Soul, blues and R&B, British style
In 1965, The Rolling Stones were on the cusp of true rock ‘n’ roll greatness, and Out Of Our Heads, released on the Decca label, would further entrench their reputation. Having returned from an American tour, the band were cocked and primed with a collection of soul material, much of which remained unknown to the bulk of English teenagers at the time, meaning that the Stones could record their own versions safe in the knowledge that whatever they presented was as fresh and exciting as anything from the other side of the Atlantic.
The US edition of the album opens with Don Covay’s 1964 soul hit “Mercy, Mercy,” and while not quite as superb as the original, the Stones do a pretty good job all the same in at least capturing the song’s essence. Next is Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” where the English quintet assert their ever-growing sophistication in emulating American black music, albeit with an English bent.
Apparently “The Last Time” owes its origins to an old gospel tune, given a complete Phil Spector makeover (i.e. his famous ‘wall of sound’), and transformed into something else entirely. Backed with the spiteful ballad “Play With Fire,” both tracks would prove to be one of their most popular and strongest singles yet of self-penned material. Another original (a rarity for this album) is “The Spider And The Fly,” a R&B/Jimmy Reed inspired number and one that would become a staple of their early shows throughout this period.
The band’s cover of Bert Russell’s soul classic “Cry To Me” and Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” are both strong cuts, despite Jagger’s vocal limitations (let’s face it, Mick was no Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke for that matter). Otis Redding’s (although written by Roosevelt Jamison) “That’s How Strong My Love Is” is given a fine reworking, so too “I’m All Right,” a recording which first appeared on the EP Got Live If You Want It.
A special mention should be made of founding member Brian Jones, whose spirited playing shines throughout this record, and whose contribution to the Stones sound and look when starting out should never be forgotten, nor underestimated. Just listen to the way he wails his harmonica on “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” and his acoustic guitar during “Good Times.” Jones may not have been much of a songwriter, yet his presence and talent as a musician was just as important as Jagger and Richards themselves.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is arguably the standout track, with Jagger’s insouciant delivery and Richards’ tough as steel main riff. Along with “The Last Time,” “Satisfaction” was the song which helped propel the group to #1 in both the UK and US, a position from which they rarely deviated off from this point onwards.
From an historical perspective, Out Of Our Heads is just as important as anything the band would go on to record over the next few years. This was largely raw, gritty English R&B the way it should be. And even after all this time, it hasn’t dated one iota.