CK Retro Review: The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hit Makers) by The Rolling StonesPosted: September 28, 2015
Like most of their counterparts, The Rolling Stones released their first album in a blur, taking whatever was in their live act and throwing it together in hustled recording sessions to get the thing out as quickly as possible. Although the album, released in 1964, relied heavily on covers and didn’t therefore show much in the way of songwriting from the group, it displayed that they could hone the raucous energy of their live shows, focus it, and create intense studio performances. More than anything though, England’s Newest Hit Makers showed that these five Brits could play music generally associated with black American artists with gusto, and even though they hadn’t yet learned to transcend the originals, they were immediately able to instill this borrowed material with their own distinctly dark charisma. Here is a song-by-song review. (Songs included are from the American version of the album, along with “Mona”, which was included on the UK version of the disc.)
13. “Now I’ve Got A Witness”- The cleverest thing about this instrumental is the title, which seems to answer a question asked by a song on the second half of the album. Otherwise, it’s the epitome of filler.
12. “Can I Get A Witness”- They didn’t seem as comfortable as Motown at this point as they would be later in their career. This one feels hemmed in by the studio setting.
11. “You Can Make It If You Try”- With a sauntering rhythm in place, this one still finds a way to build momentum. The falsetto backing vocals are a bit of a surprise that livens this one up a bit.
10. “Carol”- Charlie Watts tears into the rapid tempo of this Chuck Berry cover. It’s pretty much note for note with the original, and the ham-handed fade-out doesn’t win it any points. Still, the source material is pretty unassailable, so a reasonable facsimile of that will get you by every time.
9. “Little By Little”- An early credit for Nanker Phelge (the pseudonym used by the band when the whole group was considered to have contributed to the song,) this one also got an assist from Phil Spector. And, speaking of hit makers, Gene Pitney joins Ian Stewart on piano. It’s a bizarre offering, with lyrics veering from romantic paranoia to the narrator’s dead mother, but it shows the band’s idiosyncrasy well enough.
8. “Route 66”- The band’s choice to give this classic road anthem the rhythmic feel of a Berry number creates something weirdly akin to “I Saw Her Standing There.” Again, it’s a classic to begin with, which cuts both ways, because just as it would be hard to screw it up, it would be equally hard to put a definitive stamp on it.
7. “Honest I Do”-Showing they can slow down their blues to evocative effect, the Stones do a really nice job on this Jimmy Reed number. The slower tempo allows for us to more easily hear the interplay between Keith Richards and Brian Jones as well as the steady-as-it-goes bass work of Bill Wyman.
6. “Not Fade Away”- The same caveat about covering a classic exists, but the Stones deserve points for amping up the Bo Diddley beat and creating something slightly different. Good call by Mick Jagger as well to play it straight instead of hiccuping his way through a Buddy Holly impersonation.
5. “Mona (I Need You Baby)”- An early example of Richards’ using effects to create atmosphere that elevates a song into another realm. The shimmering reverb takes the pot holes out of the slowed-down Bo Diddley beat and turns the ride into a float downstream. Jagger responds with a lovely, lonely vocal that demonstrates the versatility he could always summon when needed.
4. “Tell Me”- Proof that they could not only write songs, but also adhere to a radio-friendly formula and not lose their identity. Jagger slips into pop-soul mode effortlessly and Richards not only contributes the lovely acoustic guitar intro but also some tender backing vocals. As tough as the image might have been (check out the unsmiling album cover), they always understood that the ballads would have to be a big part of the equation.
3. “I Just Want To Make Love To You”- Richards and Jones’ guitars are as much of the rhythm section as Wyman’s bass and Watts’ drums. It’s why the song seems to shake the air. It’s also interesting to listen to the album in sequence and hear how, after the poppier songs that start the album (“Not Fade Away” and “Route 66”), Jagger seems to truly come alive belting out this blues. Incendiary stuff.
2. “I’m A King Bee”- They walk a fine line here between winking innuendo and sinister intent, and it’s a line that they always straddled far better than anyone else. Jones’ slide part is the first time we hear one of his integral contributions on something other than a core rock instrument. The band would always “aw-shucks” their blues covers and point people to the originals, but there is no doubt that they could super-charge them without much strain, and this is a prime example.
1. “Walking The Dog”- You can look high and low through the 50-year catalog of the Stones and you’d be hard-pressed to find a song that’s so much fun. Jones acquits himself quite well on harmony vocals, Jagger sings with confidence way beyond his years, and the swagger that the rhythm section emanates is irresistible. The song is kind of an outlier, just shy of a novelty, but every moment of it is fantastic.
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