The Rolling Stones ruined the fun. We’d been having fun for a long time up until that point. But they ruined it that year. The year they painted it. Black.
Was it coincidence that the same year, Ozzie and Harriet signed off television? That ground was broken for the World Trade Center? That we reached 500,000 US troops stationed in Viet Nam, and race riots paralyzed our cities here? Was Paint It, Black reflecting our times? Or did it propel the times in a new direction?
In 1966, pop music was fun, and was about fun. It was the year of Cherish, Wipeout, Barbara Ann and Yellow Submarine, Good Lovin’ and Last Train to Clarksville, Red Rubber Ball, Walk Away Renee, and Wild Thing. There was Sweet Pea, Bus Stop and Sunny. And California Dreamin’, and Gloria.
Paint It was the first single from their fourth Album, Aftermath. The album title was even more prophetic than the song’s name. For in the Aftermath of this LP, the fun would be gone from popular music. Never to return. Inventory that entire year of Billboard’s hits, and the closest you’ll find to any lyric even remotely sulking, dark, or brooding, was Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. Even there, the words of the prophets “…written on the subway walls, tenement halls” implied redemption in these acts of urban defiance.
Did Paint It, Black enrich, invite debate, engage? No, it wasn’t the protest music of the day, its content wasn’t in the syllabus of college courses. Did it even entertain? No. It was different, it sounded cool, and was…different. No matter there was a hint of tongue-in-cheek, a contrarian inference, a suggestion of parody if not obvious in Paint It, certainly in the companion tracks from that album, Mother’s Little Helper and Under My Thumb.
“I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky”
Our curiosity let it under the flap of the tent, and once it was in, the fun in the music was all over. Music was now allowed to shock, if for nothing more than shock’s sake.
This is not a lament for days-gone-by. I’ve never been a fan of that idea: each age has its own charms and complexities. Besides, with Android, microwave popcorn and bypass surgery, who’d want to go back? No, this is a rumination on an “Aftermathless” world. Consider that the Billboard Hot 100 for 1966 had no songs even vaguely similar to that Stones serenade. Certainly none in the years leading up to it, and even for several years after but for their own Sympathy for the Devil and Let It Bleed. But by the Beatle-less ‘70’s as the only intact British Invasion group, we all looked the other way as the shock waves from Altamonte fizzled. Then, with the group astonishingly ducking the felony charges and career-wrecking backlash any other mortals would have suffered from that event, we anointed them the ‘World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band”. From that point on, until forever, they returned to simple, blues-based formula and settled into the Boomers’ collective consciousness as something….important. None of us were really sure why. I guess Jagger’s lips just never ceased to amaze, and that Richards still stood upright on this side of the grass, looking like that, was one of the wonders of the natural world. They were a nostalgia group before any of us, and them, were even old.
“I look inside myself and see my heart is black”
Still, to this day, while you may find following Keith Richards’ Gibson Fuzzbox entrée to Satisfaction at any given cocktail party of senior citizens a collective mouthing of Jagger’s lines, snowy heads bopping in unison…yet no one ever finishes Rolling Stones’ songs. Not like…well, like Beatles songs.
But try as the Fab Four might, even they couldn’t do dark, much less black. Even Helter Skelter, the notorious anthem of the Manson gang, had to earn its infamy from appointment by the deranged, not from its own content.
“It’s not easy facin’ up when your whole world is black”
The Rolling Stones are not, were not ‘evil’, just the music for that one short period of time, well, kinda was. In truth, they’re kind of modest, for the royalty of rock icons. Their concert performance ethic is legendary and the perceived value of the brand is textbook business school. They’ve always seemed a little bemused by the whole thing themselves. Jagger, even after their first few releases in 1963, never expected the group to last ‘more than 18 months’.
Criticize the Stones? Blasphemy! Are these not gods? After 50 years in the business, they surely sitteth at the right hand of the Almighty. Jagger’s a Knight of the Realm; Richards is a best-selling author. We must have wanted what they sold. We canonized them by buying out their albums first with our milk-money. Then dutifully herded into their Ben-Hur themed concerts for decades, swiping our Gold Cards with light-sabre flourish as we filled bags with lip-themed memorabilia on the way out.
Could it have happened without that Black Paint? The dark and brooding turn that popular music took? Would it have had the traction to propel it beyond the Doors towards Sex Pistols on to Mudvayne and then to today’s Gangstas without that lyric, without Charlie’s driving drums or the doomed Brian’s sitar riff, the first in a #1 pop song?
“Like a newborn baby, it just happens every day”