide backing vocals. The band repeat the same i-V-VI-i chord progression throughout, at slow churning tempo around 45 BPM. We hear Young’s characteristic overdriven guitar playing rhythm in the left channel and leads in the right. There is a great sense of the room in the recording, which helps the overdubs to sound like they were live.

The verses consist of three sets of couplets, with some internal slant rhymes. The chorus completes the verses, making it more of a traditional refrain. This refrain is basically the same line twice. These lines seems like a prophetic dream, with the speaker being visited first by gift-givers and then imagining another life. What’s he talking about, I don’t know. But it sounds good.

If I was a junkman selling you cars
Washing your windows and shining your stars
Thinking your mind was my own in a dream
What would you wonder? And how would it seem?
Living in castles a bit at a time
The King started laughing and talking in rhyme
Singing words, words between the lines of age
Words, words between the lines of age