The History of the Albums – n°237
At a time when the British Invasion was beginning to emerge, many very promising English bands were following in their own way the footsteps of the Beatles, symbol of a revival and a nascent counter-culture. The revolution is underway. Among the most emblematic pioneer bands are of course The Kinks, The Animals, The Who, The Yardbird and then of course The Rolling Stones. Of course each band has its own particularities, to our great delight, they all appear as references that have marked history. So what differentiated the Rolling Stones from the others ? First of all, it is necessary to perpetuate the stereotypes, which in the end prove to be right and justified, by putting them in direct comparison with the Beatles. Although they came a little later and took a while to achieve as much success as the Beatles (without ever really catching up with them), The Rolling Stones became the most popular band of the British Invasion generation to compete with the Liverpool natives. More ingrained in American music than ever before, more Rhythms and Blues, The Rolling Stones have a reputation as more bad boys rebelling against the difference of the "nice and nice" Beatles. An opposition that is still debated today. Finally if we had to compare the Stones to others, I would say that they were closer to bands like The Animals and The Yardbirds by their Blues Rock and British Rhythms and Blues sides, while The Kinks and The Who were distinguished by a Mod approach, plus Garage Rock. So now, how did the Rolling Stones build their legend ? Here's what happened at the beginning.
The story begins at the Dartford train station one day in October 1961, where Keith Richard and Mick Jagger, then a childhood friend who had been lost to each other for a few years, meet again by pure chance. Their shared passion for American music allowed them to revive their friendship. With other friends and musicians, they formed the Blues Boys a few weeks later. Wishing to make themselves known to the emerging underground scene, they tried to attract the attention of a major actor of the time, Alexis Korner, who eventually got them to participate in some performances of the Blues Incorporated collective. It was then that Richard and Jagger met Brian Jones and Ian Stewart. As they began to make a name for themselves on the English scene, Richard and Jagger wanted to break away from Blues Incorporated, forming a group in 1962 with Jones and Stewart. All very strongly inspired by the bluemens, the name of the group was inspired by a song by Muddy Waters, a common idol. The beginnings of the Rolling Stones were also made via the underground. Contrary to the Beatles who left to make themselves known in Hamburg and who afterwards generally sat in the Cavern Club, the Rolling Stones tried the ambitious bet to make a kind of tour in the country in order to make themselves known. As the months went by, the band was completed, marked by the arrival of bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts. This was the first official line-up, although pianist Stewart who felt little use for the band quickly decided to leave the line-up. He will however always remain an unofficial member for tours, studio sessions etc...
It is finally one of the "former managers" of the Beatles Andrew Loog Oldham who finally became the official manager of the band in May 1963. He had the idea of making the Rolling Stones a band that stood out from the Beatles, giving them a more rebellious and unbridled image, although he claims that this was rather unintentional at first. A great idea that clearly allowed the Stones to create a kind of (rather healthy) competition, allowing them to win many fans. Oldham actually worked for a long time to make the Rolling Stones the "cool" guys, unlike the Beatles, exploiting every difference as an advantage. The best example is their first deal the Stones got. While Decca lost the opportunity, refusing to sign them to the Beatles at the time, the label went after the Rolling Stones, even offering them exceptional freedom and conditions for the time, almost bordering on independence. The Stones had no obligation to record in a particular studio with a particular production team... Oldham has often boasted about this, comparing it to the Beatles' situation, which was much more constrained by obligation. Did it affect the Beatles? No, but it was of great benefit to the Stones. Overall, even though Oldham was very young and inexperienced, the Stones owe a lot to his work, which helped to create an image that worked commercially and increased their popularity.
The band released their first single Come On in June 1963, a cover of Chuck Berry that would rise to the 21st place of the UK Charts, despite a weak publicity of the label that tried to take small steps not to take too much risk. It is actually thanks to the Stones fan base that the single ended up being successful. Despite the unofficial "competition" that reigned between the 2 most popular bands in the country, the Beatles gave the Rolling Stones the right to cover one of their songs. This shows that the two bands appreciated each other and had a deep respect for each other. Thus the Stones released their second single I Wanna Be Your Man, ranking 12th in the charts at the end of 1963. Also taking advantage of the success of the Beatles which were invading the whole world, the English media developed and created TV/radio shows such as the famous Top of the Pops where the Stones were the first to play. While the Stones almost made a 1st place at the beginning of 1964 with the single Not Fade Away, a complicated period then began. Fashions were changing and the Stones were now established, so the band could only do covers. So Jagger and Richard gradually started writing their own songs, but it wasn't easy at first. We'll come back to that in the next episode.
Actually it was okay for a first album to rely almost exclusively on covers, because they were still in the process of making themselves known to the general public. It was a way to show their interpretive skills and their specificities. Without forgetting to say also that this first eponymous album was extremely solid and fantastically good despite everything. On the other hand it also put the limits that the Stones had. Recorded over several sessions between January and February 1964, the first version of their eponymous debut album was released in April. It is on this version that I base this review, because there is also a second American version released shortly after. The Americans had a tendency to modify the tracklisting of English albums. At least the advantage is that it allowed the British to make themselves known. It's a good and acceptable counterpart. Like a lot of debut albums of the time, this album is a victim of its reputation as an album with a lot of covers. Indeed, only Tell Me is original. We find logically, symbol of their influences, songs written essentially by bluesmen or Rhythms and Blues artists, like Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon for example. Nevertheless, despite the fact that they are covers, it is necessary to understand why this album is a reference, no matter its few flaws. First of all, the interpretation of the Stones is just amazing and particularly refreshing. Take for example, I Just Wanna Make Love to You , Note Fade Away or Little By Little which are covers of exceptions. It's kind of like the Beatles did when they did covers. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this eponymous album is very clearly the first Blues Rock and British Rhythms and Blues album in history. Although it's certainly not the very first, the Rollins Stones are the pioneers of Blues Rock and British Rhythms and Blues. And you can imagine that this is just the beginning. To conclude, I think that this album, despite its flaws, deserves more notoriety, it highlights all the essence of the Stones' beginning while offering a vision of its future, thanks to a really attractive Tell Me