Throwing Stones XI: Out Of Time

(For Part X, click Throwing Stones X: Hear Me Knocking.)

In Part X, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards avoided prison on drug charges, while producer and co-manager Andrew Loog Oldham left England, seeking help for drug and mental health issues.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_BandOn June 1, 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The iconic audio achievement of  The Summer of Love, Pepper  was the ultimate pop cultural game-changer. Brilliantly conceived, enthusiastically performed, technically innovative and wildly creative, the album was the product of extraordinarily high standards and a demanding schedule. Its arrival could not have been more perfectly timed.

The Fab Four had upped the ante yet again, delivering a critically lauded masterwork and a runaway bestseller.  Anyone who thought the Stones would soon do the same was unaware of the many forces buffeting the band.

Like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards before him, Brian Jones was busted for drugs.  Jones was already in the midst of a harrowing personal disintegration, and routinely missed recording sessions.  The stress of his arrest and trial accelerated his decline. When he did make it to the studio, Jones was typically immersed in a chemical fog so thick he couldn’t stay awake, much less play an instrument.  Thin-skinned, paranoid and subject to terrifying mood swings, Jones became increasingly violent with girlfriends, driving his great love, the actress and model Anita Pallenberg, into the arms of fellow guitarist Keith Richards.

BJESLike Brian Jones, producer and co-manager Andrew Loog Oldham was struggling with mental health and addiction issues. Oldham’s talent for making money was exceeded only by his ability to spend it, and despite all of his success, he found himself in a constant financial pinch. Desperate for ready cash, Oldham slowly sold more and more of his stake in the Stones to co-manager Allen Klein.

Oldham’s vanishing act during the Jagger-Richards’ drug debacle cost him his last, best chance to return to the team’s good graces. His failure to ride shotgun on a brief, fan-mayhem-filled European tour was yet another strike against him. Mick and Keith decided it was time for Andrew to go. They proceeded to push him out in a ruthless psychological war of attrition.

MickMoonThe Stones were contracted to Decca records through Oldham’s production company. Because that company would eventually own the masters, Oldham was responsible for all recording costs. During Oldham’s absences, Mick Jagger had become more involved in the band’s day-to-day operations.  Jagger knew that studio time came out of Oldham’s pocket, and was well aware of Andrew’s iffy finances.

When it came time to record The Rolling Stones next album, Oldham was stunned to learn that the Jagger-Richards songwriting team had failed to generate any new material.  Jagger and Richards blamed the dry spell on their legal troubles. Oldham knew he was in no position to call them out on that excuse.

Suddenly, Brian Jones wasn’t the only Rolling Stone failing to report for work. Throughout the summer of ’67, Oldham found himself in the studio with the meter running, and only bassist Bill Wyman, drummer Charlie Watts and sometime pianist Ian Stewart to keep him company. When Jagger and Richards did turn up, they brought plenty of friends along, reducing a leading London studio to a pricey party rental.

their-satanic-majesties-request-600x537Jagger and Richards snickered at Oldham’s motivational efforts, and often refused to acknowledge his presence at all. Progress was slow, painful and expensive. Mick Jagger seemed more interested in coming up with an elaborate graphics package for the new LP than recording it. Of course, the cost of the artwork would be coming out of Oldham’s cash flow.

Being humiliated by his former friends in front of entourages and recording engineers took a brutal toll on Andrew Loog Oldham. Bullied to the brink of a breakdown, he came to view escape as his only option.

One particularly unproductive evening, Oldham slipped out of a session and into his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. He eventually asked his driver to stop at a phone booth. Oldham called the studio, got Jagger on the line and resigned. He and Jagger agreed to let Klein handle the business side of the separation.

Four years and a few months after he signed on as the manager of an obscure cover band, Andrew Loog Oldham leapt off the rocket ride known as The Rolling Stones. Oldham sold his remaining interest to Allen Klein. Klein insisted that Oldham continue to receive royalties from records he had produced. Decades later, Klein explained his uncharacteristic generosity. He had made sure his former business partner had a source of income to prevent Oldham from hitting him up for money for the rest of his life.

KeefAtMick Jagger and Keith Richards won their war with Oldham, but suffered heavy artistic casualties. The many months of chaotic sessions eventually birthed Their Satanic Majesties Request.  Already dated when it hit the stores in December of 1967, the album was widely dismissed as a patchy  Sgt. Pepper  rip-off. The expensive 3-D lenticular cover only added to the absurdity. Dressed in cheesy medieval outfits and posed in front of a pint-sized plastic castle, the sheepish Stones appeared to be trapped in a photo booth at the world’s tackiest renaissance festival.

A shapeless psychedelic hodgepodge that has aged with all the grace of polyester bellbottoms and orange shag carpet, Majesties sold well at the time. Released during the holiday season, it was the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for hippie on everyone’s list.

Mick Jagger would eventually blame the entire erratic enterprise on drugs. Today, the bad vibes bubbling under the album’s creation seem eerily appropriate. The Summer of Love marked the shimmering high tide of the Aquarian dream. Their Satanic Majesties Request  was the last, gurgling echo of a grand delusion going down the drain. Events would take on an increasingly nightmarish quality as the sixties sank into a long, dark winter of discontent.

 (This concludes Part XI of Throwing Stones. Click now to read Part XII: Joltin’ News Flash.)