This could be a slog. Similar to my Beach Boys post, I’m going to go through all of the studio albums – no compilations or live albums etc. That still leaves 30 albums, of which I’ve already heard… less than 10? Like I mentioned in my announcement post, I started going through Rolling Stones albums many years ago but found them too samey and with not enough standout tracks. Listening to them alongside The Beatles I found myself going back to The Beatles more and more and eventually giving up on The Stones. Maybe I didn’t give them a fair chance. From a blues rock perspective, they paled in comparison to Zeppelin, and from a songwriting stance The Beatles were just more enjoyable in every way. Still, you gots to listen to these things to know, so I may as well go back to the start.
This debut album came out in 1964 and like most of the other bands at the time consisted of a bunch of covers. It took The Stones longer to get the most out of their songwriting partnership, so many of their early albums had lots of covers, and that’s going to be part of the slog for me. I’m more interested in the original compositions once they come along.
Route 66: You won’t enamour yourself to me by having hand claps in your first song. Standard US Blues rock, played by a British white guy who at this point had probably never been to any of the places mentioned. It’s played with a youthful intensity and energy, but without much edge. Jagger’s vocals have a persona of their own, if not completely unique.
I Just Want To Make Love To You: The Etta James version takes some beating, so instead The Rolling Stones go for a breakneck pace. Musically it is very scaled back and simple. Those handclaps are back though they are mostly drowned out by the frenzy. Good harmonica and Jagger gives it all in a manic vocal performance, all in all a furious cover.
Honest I Do: A much slower song in standard blues timing and with simple blues riffs, punctuated by slightly more unusual jangling pieces. When you think of the Blues, it’s something like this that you think of. It’s mostly boring, all told.
Mona: Craig Mclachlan anyone? I suppose the echoing guitar was innovative at the time. As with most of these songs, there are so many covers of each one that it’s not the easiest job to find a favourite or one which sticks out. There’s no need for this one to be three and a half minutes long since it is so repetitive and would likely be served better shaving 30 or 60 seconds off.
Now I’ve Got A Witness: This speeds things up again. Standard blues scales and rhythm again, piano led this time, but the band are still giving their all. I think there’s something too laconic about most of the Stones songs which have always kept me from being a full blown fan. That and probably growing up in the 80s and 90s with rock music which felt much more vibrant and full blown and complex meant that I didn’t have as much affinity for the more stripped back stuff.
Little By Little: A harmonica intro leads to more standard blues stuff. It’s still played with energy but there’s only so many times you can hear the same riffs and scales before you get bored. The solo is good, the handclaps aren’t… I would have loved this at the time but all these decades on music has progressed so much for this to sound almost redundant. Using The Beatles comparison again, their songs from the same time just had that bit more creativity and something special. None of these songs are bad by any stretch, just even though they are new (ish) to me they feel like I’ve heard them a hundred times.
I’m A King Bee: Back to the slow Blues again. There’s a simple recipe – set your blues rhythm, select any random noun or subject, and write barely hidden simple euphemisms about love and sex and you’re done. It was fine in the 20s, 30s etc, but once we reach the 60s with white guys adding their touches it doesn’t work as well. The repetition makes it feel more like mind-numbing dance music than soulful rock. That’s a huge part of the problem I always had with ACDC too.
Carol: And now we’re back to the faster blues. No difference in playing style or rhythm or anything really here. Still good as a standalone, or if you’re into that sort of thing, but an album full of it gets boring quickly.
Tell Me: Now this instantly feels different, and lo and behold when I check it turns out this is the first Jagger/Richards composition on the album. It doesn’t feel connected to The Blues in anyway and in more like a soft rock ballad or simple love song. It’s not quite the same style as what other British Invasion bands were writing – it has its own quality and is easily my favourite song on the album. I can’t say how much I actually like it, it’s probably made better by the fact that it’s so different from every other song so far. It’s sweet and simple and has a great chorus.
Can I Get A Witness: This song is almost always fun, this version is no different. As a standalone it will work great but surrounded by all the other similar songs it’s too much.
You Can Make It If You Try: The slower songs don’t even work as well as what I mentioned for the previous track. At least the faster ones have that effervescence, these ones sound too tired even if Jagger is spicing up the vocals.
Walking The Dog: More of a strutting rhythm. More annoying hand claps. Again.. pick your noun or subject and away you go. Even in 64 it sounds cliched, though I imagine the band brought this style to a much larger audience.
Pretty much what I remembered and what I was expecting – typical blues songs played well, but with not enough of a voice to make them stand out from any other version. The one original piece is good, the covers themselves are good, but there’s only so many of them I can take. I don’t have much to add – it’s not lackluster, it just seems that way, and there’s probably only one song I’d pick to listen to again. When I have my pick of cover artists and the originals, there’s nothing here to make me pick a Stones version over anything else.
Let us know in the comments what you think of The Rolling Stones!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Tell Me