Rock 'N Roll Case Study: A DEGREE OF MURDER – The "lost" Brian Jones solo album?
You might have heard this exclamation before:
'without John Lennon, there would not have been a Beatles.'Well, you can also say:
'without Brian Jones, there would not have been a Rolling Stones.'Brian was the inventor and inspiration of the Rolling Stones, only to later lose control of the band that he created and ultimately be kicked out. Sadly, the world never got to hear a Brian Jones solo album - the closest Brian got was his soundtrack music for the 1967 German film, A DEGREE OF MURDER.
It was once said that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards WROTE songs about what Brian Jones LIVED. It's a pity that Brian himself couldn't translate his experiences to song with the same proficiency as Mick and Keith. When Jagger and Richards began contributing songs to the Rolling Stones, they slowly gained leadership of the band. Why did Brian lose control of the band, you ask? One reason could very well be because he didn't write songs for the band…or did he? We have found evidence that he did write songs that the Stones actually recorded, but never released.
Could Brian write songs? What kind of songs did Brian write? At the time of his death (or murder-but that's a whole different story!) what were Brian's recording plans? We'll try to answer each of these questions.
II. COULD BRIAN WRITE SONGS?
First, we wanted to tackle the question - could Brian Jones even write songs? We know he could write music, just witness his soundtrack to A DEGREE OF MURDER. But did he actually write the commercial type of songs that the Rolling Stones could record? When asked in 1965 if he had written songs, Brian replied,
"Always tried. I've written quite a few, but mostly in blues style."His girlfriend Linda Lawrence stated,
"I remember the beam of light that flashed on his face when he wrote something he liked. Writing was a comfort to him. It was like talking to somebody. He was always writing poems and words for songs on little pieces of paper."Linda's mother Violet added,
"Oh yes! Brian would often sit up well into the early hours of the morning writing songs at the kitchen table. It was very important to him. And they were such good songs too!"
But why wouldn't Brian submit his songs to the Rolling Stones? Again, Linda Lawrence explains,
"he was writing too and he also wanted to share with the boys. He did often come home quite upset, almost crying because they would be doing their thing and he wouldn't feel that they would even be interested in listening to what his other ideas were, and thing like that."When asked if he had seen a song of Brian's, Keith Richards said,
"No, no. Absolutely not. That was the one thing he would never do. Brian wouldn't show them to anybody within the Stones. Brian as far as I know never wrote a single finished song in 'is life; he wrote bits and pieces but he never presented them to us. No doubt he spent hours, weeks, working on things-but his paranoia was so great that he could never bring himself to present them to us."
Ian Stewart [unofficial 6th member of the Stones and their longtime keyboardist] claims that the reason that the Stones didn't record any Brian songs was that
"Brian was incapable of writing music, so I'm really not sure what else he wanted them to do."Stu's statement blatantly ignores the fact that Brian composed the entire soundtrack for A DEGREE OF MURDER. Brian's friend Alex Korner had his own take on the story.
"It's not true to say that Brian couldn't write music, but his reticence in putting his music forward for consideration by the group seems to have been due to a mixture of shyness and lack of confidence."
Marianne Faithful remembered that,
"The other thing that bothered Brian was they never used any of his songs in any of their recording sessions. But then again he never really submitted a song that was ready to be recorded. Bill Wyman did, and he had accomplished the unheard of by getting them to record one of his songs on the album Satanic Majesties. And that showed that if Brian hadn't been so paranoid about their having ganged up against him as far as composing was concerned, and if Brian had actually presented them with a good song, they would have recorded it as they did Bill's. So much of Brian's resentment of Keith and Mick was in Brian's head and not in actual fact."
Brian's girlfriend Anita Pallenberg agrees that his loss of control of the band directly involved his lack of songwriting. Anita explains,
"It seems to me that Brian could have regained control of the Stones at this point except for one thing-much as he tried, he couldn't compose songs for them to sing. God knows he tried, and Andrew Oldham locked him in a room same way as he did with Keith and Mick, but it didn't work. Brian was a fabulous musician but he just couldn't write songs. There were times he'd spend the whole night with his tape recorder, creating music and recording it, but in the morning he'd listen to the tape and always destroy it."
I think that these comments show that Brian could and did write songs…BUT…they were probably not the commercial type of songs that the Rolling Stones could realistically release. Add to this Brian's fragile mental state and you can see why the Stones didn't record his songs. Plus, his paranoia was probably not helped much by the prevalence of drugs in the '60s.
III. WHAT TYPE OF SONGS DID BRIAN WRITE?
We have established that Brian did write songs, although he was very reluctant to show them to anybody. But what style were these songs and lyrics? In 1965, Brian was asked if he writes any songs. He answered,
"Yes, but they're not the right songs, apparently. Not commercial, more bluesy…I'd like to record my own songs myself. I've got a good enough voice to do folk-type stuff."
Brian's songs were his secret and one of the few people that he would play his songs for was his girlfriend, Linda Lawrence, who explained,
"When Brian played the songs he wrote he didn't feel threatened by me."Linda went on to describe Brian's songs,
"They were romantic, sort of spiritual. His songs were like Donovan's-about his feelings. But Brian never said, 'I'll show the boys this one,' because he was insecure. He thought his things were too sentimental. I would encourage him to do his own things, but Brian would say, 'They're not finished,' That was his excuse all the time. And so he just kept to himself."
There is one example of Brian's lyrics that actually made it to a CD in 1990. The poem, titled "Thank You For Being There" was written by Brian, adapted to music by Carla Olson and performed on CD by Krysia Kristianne and Robin Williamson. Here are Brian's lyrics:
IV. WHAT SONGS BY BRIAN DID THE ROLLING STONES RECORD?
There were songs written by Brian that the Rolling Stones actually recorded, but in most cases didn't release. We found examples of 4 songs written by Brian, which were recorded between October of 1963 and January of 1964. Although two of the songs received either TV or radio play, all of the songs are officially unreleased.
1. "Wake Up In The Morning"As you can see, the only time that Brian activily attempted to submit songs to the Rolling Stones occurred between October of 1963 and January of 1964, which is a short time indeed. Maybe Brian just gave up on trying to submit songs to the band. Or he simply changed his modus operandi to being the "embellisher" of Jagger/Richards songs. Just consider his sitar contribution to "Paint It Black". Or the many flourishes that he added to the "Aftermath" album - which many said made an 'ordinary' album 'great'. Brian was laying the groundwork for the pinnacle of his multi-instrumental talents: composing a whole score of music to accompany a motion picture.
V. DEGREE OF MURDER-BRIAN'S ONLY RECORDED LEGACY
In the tumultuous period between late 1966 and February of 1967, Brian reached the pinnacle of his songwriting success. Brian was dating the model/actress Anita Pallenberg and ended up composing the film score for the German-made film was called "A Degree Of Murder" (Mord Und Totschalg) which starred Anita. Brian saw the project both as a creative challenge and something that would bring him and Anita closer. Keith Richards said of Brian's soundtrack,
"For a project nobody ever tried before-to write a whole piece of music for a film-it was good."
The director of the film, Volker Schlondorff described the film and Brian's role:
"I liked Brian and trusted him. You could feel that he had a lot of creativity. He was very much in touch with his time and he was also very much in love with Anita, the only actress in the movie - and its soul. She was bound to inspire him, if he was to write the music for her. And it wasn't just that his music was special, it was that the score was so spontaneous, vital. Only Brian could've done it. He had a tremendous feeling for the lyrical parts and knew perfectly the recording and mixing techniques required to achieve the best sound for drums, his guitar or flute et cetera."Brian wrote a theme, which is reprised throughout the film in various styles including bluegrass, folk, Eastern influences, R&B, rock and country. Once Brian had accumulated enough material for the project he turned to Glyn Johns to help put it together. Although the two men did not get along personally, they worked together smoothly on the project.
Glyn Johns described his role:
"Brian came to me and asked for help. He'd lost so much self-confidence by this time and really was in need of a hand. In a way I felt sorry for him. It wasn't that I didn't think he was capable of handling the project himself. But clearly he wanted help in the engineering. So I agreed. Brian worked very hard in his Courtfield flat on two little tape machines. He had all types of ideas which worked. He did it very well, and it came out amazingly. And we had a good time doing it. Brian was extremely together and confident while he was working on it. When it was finished he was both pleased and relieved. The rock 'n' roll bit which was written to fit the early murder scene was really good"The soundtrack was recorded at IBC Studios between late 1966 and early 1967 with all music composed, arranged and produced by Brian (with Glyn Johns engineering). The soundtrack also featured session musicians Jimmy Page (guitar), Nicky Hopkins (piano), and Peter Gosling (background vocals). Brian played all the other instruments including: sitar, organ, recorder, banjo, harpsichord, autoharp, dulcimer, clarinet, and harmonica.
In the March 10, 1967 official press release, Brian explained that he used players
"ranging from one musician to ten. I ran the gamut of line-ups - from the conventional brass combination to a country-band with Jew's harp, violin and banjo. In the main the musicians were established session men - though some of the boys from the group also played."However, when EAR CANDY contacted Stones bassist Bill Wyman, he informed us that he personally did NOT play on the project.
Although the exact beginning dates of the recording are sketchy, we can pinpoint a general ending date for the project at around February 12th, 1967. Brian had been working on the finishing touches of the film score on this date when the infamous Redlands bust occurred. In fact, Brian had called Keith to tell him that he and Anita would be joining the party within a couple of hours, only to be informed by Keith that Redlands had just been busted.
The following events might sound like a soap opera, but they involve both stories that both involve Brian's soundtrack and had ramifications to Brian being able to enjoy his success...
Shortly after the bust, Keith, Brian and Anita decided to take a break from all the publicity by traveling to Morocco. Along with Keith's driver Tom Keylock, they traveled via Keith's Bentley Continental. The plan was to drive through France and Spain, crossing over to Morocco at Gibraltar. However, on the second day of the trip, Brian became ill and had to be hospitalized in Toulouse, France. Brian insisted that Anita and Keith continue and that he would meet them in Tangier soon. However, Anita soon received cables and phone messages from Brian demanding that she return to accompany him on the flight to Marrakesh. Mick and Marianne had just arrived and Marianne volunteered to travel via plane with Anita while Keith and Mick drove on to Marrakesh.
Prior to the flight, Marianne, Anita and Brian had taken some acid to hopefully make the trip easier. Marianne recalled a terrible amount of tension between Anita and Brian. During a stop-over at the Rock of Gilbraltar and Marianne describes an event that is both humorous and sad:
We were on the Rock of Gilbraltar for about two hours, I think, but we didn't want to stay in the airport because we were tripping. So we went for a ride in a taxicab. Brian had with him a tape recorder that contained a tape of the music he had just composed for a movie Anita was about to perform in. About the only thing to do on the Rock of Gibraltar was to go up to where the famous monkeys were and watch them at play. So that's what we decided to do. And when the monkeys came and clustered around us, Brian decided to play them his music. He turned on the tape recorder and after a few bars the monkeys, with a collective shriek, ran pell-mell away, tearing off into the distance. Brian took it as a terrible rejection. He screamed at the monkeys, trying to get them to come back, and then when they wouldn't, he began to revile them in terrible language. It was awful. And then he began to weep. A kind of madness, shouting, "The monkeys don't like my music! Fuck the monkeys! Fuck the monkeys!" I tried to comfort him, but there was no way of stopping the outburst. There were a lot of tourists around and they were appalled."I'm sorry, but the image of Brian playing his soundtrack for monkeys and then being disappointed in their reaction IS funny. I can almost hear him say, "everyone hates my songs - first Mick and Keith and now YOU!" But, it is also sad when you see his drug-induced mental state, thinking that the opinions of monkeys matter.
The entourage finally made it to Tangier and the "Rolling Stones soap opera" continued. Brian and Anita fought constantly, the fights often turning physical. For Anita, this had been the last straw and she turned to Richards. They decided to head back to London and abandon Brian in Morocco. The next day when Brian went out with Brion Gysin with the hopes of hearing local musicians, Anita and Keith left without a note or warning. Keith recalled,
"He caught up with us in about a week, back in London and there was this tearful scene."Losing Anita to fellow band mate Keith was a devastating blow to his ego.
A DEGREE OF MURDER was Germany's entry for the Cannes Film Festival of 1967, held April 24-May 11, 1967. Although he attended the festival, any pride in his soundtrack work was crushed by Anita's presence at the festival. Brian left the day before the festival ended, only to return to his London flat to be busted by Scotland Yard within hours for drug charges. With the loss of Anita and his impending drug trial, Brian never really got a chance to celebrate his success of the soundtrack. To top this off, there was never an official record release of the soundtrack.
VI. BRIAN'S OTHER PROJECTS AND FUTURE PLANS
"I've got my own ideas and I don't much like the direction the group has taken." Brian Jones 1965
"I want to play my own music, which is no longer the Stones's music." Brian Jones 1969In the years since Brian's death, many have claimed to know what path he was intending on taking after his 'dismissal' from the Rolling Stones. Like Jimi Hendrix, there has been much speculation on the direction he was taking upon his death and everybody has an opinion. Some say he was forming a 'super-group' of disgruntled musicians from other famous bands. Others have said that he was recording his own material. Alas, the true answers are as evasive as his original songs.
So, what about the 'super-group' that Brian was supposedly talking about? In 1969, Brian allegedly told Nicholas Fitzgerald:
"Towards the end of last year, four musicians made a trial recording for Apple, the Beatles' label. They played under the group name of Balls. One of them was John Lennon and one of them was me. The other two swore me to secrecy, so I can't tell you about them, except to say one was a lead guitar and the other was a drummer. We recorded one track called 'Go to the Mountains.'"It is an interesting story, but with all three major players dead (Jones, Hendrix and Lennon), it is nearly impossible to authenticate. That is, unless someone at Apple Records discovers the recording of this group named "Balls".
Collaboration between Brian and Jimi Hendrix is not too far-fetched. They got on famously (see the pictures of them backstage at the Monterey Pop Festival) and they had recorded together before. In October of 1967, they composed and recorded two takes of "My Little One" at Olympic Studios in London. Brian played sitar and percussions while Hendrix of course played guitar. Click here to download these songs and read more about the sessions
And, in January of 1968, Tom Keylock describes Brian being summoned by Jimi to play at one of his recording sessions. Afterwards, the duo headed back to Brian's place for an acoustic guitar jam-session which Keylock described as "brilliant". On January 21, 1968, Brian played piano on original takes of "All along the Watchtower", but Brian's playing was eventually taken out of the final mix of the song.
But what about Brian Jones and John Lennon? Brian had played or participated in many Beatles recordings, including: "Yellow Submarine", "Baby You're A Rich Man" and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)". In December of 1968, Brian could have discussed the idea of a Jones/Hendrix/Lennon collaboration with Lennon at the filming of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. At the event, Lennon performed "Yer Blues" with a 'super-group' consisting of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell. Lennon had just finished the tension-filled White Album recording sessions and maybe the idea of a super-group appealed to him.
Then there is Brian's 'missing single'; we found two people that spoke of this mysterious record. One is Janie Perrin who was a Brian confidante in 1969 (her husband Les Perrin had handled some PR for the Rolling Stones). Janie describes Brian at the end of June, 1969:
"Brian had just made a single. This was to be his first record since breaking from the Stones. He'd cut the demo and was really pleased with it. It'd actually just newly gone to press."Alexis Korner also remembered Brian talking about writing songs during his last months:
"He wouldn't show them to me. He'd only tell me about them. He always started out with a little bit about how he'd written songs which people wouldn't record. Then he'd start talking in vague terms about ideas he'd had for songs while staying in Morocco; things he wanted to get together. He would never come to terms about it. Brian would use the word 'song,' but at the end of two hours' conversation, you hadn't the slightest idea of what they were."But nobody can remember the name of this song, or what it sounded like. It was supposedly "lost" after Jones' death. It is true that Brian's residence at Cotchford Farm was stripped clean of Brian's furniture, instruments, clothes and even his stash of money. Suki Poitier (Brian's girlfriend after Anita) was shocked to discover that all of Brian's valuable possessions had disappeared from his house right after his death, saying that, "the interior of the house had been ransacked". So, it is possible that this single was among those things stolen. But, if Brian's single had "just newly gone to press" as Janie Perrin states, then surely there were many more copies?
O.K., enough of these wild theories! The next thing you are going to say is that Brian was murdered by the Stones because the 'super-group' that he was starting with Lennon would have meant the end of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones! Don't laugh…this is one of the conspiracy theories out there that I've read! What's next? Allen Klein was the so-called "trigger man", while Mick drove the getaway car?
Back to reality…
Only one remnant of the Brian Jones legacy HAS seen the light of day. BRIAN JONES PRESENTS THE PIPES OF PAN AT JOUJOUKA (album released by Rolling Stones Records 1971) is the only one official release that bears the name of Brian Jones. Although Brian completed the recording, he did not live to see its release. Brian discovered the exotic, thousand-year old music of the Master Musicians of Joujouka during one of his journeys to Morocco. He hoped that it could be used in some way to enhance the music of the Rolling Stones. Brian produced the recording and did the artwork for the intended album. The album was reissued on CD in 1995 with bonus remixes. It took more than twenty years, but the Rolling Stones finally used Brian's idea - using the Master Musicians of Joujouka on the song "Continental Drift" from their 1989 STEEL WHEELS album.
When all the dust has cleared (or dare I say chlorine?), there is only one cold hard fact. Brian Jones never released a solo album and the closest he came was the film score that he composed for A DEGREE OF MURDER. Unfortunately, an official soundtrack has never been released. Several bootlegs claiming to be the 'soundtrack' have appeared, but they are all straight dubs from the film, with dialogue present and often in terrible sound quality. The film itself is in public domain and an official video is not available.
You must be wondering by now how YOU can hear Brian's wonderful music? Especially since there is no official release on CD, vinyl or video cassette. Here is what IS available:
Brian Jones probably never could have imagined that the band that he envisioned would pass its 40th year of existence. Will we ever hear the music that Brian not only heard in his head, but also recorded? Who knows? Maybe someday we will hear Brian's compositions that the Stones recorded in a Beatles-like Rolling Stones Anthology of rarities. Maybe someone will find Brian's "lost" single or his recordings with John Lennon in some dusty attic. Maybe some industrious record company like Rhino will track down Brian's soundtrack and gives it the release it so richly deserves.
Credits and Sources:
The material for this article came from a multitude of books and websites.
"Golden Stone" by Laura Jackson (1992 published by St. Martin's Press)