1966 was a whirlwind year for The Rolling Stones. Having fully established themselves with the transatlantic number one hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, the Stones were riding a wave of infamy and conscious counter programming, doing everything they could to position themselves as the uncouth, rough and ragged yin to the refined and polished yang of The Beatles. The Beatles were a pop group, but The Rolling Stones were coming to define rock and roll.
Aftermath, the band’s first album after solidifying themselves as global rock stars, was evidence that the Stones could do no wrong. Stylistic changes? Sure. Casually mysoginist lyrics? Why not. Early leaps into psychedelia and world music? It’s all up for grabs as the band take their first steps out of teeny-bopper fame and into boundary-pushing artistry. Old school blues-influenced tracks like ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ could rub elbows with the Japanese-influenced sounds of ‘Take It or Leave It’ without sounding contrite or contradictory.
Not that it all came naturally. The Stones were experiencing growing pains at the time, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards emerging as the band leaders while trying to find a distinctive sound for the group. Brian Jones responded by putting down the guitar and taking up the mantle of multi-instrumentalist. Initially, these forces worked in harmony, with the three collectively pushing the band’s music towards an eclectic new style. The relationship between them would deteriorate soon enough, but it was still quite solid during 1966.
Apart from their desires to push the envelope by taking on new genres, the Stones still had a desire to be hit makers. The bridge between Aftermath and Between the Buttons came in the form of ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, a suitably psychedelic track that had the primal drive of their early work and the forward-thinking attitude of their future. Despite its obvious ear-catching appeal, the band’s loose attitude towards sex was still too much for American audiences, and DJs were pressured to simply flip the single over, resulting in ‘Ruby Tuesday’ reaching the number one spot in America. The Stones were on such a roll that even their B-sides were all-time classics.
This era saw experimentation begin to filter in to the band’s work habits. The Stones were filmed in the studio for a French television programme at the tail end of 1966, and the footage provides a fascinating window into how the band went about crafting their records. Richards and Bill Wyman dual-wield basses, while Jones labours away at a vibraphone, with the same marimba he used on ‘Under My Thumb’ hanging out in the background.
All the while, a rough early version of ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ soundtracks the footage. This version of the song sounds more in line with something like The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’, pulsing with a more distinct garage rock sound and lacking the production polish of the final cut. More than anything else, the footage shows the band simply laughing and discussing what is likely the finer points of the tracks arrangement. it looks loose, casual, and fun, a mindset that wouldn’t stick to this iteration of the Stones for very much longer.
Check out the footage of The Rolling Stones in the studio in 1966 down below.