In 1962 Brian Jones placed an ad in Jazz News seeking musicians for a new rhythm & blues band he was forming. Pianist Ian Stewart answered that ad and the formation of the Rolling Stones had begun. In April, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards bumped into Jones and joined his band as well. By January of 1963 bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts had entered the fold and the classic Rolling Stones line-up was complete.
The Rolling Stones played live for the first time on Feb. 4, 1963 to a packed house of 66 people. They were a raw, primitive, rhythm & blues band. These leanings made them different from the hundreds of other British bands who relied on a rock and pop sound.
August of 1964 found the Rolling Stones issuing their first album in the United States. This same album, except for one song, was a massive hit in England topping the charts for 12 weeks.
The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) is basically a cover album. Nine of the twelve tracks are American rhythm & blues songs which reflected their live act at the time.
The album blasts off with “Not Fade Away.” Here the Stones play Bo Diddley meeting Buddy Holly. Keith Richards’ guitar is intertwined with Brian Jones harmonica. This sound would set the foundation for many of the Stones early songs.
The Rolling Stones would hit their stride with “Route 66” and the Willie Dixon tune “I Want To Make You Cry.” Many times the Stones would speed up the beat of their R & B covers threatening to remove them from the rhythm & blues idiom. Yet, at the last minute they would pull the songs back to their roots through Mick Jagger’s vocals and Brian Jones virtuosity on just about every instrument known to man.
Blues artist Jimmy Reed’s ballad “Honest I Do” slows down the frenetic pace of many of the songs and foreshadows how Mick Jagger’s voice will sound on hundreds of Rolling Stones ballads that will follow.
“I’m A King Bee” features the rapidly improving rhythm section of Wyman and Watts. Brian Jones switches to slide guitar for this number. The Stones rock at a frenetic pace through Chuck Berry’s “Carol.” This song would remain a part of the Rolling Stones stage act for years.
“Little By Little” and “Now I’ve Got A Witness” were written by Nanker Phelge which was a pseudonym for group compositions during their early years. It is “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)” that bears the Jagger-Richard stamp as the first original Stones composition to appear on an album.
“Tell Me” was released as a single in the United States and rose to number 24 on the Billboard charts. In many ways it was the first modern Rolling Stones song as it featured strong vocals by Jagger laid against subtle guitar playing by Richards.
There were some misses on the album. “Little By Little” and “You Can Make It If You Try” don’t have the same sense of urgency as do many of the other songs. “Walkin’ The Dog” is just a little too funky for Mick Jagger’s vocal. He is not Rufus Thomas.
The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) is a very competent first album and remains listenable today. In many ways it reflects Brian Jones original vision for the group and he is still the leader. In the last analysis The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) is about attitude. Even though they weren’t the best band in the world (yet) there was little doubt that they thought they were and if you didn’t agree they didn’t care.