An album such as this would have little chance of getting to #1 on the UK charts today, but then we are no longer in 1964, the year when this record was released, and a time when LPs were often made at a breathtaking pace, often in the most primitive of recording studios, where keeping costs down was as much a factor as the music itself. The Rolling Stones eponymous debut may not be their best album, but still remains a historically important one all the same – and what the band lacked as far as original material was concerned, they more than made up for in terms of charisma and raw talent.
Now everybody knows that Chuck Berry is to Keith Richards what Jesus was to Billy Graham, so it should come as no surprise that the record includes two Berry compositions, “Route 66” (although originally written by Bobby Troup), which opens the LP, and “Carol”, a song the group continue to play to this day. Both renditions are classic examples of the early Stones sound, and are imbued with that dark, sneering, cockney insouciance Mick Jagger and the boys were already famous for. Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You” is given a lascivious rendering, while on the bluesy “Honest I Do” (a hit in the US) and “I’m A King Bee” (or kung bey, as pronounced by Jagger), are given authentic white working class run throughs. But it isn’t all about the blues, as the group attempt to expand their repertoire with some Soul and Motown numbers. “Can I Get A Witness” had proved to be a popular song for Marvin Gaye just the year before, and here the boys manage to pull off a convincing version (even if Jagger didn’t know the words and had to dash out to buy the sheet music).
“I Need You Baby (Mona)” was part of their live set, and proves that Richards and Brian Jones had a firm grasp on the Bo Diddley beat, frolic their way through the three chord blues of “Now I’ve Got A Witness”, tip their hats to Jimmy Reed on “Little By Little,” a song that purportedly took only ten minutes to write, and includes Gene Pitney on Piano and Phil Spector (who was also given a song credit) playing the maracas, which was in fact just an empty bottle of cognac with a half dollar in it.
The pop ballad “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)” was the first ever Jagger/Richards composition, written at the behest of their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and a major departure from their usual blues inventory. Their cover of the R&B/Gospel number “You Can Make It If You Try” is also a ballad, making it clear that the group were hedging their bets when it came to chart success. However their cover of “Walking The Dog” is arguably the most memorable cut of the album, and a perfect fit for the band’s style, where Jagger actually manages to improve upon Rufus Thomas’s original whistle. At this point, Jagger was no Van Morrison or Eric Burdon when it came to singing blues and R&B, but then Burdon didn’t have Brian Jones and Keith Richards in The Animals.
The Rolling Stones debut remains to this day a fantastic and authentic white rhythm and blues record, one which literally reeks of the early London music scene. The Stones would certainly go on to make better albums, but few would contain the raw vitality of what they presented here. The ‘60s was obviously an exciting time to be young, where pop culture was yet to peak, and one could hear something new and exciting on the radio every week. Unlike today, albums by pop/rock groups were an event, And The Rolling Stones was just such an event.