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In early 1963 a young five-piece band was slowly making a name for itself in and around London playing fast and furious R & B to an increasingly expanding (and excited) audience. In the late Spring of that year their big break came when they signed with a manager, Eric Easton, and began to fall under the influence of Easton's partner, PR man Andrew Loog Oldham. Easton concentrated on straightening out the band's finances and organising recording sessions (and their first TV appearance) while Oldham began to perfect his 'plan'. That plan was to turn this young band into the meanest, baddest and most notorious bunch of punks in the land. The band was, of course, the Rolling Stones.
At that time the Beatles were conquering all before them. They had become a phenomenon and the wily Oldham had realised that the public would soon begin to demand an opposite to the cheeky-but-inoffensive 'Fab Four'. He began to search for that opposite and it was in the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond upon Thames one evening where he found what he was looking for. The Rolling Stones weren't particularly good looking - the lead singer was big-lipped and uncouth and together the five were scruffy, long-haired and had an unwashed look about them - but they were wildly exciting and Oldham had his 'eureka' moment. The rest, as they say, is history.
Two singles had been released by the end of 1963, "Come On" and "I Wanna be Your Man" (a Lennon / McCartney composition) but neither had set the heather alight. However, the fire truly caught hold in February 1964 with the release of their third single, "Not Fade Away", a Buddy Holly song. It became a top-five hit and the band began to sink in to the consciousness of the wider public. The Stones had arrived and (much to Oldham's glee) quickly became notorious. The cry was "Lock up your daughters, the Stones are in town!" Middle England was outraged at the appearance of these leering louts but Middle England's children were smitten. The Rolling Stones soon became the coolest, hippest and sexiest act in town.
Their first U.K. album release was in April of 1964 (May in the U.S.) and it was a high-octane reworking of their stage act: R & B standards with a Stones twist and a couple of fledgling (and ropey) Jagger / Richards compositions (the Stones' record company, Decca, had tested the waters in January of that year with the release of a four-song EP. Its reasonable success persuaded the company to allow the go-ahead for the recording of a full album).
This CD under review is a digitally-remastered edition of the U.S. album release which, unlike the U.K. version, contained "Not Fade Away". The U.S. release also had the headline "England's Newest Hitmakers" emblazoned on its cover (the Stones were unknown in the U.S. at that time). The U.K. release had no title at all; there was simply a photo of the band members scowling menacingly into the camera (all part of the PR plan). Andrew Oldham wrote a short introduction on the back of the cover that opened with his now-famous piece of hyperbole: "The Rolling Stones are more than just a group - they are a way of life."
1) Not Fade Away - Their first smash hit and a wonderfully raw and energetic song. "I'm gonna' say how it's gonna' be, you're gonna' give your love to me !" Delivered with a knowing Jagger leer, this kind of song brought a shudder to Daily Mail readers of the time and put them in fear for their daughters' virtue! It was all part of the Oldham plan.
2) Route 66 - A high-tempo version of the R & B classic with Mick Jagger's vocal occasionally straying off key.
3) I Just Want to Make Love To You - A Willie Dixon song that had been a U.S. hit for one of the Stones' biggest influences, Muddy Waters. At times the band only just manage to hold it together. Enjoyable.
4) Honest I Do - A melancholy cover of a song written by another of the Stones' influences, Jimmy Reed.
5) I Need You Baby (Mona) - The Stones do Bo Diddley and just about get away with it.
6) Now I've Got A Witness - A gentle instrumental reworking of "Can I Get A Witness" (see below). Phil Spector and Gene Pitney lent a hand by banging a tambourine or two.
7) Little By Little - A fledgling Stones composition with some more help from Spector.
8) I'm A King Bee - A Slim Harpo cover. "I'm a king bee... buzzin' around your hive... want you to be my queen... let me come inside... we'll make honey all night long!" This whole album heaved with sexual innuendo and this blues classic was the icing on the sex cake!
9) Carol - A fantastic version of the Chuck Berry tune. Curiously, this recording sounds almost identical to the version recorded live at Madison Square Garden, New York City in 1969 during the band's U.S. tour when the boys had become rock and roll superstars. That version is on the live album, "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out". Movie-minded readers can SEE as well as hear that performance by getting hold of a DVD of the infamous Stones-related documentary, "Gimme Shelter".
10) Tell Me (You're Coming Back) - An early Jagger / Richards composition. They were still learning their trade!
11) Can I Get A Witness - A cheeky cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song that had been a hit for Marvin Gaye the previous year. Burly Scotsman, Ian Stewart, played piano on this track. He had originally been a member of the band but had dropped out to be their tour manager and occasional keyboard man. He was known as the 'sixth Stone'.
12) You Can Make It If You Try - Another cover, this time of a heartbreak song by Nashville R & B man, Ted Jarrett. Jagger was trying his hand at balladeering.
13) Walking The Dog - An energetic cover of a Rufus Thomas song. Cheltenham-born Brian Jones' backing vocal during the chorus has an amusingly exaggerated New York drawl: Wawkin' the dawg..!
The important thing to remember when listening to this CD is that the songs were recorded 'live' in the studio. This means that the band simply went through their repertoire and were recorded, as they played, on a primitive two-track machine. Apart from an overdub or two and the occasional knob-twiddle, what they played is what you hear.
There is something endearing about the youthful enthusiasm and energy this album contains. Mick Jagger tries so hard to carry off the songs of his Blues idols but never quite manages to. The middle-class twenty-year-old from Kent was sorely lacking in the world-weary experience and cynicism required to sing the songs and MEAN what he sang. That said, it is an enjoyable listen and it's not difficult to see why the young and surly Rolling Stones of 1964 were well on their way to becoming the hottest and meanest band around.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Not Fade Away
2 Route 66
3 I Just Want to Make Love to You
4 Honest I Do
5 Now I've Got a Witness
6 Little By Little
7 I'm a King Bee
9 Tell Me
10 Can I Get a Witness
11 You Can Make It If You Try
12 Walking the Dog