Journey Through the Rolling Stones Discography: Part One, The Covers Era
The Rolling Stones are unquestionably one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They have released over twenty albums since the early 60s. Reading through Keith Richards’ autobiography Life (my review here) made me realize how few of these I have actually given a chance. I have since dedicated myself to listening, through the wonder of Spotify, to every Stones album* released to date. This is part one of that trip. (Part 2 here) (Part 3 here)
*Until 1967 albums released in the UK were often reconfigured for U.S. release. I’m only listening to the US versions. Also, these are studio albums, not live or greatest hits compilations.
Need to know: The Stones’ first album, so historically significant. The Rolling Stones replaced With the Beatles as number one on the UK charts on May 2, 1964. It held the top spot until it was replaced by a different Beatles album, A Hard Day’s Night, on July 26, 1964. Album includes only one original by Jagger and Richards (“Tell Me”). They would have more later.
Reason(s) to listen: Did I mention it is the Stones’ first album? The R&B influences, which would be the foundation for the group’s greatness, are apparent immediately. Jagger’s harmonica playing is tremendous. While it’s an album of mostly covers, it’s still better than 95% of rock music released in the past few years. The Stones kicked ass from the beginning.
Reason(s) to ignore: This album is very, very raw. “Tell Me,” the only song written by Jagger/Richards, sounds like a poor attempt at Lennon/McCartney. It’s mostly a covers album.
Essential track(s): Cover of “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Muddy Waters.
Need to know: Things are a little complicated here between UK and US versions of albums. This is the second US album, and features many of the same tracks that would go on the second UK album Rolling Stones No. 2. The album reached #3 on the US charts.
Reason(s) to listen: Features the Stones’ original cover of “Time is on My Side” which featured an organ, rather than guitar, intro.”It’s All Over Now” is another solid cover.
Reason(s) to ignore: “Under the Boardwalk” is an atrocious song. It’s no less terrible when covered by the Rolling Stones. They also cover “Susie Q” only not as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival would do many years later
Best track(s): “It’s All Over Now”
Need to know: Held the top spot on the UK charts for ten weeks, alternating with With the Beatles and Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Album featured only three Jagger/Richards originals. John Lennon reportedly said of the UK version: “The album’s great, but I don’t like five-minute numbers.” He would later be responsible for the 8:13 minute atrocity known as “Revolution 9.”
Reason(s) to listen: There aren’t many. There are three more originals than their debut and they aren’t quite as terrible. “What a Shame” is close to decent and “Heart of Stone” is slightly better than decent. If you enjoy Old Crow Medicine Show’s version of “Down Home Girl,” the Stones do a cover here.
Reason(s) to ignore: They’re still mainly a cover band and the covers on this album are worse. “Pain in my Heart” is a strange choice here.
Essential track(s): “Heart of Stone“
Need to know: The UK version lacks “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “The Last Time” as singles were often not included on UK albums at the time. This was the first album to hit number 1 in the United States and was ranked 114 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. For whatever that’s worth.
Reason(s) to listen: While (again) mostly covers, we finally have genuine original greatness. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is one of the most well-known songs of all time, for good reason. It kicks ass. “The Last Time” is also terrific.
Reason(s) to ignore: It’s hard to ignore an album that featured “Satisfaction” and “The Last Time,” but unfortunately those are the only true highlights here. It should also be noted that the Stones were still releasing albums of mostly covers while The Beatles were about ready to release Help! in a month’s time.
Essential Track(s): “Satisfaction” and “The Last Time”
December’s Children (and Everybody’s)
Released December 4, 1965
Need to know: Thankfully the last covers album that the Stones would release, December’s Children (and Everybody’s) would reach #4 in the United States. According to Mick, the album’s title was their then manager’s idea of hip beat poetry.
Reason(s) to listen: Brian Jones harmonica work on “Look What You’ve Done” is amazing. “Get Off of My Cloud,” written as a reaction to their achieved fame through”Satisfaction,” is quite possibly their finest song to that point (yes, even including “Satisfaction”). “I’m Free” is also a pretty kicking original. “She Said Yeah,” now known for a perfume commercial, is also here. The Stones finally have their full swagger on this album. They’ll soon take that swagger into a run of some of the greatest albums ever produced.
Reason(s) to ignore: “As Tears Go By” is a horrendous piece of Stones music. Just horrendous. There are still quite a few covers (come on, guys!), but the Stones swagger is finally there on most of the originals. Good album but “Get Off of My Cloud” is the only truly great track here.
Essential Track(s): “Get Off of My Cloud,””I’m Free,” and “She Said Yeah”