‘Between The Buttons’: Behind The Rolling Stones’ Forgotten Album

Hailed by Billboard as a winning package, ‘Between The Buttons’ has somehow become an overlooked Rolling Stones album.

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The Rolling Stones Between The Buttons album cover 820
Cover: Courtesy of ABKCO

1967 was a highly successful year for The Rolling Stones. It started with the release of Between The Buttons and ended with the stylistic about-turn of Their Satanic Majesties Request. Released on Decca, Between The Buttons came out first in the UK, on January 20, 1967, with a revised US edition following on February 11.

Listen to the UK version of Between The Buttons on Apple Music and Spotify.

Recording sessions and album title

Between The Buttons’ title came about by chance, following an off-the-cuff remark made by producer Andrew Loog Oldham to drummer Charlie Watts, who was doing some sketches for the artwork. Watts asked what they were going to call the album and Oldham used a euphemism for “undecided.” “Andrew told me to do the drawings for the LP and he told me the title was ‘between the buttons,’” Watts told Melody Maker on February 4, 1967. “I thought he meant the title was Between The Buttons, so it stayed.”

Some of the album was recorded in August 1966 with Dave Hassinger at RCA Studios in Hollywood – the last session to be recorded in what had been the band’s “hit factory” – before being completed in London at the newly-opened Olympic Sound Studios in November that year. Some of the tracks were started in America and finished in England’s capital. The Stones were fresher by the time they were recording back home, having taken a break from touring. “Between The Buttons was the first time we took a breath and distanced ourselves a little from the madness of touring and all,” recalled guitarist Keith Richards. “So in a way, to us it felt like a bit of a new beginning… plus, everyone was stoned out of their brains.”

Between The Buttons: UK version

Between the Buttons was The Rolling Stones’ first album since April 1966’s Aftermath and it became their fifth UK studio album. It remains one of the Stones’ less well-known records, however, which is a pity as it contains some strong songs.

Besides the five band members – Mick Jagger, who took lead vocals on all tracks and also played the tambourine and harmonica, was joined by Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Watts – there were several guest musicians. Ian Stewart plays piano and organ, and Nicky Hopkins plays piano, as does Jack Nitzsche. The track “Connection” was performed live at the London Palladium the week after the album came out and was featured in the Martin Scorsese documentary Shine A Light, in 2008.

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By late 1966, recording technology was allowing for greater experimentation, and though every track on Between The Buttons is credited to Jagger and Richards, there are certainly very different styles of music and songwriting to be heard on the album. “Yesterday’s Papers” has the distinction of being the first song to be written solely by Jagger and features Nitzsche on harpsichord. On “Something Happened to Me Yesterday,” the multi-talented Jones plays saxophone, trombone, and clarinet.

Two tracks were exclusive to the UK album version. The first was the gentle waltz “Back Street Girl,” written by Richards and Jagger. In an interview with Jagger in Rolling Stone magazine, in 1968, the singer said it was his favorite song on the album. Jones showed some of his jazz leanings on this track: the musician, who was such an admirer of the jazz saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley that he named his son after him, demonstrated that he had imbued some of the influences of Milt Jackson in his vibraphone playing. The accordion playing was by Nick De Caro.

The second UK-only song on the album was “Please Go Home,” which was based on a Bo Diddley-style beat. It was later released in America on the compilation album Flowers.

Between The Buttons: US version

The US version of Between The Buttons was the band’s seventh studio release stateside, and it stamped its own individuality with the choice of a new opening song. The album started with “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” a song co-written by Jagger and Richards, and which became a favorite of David Bowie’s. It had been released as a double-A-side single in the UK in January 1967, paired with “Ruby Tuesday,” which was also added to the US tracklist.

Let's Spend The Night Together

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The UK and US versions of Between The Buttons shared the songs “Yesterday’s Papers,” “Connection,” “She Smiled Sweetly,” “Cool, Calm And Collected,” “My Obsession,” “All Sold Out,” “Who’s Been Sleeping Here,” “Complicated,” “Miss Amanda Jones” and “Something Happened To Me Yesterday.”

Reception and album cover

Billboard reviewed the US album favorably in February 1967. “Every LP by the Stones has been a hot chart item, and this latest collection will be no exception,” they wrote. “Their hard-driving beat is evident throughout, and their singles hits “Ruby Tuesday” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” are included adding immediate sales appeal. “Miss Amanda Jones” and “Cool, Calm And Collected” are outstanding in this winning package.” Between The Buttons reached No.2 in the album charts in the US, one place higher than in the UK.

The album artwork features cartoons and drawings by Charlie Watts, and the cover features a photograph taken by Gered Mankowitz in mid-November 1966, following an all-night recording session at Olympic Sound Studios. The band went to Primrose Hill park, in north London, just after dawn, arriving in a Rolls Royce. Mankowitz said the photograph, which he made deliberately bleary by spreading Vaseline on his lens, captured “the ethereal, druggy feel of the time,” adding, “There was this well-known London character called Maxie – a sort of prototype hippie – just standing on his own playing the flute. Mick walked up to him and offered him a joint and his only response was, ‘Ah, breakfast!’”

Listen to the best of The Rolling Stones on Apple Music and Spotify.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Steve Schroeder

    January 21, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Amazing, 50 years ago and I hear at least one of the songs (Ruby Tuesday /Let’s spend the night together) at least once a week on the radio !
    Please give us at least nother 25 years lads !

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