On February 11th, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull and a few friends retired to Redlands, Richards' house in Sussex, for a party following a recording session. After dropping acid and roaming about, they returned to the estate. Faithfull took a bath. Suddenly, the police showed up at the door.
The subsequent bust became a tabloid sensation. Jagger took the rap for four pills of speed. Robert Fraser was carrying twenty-four hits of heroin. Rumors spread that Faithfull – wrapped in a fur rug after getting out of the tub – was naked at the center of an orgy, with a Mars Bar between her legs ready for the taking.
By 1967, Faithfull wrote in her autobiography, "there were highly placed people in Her Majesty's government who actually saw us as enemies of the state." Boyd agrees: "Sgt. Pepper, which was so obviously a druggy record – it really rattled a lot of people in the upper levels of society."
Jagger and Richards were tried separately, from June 27th to 28th. When questioned about Faithfull's lack of clothing, Richards replied, "We are not old men. We are not worried about petty morals." Both Stones were convicted after approximately five minutes of jury deliberations. The singer was sentenced to three months in prison for possession, and the guitarist received a year for allowing drugs to be consumed on his premises.
They weren't the only Stones to get busted that summer: A month before their trials, Brian Jones was arrested by the infamous Detective Sgt. Norman Pilcher (who would later bust John Lennon and, according to some, was immortalized as the "semolina pilchard" in "I Am the Walrus").
Lennon and McCartney demonstrated solidarity by singing backup on the Stones new single "We Love You," which opened with the sound of a jail-cell door swinging shut. The Who rush-released a cover of "Under My Thumb." The London Times even ran an editorial titled "Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?" protesting the flimsy nature of the arrests. (In the end, Jagger and Richards served two days and their sentences were overturned.)
But it was too late to salvage the year for the Rolling Stones. "There was a time . . . in '67 when everybody just stopped," Richards told Rolling Stone in a 1971 interview. "Everything just stopped dead," The band spent virtually the entire year working on the spacey, flawed Their Satanic Majesties Request album.
"The press had had it with us all winning," says Oldham. "They could sell more papers turning us into losers. It was very tough for the Stones – on top of the drug busts, we had business problems going on that had to be dealt with, and we were all an average age of less than twenty-five, most of us very stoned. Basically, we were being told it was over. The Beatles were allowed to dress up, cruise around in Rollers [Rolls-Royces], get Zen and be silly. The Rolling Stones were not."
But even for the Beatles, the remainder of 1967 didn't go smoothly. On August 25th, George Harrison persuaded the rest of the band to join him for a transcendental-meditation retreat in Wales with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Two days later, Brian Epstein – who'd overseen their career since Liverpool's Cavern Club – died from an overdose of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol. It was ruled an accident, though some believe it was suicide.
It was the beginning of the end for the Beatles. The Magical Mystery Tour television special would prove their first real creative misstep when it aired the day after Christmas. Squabbles over money and direction would persist for the next few years, ultimately breaking up the band.
The irony of the British establishment's resistance to the cultural shifts of 1967, Boyd points out, is that the "sex, drugs and rock & roll" movement never posed much of a threat. "England is more of a backwater," he says. "The Vietnam War wasn't at the top of the agenda. Racism wasn't as big an issue. At that time, there was a feeling of seriousness and adrenaline in America, where in England, it was gentler, more hedonistic."
Boyd's UFO Club moved to bigger quarters at a North London space called the Roundhouse. "That was the most psychedelic," says Burdon, who performed on opening night. "I used to sit outside in my 1964 Corvette, listening to the FM radio band for any police broadcasts, which would signal a raid."
Boyd notes that as London's club and drug scenes grew, the actual mood was changing. "By that summer, when school was out and everybody was flocking to London, the sudden surge in demand for drugs meant that quality deteriorated," he says. "As you had a mass audience trying it out, the experience became less elevated, there were more bad trips. It was less fun, more about getting hammered. So after that wonderful atmosphere of the spring, by August or September there was an awful lot more aggression and problems."
Indeed, the music started getting louder, heavier. Soon England would produce the formative heavy metal of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, a far cry from the optimism of psychedelia. The Beatles' next project was the sprawling, scattered White Album. The Rolling Stones didn't release a new album for a full year after Satanic Majesties, then began a run of menacing brilliance with producer Jimmy Miller, starting with Beggars Banquet.
In the end, the album that forever defines London in 1967 also provides an appropriate metaphor for the scene's decline. "With Sgt. Pepper, the title and the whole idea was inspired by the times and this cross-fertilization with other artists," says McCartney. "I wanted to take on these alter egos – we won't be John, Paul, George and Ringo, we'll be new people making this record, and we can live in these new bodies. And that had been very liberating. But after that, you didn't feel that you could continue as this other band. You inevitably came back to earth."
This story is from the July 12th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus