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*6.21-SHE'S A RAINBOW (Rolling Stones)

Rolling Stones

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[Intro]

     She comes in colors everywhere;
     She combs her hair.
     She's like a rainbow
     Coming colors in the air
     Everywhere.
     She comes in colors.

[Break]

     [Chorus]

[Break]

Have you seen her dressed in blue?
Seen the sky in front of you?
And her face is like a sail
Speck of white so fair and pale.
Have you seen a lady fairer?

     [Chorus]

Have you seen her all in gold
Like a queen in days of old?
She shoots colors all around
Like a sunset going down.
Have you seen a lady fairer?

     [Chorus]

[Break]

     She's like a rainbow
     Coming colors in the air
     Oh, everywhere.
     She comes in colors.


She’s a Rainbow with its B side, 2000 Light Years from Home, represented the most ambitious of all efforts by the Rolling Stones to bring experimental psychedelic music to the Top 40. The Rolling Stones perhaps hoped that it would share in the popularity of other experimental psychedelic successes, Strawberry Fields Forever by the Beatles, and Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys, both which reached the number one spot. (Technically, Strawberry Fields rode on the success of McCartney’s Penny Lane on the A side; Lennon’s song only made so far as #8 in the U.S.). But the days of experimental psychedelic chart toppers had passed. In the future, for psychedelic to top the charts it would need to meld with other pop music forms. By Christmas 1967, only a bubble gum mix with psychedelic (Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers) seemed to get the top rating. According to my calculations, experimental psychedelic music wouldn’t again hit the sweet spot until 1970 when Paul McCartney released Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey. The Stones' elaborate song, with its large production, didn’t even break into the Top 10.

Bruce Eder in allmusic wrote that She’s a Rainbow represented not only the end of the Rolling Stones’ focus on experimental psychedelic music, but the end of a line of troubadour-like songs in the Donovan tradition that started with As Tears Go By and carried through Lady Jane and Ruby Tuesday. I believe he is correct in pointing out that after this the Stones would stop evoking a bygone and romantic age of “ladies”. (Donovan would continue to do so. In fact Donovan’s psychedelic single of the same month, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, only fared slightly better on the charts, both staying in the range of the mid-20s.) However, the Rolling Stones would put out a couple more songs after She’s a Rainbow that I would consider psychedelic, though they did not market them as the A side of singles.

Some mention perhaps should be made of the fact that Love had released a song She Comes in Colors in January 1967 on their album Da Capo, about the time the Stones put out Ruby Tuesday. Comparing the songs, though, it seems only the metaphor was stolen, not the sentiment and certainly not the sound. Arthur Lee seems to be writing about the attention given to a girl due to her colorful clothes, and the poet’s lack of “color” (being Black) that makes him invisible. The mood of She’s a Rainbow is much more like the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (as disgruntled critics have pointed out as an example of the Stones' effort to copy Sgt. Pepper); it’s the girl’s hair that is colorful, a rainbow. There’s something cosmic about the woman, she wears blue like the sky, and she is likened to the “sunset going down”. (It’s remarkable that Donovan’s contemporary song on the charts, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, would also conjure a sunset, though without comparing it to a woman.) Given all the similes in the poem it’s odd that the title should proclaim a metaphor. Do enough similes add up to a metaphor? Evidently not, because I am not the only one (in my internet reading) who feels a bit of confusion in the fact that the lyric is slightly different from the title. “Like a rainbow” seems more appropriate, especially as in the lyric she appears as “like” a number of other heavenly bodies besides.

These qualms about the lyrics don’t take away from the fact that the Nicky Hopkins’ piano riff that forms the backbone of She’s a Rainbow goes through some wondrous changes during the course of the record, especially during the breaks, each one unique and orchestrated by John Paul Jones, before he helped form Led Zeppelin. Much has been made of the “humor” of the third break which contains a lot of dissidence, but it depends on what one’s musical tastes feel that it’s “like”. Is the third break trying to bring something like Frank Zappa and his unconventional Mothers of Invention to the radio airwaves? I rather think it was the Stone’s attempt to bring in Stockhausen and serious 20th century classical music. The Stones were certainly not devoid of humor, even in the psychedelic phase—witness Something Happened to Me Yesterday—perhaps their intent had been both serious and humorous. Or, as some critics would say, the Stones were trying to rip off the Beatles’ cacophonous section in the A Day in the Life. Another point of contention is the fey insistence on a chorus of ooo-la-la. I tend to see this an extension of the voice work they did frequently in Between the Buttons. Though on She’s a Rainbow this kind of vocal flourish is over the top for some tastes, I am reminded that the Who, the Kinks, the Beatles, all fell in line with the Beach Boys at this time about the importance of such vocal iterations to lend a “pop” accessibility. The choral flourishes doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of this record as certainly the most unique of the Stones’ singles, and also among their best psychedelic songs.

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