How Rolling Stones Inched Toward Greatness on ‘Out of Our Heads’
Up until the release of Out of Our Heads, the Rolling Stones were primarily known as a group that reworked blues and R&B songs to fit their British background. But with their fourth U.S. album – which was released on July 30, 1965 – the Stones inched toward the greatness that would come to define the latter part of the '60s and their career.
The band's previous album, The Rolling Stones Now!, came out just five months earlier, and that record marked a huge leap in confidence and execution. Where on their first two albums the Stones played capable but scruffy covers of some of their idols (who ranged from Chuck Berry to Allen Toussaint to the Drifters), Now! included the band's first truly successful attempts at writing its own songs.
On Out of Our Heads they begin to find a personality that belongs almost entirely to themselves. There are a few covers (including Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike"), but more importantly there's a sense that identity is taking precedent over everything else. At the time that the Beatles were uncovering new layers of pop and rock music with every new release, the Stones were starting to look a bit like a cover band that didn't have much to say on its own. Out of Our Heads changed all that.
Released in the U.K. almost two months later on Sept. 24 with a different track listing, the album was a hodgepodge of sorts, like so many other LPs from the era. One song dated back to a November 1964 session; the most recent cut was finished just a couple of months earlier in May. But it holds together better than any other Stones album up to that point.
There's a new force and assurance to the songs that replace the tentative and imitative nature of past records. Even the cover of Don Covay's R&B number "Mercy, Mercy" that opens the album surges with buzzing guitars and a soulful Mick Jagger vocal that pulls the song, a No. 35 hit for Covay and the Goodtimers in 1964, in new directions. But that was just the start.
Listen to the Rolling Stones' 'Mercy Mercy'
For the next 30 minutes, the Stones reach into their past (with six cover songs) and look to their future (another half-dozen originals). The mix falls together seamlessly as the group explores its potential in the rock, pop, blues and R&B fields. A handful of band-penned songs (most by Jagger and Keith Richards) took them to that next level.
"The Last Time," issued as a single a few months before the album's release, became the Stones' second Top 10 hit. And "Play With Fire," which featured Phil Spector (he also appeared on their debut album, playing maracas on the song "Little by Little"), cracked the chart at No. 96. But it's "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which came out as a single a month earlier, that changed things forever.
In addition to that earth-stopping riff – one of rock's all-time greatest then, and a title it hasn't shaken in the decades since – the track pushes the boundaries of both taste (what was Jagger really singing about?) and what pop groups should sound like. "Satisfaction" is dirty, gutsy, bluesy and an era-establishing classic, one that would be recycled again and again over the years.
The song hit No. 1, becoming the Stones' first chart-topper and their biggest U.S. single.
Nothing was the same after this. Out of Our Heads also made it to No. 1, the first of nine Stones albums to reach that spot. It sold more than a million copies and pretty much set up the band for a career that still has fans filling stadiums to hear "Satisfaction." They'd go on to bigger and better records over the next few years that discarded the American blues and R&B imitations for more homegrown and organic versions. Out of Our Heads was the first significant step in that direction.
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