CK Retro Review: The Rolling Stones, Now! by The Rolling StonesPosted: October 5, 2015
Well, the exclamation point might have been overselling it a bit; one needed only to have listened to 1965’s The Rolling Stones, Now! to have realized that these guys were only getting better. They were sanding off the rougher edges on their rock and R&B covers without losing their raucous energy and confrontational attitude. And their songwriting, what little there admittedly was of it, was improving as well. There wasn’t yet a true killer track to which a consensus of fans would gravitate (that was coming), but this is still a Ginsu-sharp collection without a real weak point. Here is a song-by-song review:
12. “Pain In My Heart”- Well, they had good taste, covering an Otis Redding song written by Allen Toussaint. But while they don’t embarrass themselves, they also don’t convince that this cover was necessary either.
11. “Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’)- The Stones add a little rhythmic locomotion to this single by soul singer Barbara Lynn. It’s probably a push between the two versions.
10. “Everybody Needs Some To Love”-When Mick Jagger sang this at the Grammy’s a few years ago, he did so with his energy seemingly undiminished from the original track, despite the nearly half-century passed in the interim. As for the original take, it gets cut short on this release (it’s longer on the American counterpart album The Rolling Stones No. 2), which robs it of some of its power. But it’s still a fun soul workout with a positive message, which was an out-of-character way for the band to start the album.
9. “What A Shame”- The energy the band invests into this track allows it to rise above the bluesy throwaway it could have been. Keith Richards and Brian Jones find open spaces for their guitars to fill while Jagger sings and plays harmonica as if he’s truly aggrieved by the antagonism he describes in the lyrics.
8. “Off The Hook”- OK, kids, this is before “Off The Hook” was a slang term meaning awesome, so don’t misinterpret here. This is literally about the malaise the narrator acquires due to his inability to telephonically connect with his girl. What we have here is a Jagger/Richards attempt to write a Leiber/Stoller-type song, and not a bad one at that.
7. “Down The Road Apiece”- Adding a bit of frenzy to Chuck Berry’s version of this song first performed in 1946, the band once again prove up to handling the work of this rock icon who meant so much to them. Keith Richards is on fire throughout, especially in the instrumental breaks when he and Ian Stewart, channeling Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, really go to town.
6. “Little Red Rooster”- It’s interesting that this song reached #1 on the British charts, and not because it’s a blues. It’s because the band plays it so deadpan, especially Jagger. The restraint is actually refreshing, and Brian Jones’ slide is up to the task of matching Howling Wolf’s anguished original though.
5. “Surprise Surprise”- This pretty solid original closes out the album. It has the whooshing pace of some of the Beatles hits from around that time, albeit with the Stones’ typically sour outlook as a contrast to the Fab 4. It atones for its lack of melody in the verses with the nifty little minor-key downshift into the refrain.
4. “You Can’t Catch Me”- Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles each borrowed bits and pieces from this one, but The Stones somehow make it their own even without really touching Chuck Berry’s original arrangement. There’s something lurking in their version, something indefinable in the rhythmic shake or Jagger’s vowels that revels in the potential danger in this road/air trip. I doubt if it was even anything conscious they were doing, but it’s there and lends this one an edge that Berry’s amiable predecessor didn’t (and probably didn’t aim to) have.
3. “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.
2. “Down Home Girl”- The band really sinks their teeth into one of Leiber/Stoller’s quirkier numbers. Bill Wyman’s six-string bass grounds the thing, while Jagger gets in a fevered harmonica workout in between his savoring of the lyrics, which fall in the nether region between nasty and appreciative toward the titular girl. The racial overtones within the song are hard to miss, but the band, and it’s to their ultimate credit, always favored musical exploration over the worry that someone might take offense.
1. “Heart Of Stone”- For whatever reason, the Jagger/Richards songwriting duo was on much firmer footing in their earliest days on the slow ones rather than when they revved up the tempo. They give this one a slow-dance swagger, but Jagger subverts any expectations of sentiment by warning off any would-be girlfriends. The way the chorus segues from the harmonies on “You’ll never break” to Jagger, isolated and intimidating, singing “this heart of stone” is a chill-inducer. Musically soulful and yet carrying a soulless message: Who knew that could be such a captivating combo before the Stones tried it out?
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. To pre-order my new book on the Stones, check out the link below.)