How the Rolling Stones’ Debut Album Pointed to a Bright Future
Bands didn't mess around back in the first part of the '60s. If a record company wanted them to record something, they were usually in and out of there before the end of the day. None of this eight-months-and-a-whole-lotta-fancy-studio-tricks stuff that came later in the decade. You set up your instruments, you made sure sound levels were okay for the sound guy and then you bashed out a couple songs before you were even allowed to take a pee break.
The Rolling Stones recorded the dozen songs on their self-titled debut in just five days. Maybe not as impressive as the Beatles laying down the majority of their first LP in 13 hours, but still an admirable achievement.
The results occasionally sound like a band rushing through its stage repertoire of blues and R&B cover songs, bit that rawness gave The Rolling Stones (and the Rolling Stones) a dangerous edge most of their contemporaries lacked. They earned their "bad boys" tag a little later, but their first album – released on April 16, 1964 – planted the seeds.
Three months earlier, the group released its debut EP, and like the singles that preceded it and most of the album that followed, it was made up of other people's songs. Their very first single, released in June 1963, was a Chuck Berry cover, "Come On"; the four-song EP also included a Berry song, "Bye Bye Johnny." The album, too, included a Berry cover, "Carol."
But for the most part, they went a little deeper during the album's sessions (which was recorded during hectic single-day sessions in January and February). They opened with "Route 66," a big hit for the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, and closed with Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" (which Thomas took to the Top 10 the year before), but in between were soul and blues cuts that showed just how extensive the Stones' record collections were.
Songs by Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Slim Harpo and Jimmy Reed rest alongside the Motown hit "Can I Get a Witness" (with which Marvin Gaye hit the Top 25 at the end of 1963). There were even a couple of originals – one of which, "Little by Little" was co-credited to Phil Spector and the Stones pseudonym Nanker Phelge.
Listen to the Rolling Stones' 'Not Fade Away'
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards received their first songwriting credit on "Tell Me," one of the album's highlights, along with "I Just Want to Make Love to You." Through it all, there's a ragged consistency that honors both their blues heroes and their own stage-trained toughness.
The Rolling Stones made it to No. 1 on the U.K. album chart. A month later, on May 30, the album was released in the U.S. bearing a defining subtitle – England's Newest Hit Makers – and a slight alteration, a rarity in an era when U.K. LPs were losing many songs in their American versions. Diddley's "Mona (I Need You Baby)" was replaced on the U.S. edition with the similar sounding "Not Fade Away," which was cowritten and originally performed by Buddy Holly.
The Stones released "Not Fade Away" as a single in the U.K. in January, and, as was custom there, it wasn't included on the album; "Mona" eventually made it on the U.S.-only The Rolling Stones Now! album in early 1965.
Over the next 15 months, the Stones would sharpen and stabilize their sound on singles and albums that would shape their path as one rock's all-time greatest groups. It was a busy period, and the manic pace (recording, touring, recording, touring, over and over again) that preceded and followed their debut album was just the start.
By the end of the '60s, they were able to take more time on their records (once again, thanks to the Beatles). In April 1964, they were still a long way from that place, and still a few records away from their first classic. But with this album, the Rolling Stones were getting closer.