CK Retro Review: 12 X 5 by The Rolling Stones

Incremental improvements were to be expected considering the cramped schedule between albums for the Rolling Stones at the start of their career. 1964’s 12 X 5 makes somewhat of a sideways move as the brash exuberance of the opening album morphs into a steadier, more self-assured tone on the follow-up. Wider variety, better use of vocal harmonies, and marginally improved songwriting efforts from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combine to make 12 X 5 a success if not quite a revelation. Here is a song-by-song review:


12. “Empty Heart”- Since this is a Nanker Phelge composition, it’s a good guess that this was a jam loosely masquerading as a song. Overly busy instrumentally and half-baked lyrically, it’s a time-waster.

11. “2120 Michigan Avenue”- Other than the fact that it gives Bill Wyman a rare chance to shine, there’s not much to say about this ambling instrumental.

10. “Under The Boardwalk”- This one is not in the group’s wheelhouse. The rhythm clunks where it should slink, and Jagger seems at a loss with what to do with the lines about hot dogs and fries. And the less said about his awkward falsetto, the better. Stick with the original.

9. “Susie Q”- A bit too manic and sporting a weird kind of go-go beat, here is another cover of an iconic tune that gets away from them a bit.


8. “Grown Up All Wrong”- The boys kind of forgot about writing a melody here, but there’s enough attitude in the vocals and playing to barely put this one across.

7. “Around And Around”- Jagger doesn’t sound as enthused here as he would once the band started writing their own Chuck Berry homages rather than just covering him. (The ill-fitting reverb in which he’s drenched doesn’t help.) All quibbles are wiped away, however, in the instrumental break once Ian Stewart starts boogeying and Richards takes off on his solo while the rhythm section locks in.

6. “Confessin’ The Blues”- A good chunk of the album was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago, so it was only natural that the band should take on a slow, Second City-style blues. The reverb on the vocals is again a bit distracting, but the groove, deliberate and potent, more than compensates.

5. “Congratulations”- Listen to how Richards acoustic and Brian Jones’ electric find space without seeming to muscle each other out. It’s that guitar-weaving Keith always mentions and it, along with Watts’ timpani, lifts this relatively pedestrian lament higher than it has a right to be.

4. “Good Times, Bad Times”- Jagger and Richards were quickly learning the less-is-more approach to songwriting, as evidenced by this Robert Johnson nod which suggests a lot more than it comes right out and says. Why would it need to articulate, when the interplay between Richards’ acoustic, Charlie Watts bass pedal, Jones’ harmonica, and Jagger’s laid-back yet wounded vocal says it all?


3. “If You Need Me”- Messing with a Wilson Pickett tune could have been a disaster, but the band’s genuine affinity for the music shines through on this cover. Plus, knowing what a monumental voice they were taking on here, Jagger and Richards team up to get the job done, providing heartfelt harmonies.

2. “Time Is On My Side”- If the Stones could be accused early on of too closely aping the original versions of blues and R&B songs, they got around it here by taking a song associated with a woman (Irma Thomas) and giving it their own stamp. Little things stand out here, like Watts inventiveness drumming on a slow number and the early vocal chemistry between Jagger and Richards as they form a harmony more profound than the sum of its parts. Jagger lets loose his outsized personality on this song for one of the first times on record, which might be a reason why it connected with audiences like it did.


1.”It’s All Over Now”- Taking a herky-jerky R&B number and giving it a chunky, Carl Perkins-style guitar groove, the Stones practically re-write this song by The Valentinos from the same year without changing a chord or a word. The attitude espoused by the song, that of the narrator turning the tables on the wayward woman rather than sulking about it, would eventually be winningly be copped by the band on their originals. It also features one of Richards’ best ever solos and a chorus brutally simple and unforgettable. Probably the high-water mark of their first year or recording.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My book on the Stones’ 100 finest songs arrives in November’ pre-order it with the link below.)



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