Disclaimer: Those looking for a brief description of the album will find what their looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review is probably not written by the point of view of a Rolling Stones fan.)
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Best song: “Route 66” or “I'm a King Bee”
Worst song: “Can I Get a Witness”
Oh yes, The Rolling Stones! They are such an amazing band that they defy a decent opening paragraph. (I spent 15 minutes trying to come up with an opening, and this is the best I could do. This is why I never made it in the journalism business.) After listening to their debut album over and over again, only two words can adequately sum up The Rolling Stones: They rock! Do I need to say more words? ....... Um... I guess, as long as you're going to read 'em, I do.
By far, the best thing about these guys is they have attitude, and it doesn't sound they're just blowing off steam. I'd imagine there were quite a few British rock bands in this early period who spent their evenings in night clubs, going nuts all over their instruments... Unfortunately, the only thing they came out with is a bunch of sloppy nonsense. Alternately, there were tons of British rock bands who were neat, and clean and always playing the right notes, but they were sterile. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, took the best these two factions had to offer and melded it into this awesome debut album. The album is full of R&B covers that were played nicely and tightly, but there's a menacing, raucous quality to them thanks to the furious guitar performances and Mick Jagger's verve-ridden vocal performance.
Sure, this undoubtedly would sound pretty tame to the '00s audience who is used to nu-metal music and their lead singers making vomit noises in microphones, but this was pretty wild for its day. In fact, I'd imagine even nu-metal musicians would get a bit of a high listening to this. Oh man... it's no wonder people all around the world are obsessed with The Rolling Stones. Do you want to know how good these R&B covers are? In a nutshell: I don't particularly like R&B, and yet I like the album. It's a miracle, really. Did anybody do R&B better than them? I have no freaking idea, because I hardly ever listen to the genre. But other people have said nobody did it better than them, so I feel justified enough to nod my head in the utmost agreement.
Well, let's talk about some of these songs before I start to run out of space! The album begins with an energetic cover of Buddy Holly's catchy tune, “Not Fade Away” that's fully equipped with a furious acoustic guitar, a chugging harmonica, confident lead vocals, and those awesome clapping sounds at regular intervals. Really, this was an awesome cover from the start, but the clapping seals the deal. And then there's “Route 66,” a blues cover that's possibly the most well-known cover here. The clean pop-rock treatment they gave it makes it sparkle, but the attitude gives it a rustic, leathery odor (OK, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only one to hone in on scents). And then there's “I Just Want to Make Love To You,” which has a faster, jumping pace and a perhaps more passionate instrumental performances (without ever seeming like they're overdoing it). A possible exception to that is those especially voluminous vocals. But that's a great song!
Of course, the Rolling Stones nail most of the fast-paced songs, but the slower, bluesy ballads seem a bit of a weak spot to me. “Honest I Do” and “You Can Make it if You Try” both strike me as boring. Part of my dislike for them might just be my personal bias against blues music, which I am admitting right here in the open! But no matter how many times I hear them, I feel fairly disengaged. Not that they did them horribly... they just didn't do them great. A cover of Marvin Gaye's “Can I Get a Witness” is also a bit of a weak spot, because it strikes me as too plain. I'm also not a huge fan of an instrumental take-off, “Now I've Got a Witness,” even though it does contain some mighty nice instrumental solos. Whenever it comes up, though, I feel like the album somehow got cheapened.
One song from this album that gets talked about an awful lot is their intepretation “I'm a King Bee,” and the overwhelming love is more than justified. The sliding electric guitar effect brought in throughout the song along with Charlie Watt's menacing, pounding drum beat was present in the original, but it didn't sound this good. Everything about these guitars are great... and a crazy, high-pitched solo in the middle gives me visions of being attacked by these 'king bees.' I agree with everyone else in the world; it's an instant classic.
The one and only original composition on here, “Tell Me (You're Coming Back)” is surprisingly a good one. Perhaps it's a tad dull, and the chorus is something of a '50s cliché, but it's surprisingly rather touching. It's also interesting that it's not blues-derived, which indicated early on that they wanted to deviate away from that.
While England's Newest Hit Makers might be nowhere near as great as some of the masterpieces The Rolling Stones would pull off later in their career, it was an explosive debut that should still have an impact on listeners to this very day. Hear it even if you don't particularly care for old school R&B.
Not Fade Away A
I have a tendency to treat early R&B music like it's retarded. (I am privy to making dismissive statements like “Yeah, this is good for early R&B!”) I'm still not the biggest fan of the genre, but I'm slowly coming to realize that R&B deserves to be treated like everyone else. And who can ever deny the genre when a band like The Rolling Stones plays it? They had more attitude than pretty much anybody from the era! I mean, this won't do much to thrill today's audiences who are used to hearing demon-possessed metal-men howling in microphones, but this was pretty edgy stuff for the time! They use an acoustic guitar to play that riff, and it's much more furious than the Buddy Holly original. That harmonic wailing and chugging along gives the experience some extra grit. Mick Jagger's vocals are excellently energetic; he knew exactly how to sing right from the beginning! Plus, The Stones knew exactly what sort of song to cover. Who knew more about pop hooks than Buddy Holly?
Route 66 A+
It doesn't get much better than this. We've all heard plenty of versions of this blues song, but none of them sound as tight and rockin' as this one. (Of course, we're all going to have different opinions... but I prefer pop-rock interpretation over the bluesy originals. But that only goes to show that I don't appreciate the blues very much.) The melody is incredibly catchy and was perfectly suited for pop-rock. The guitar riff is fast-paced, a tad rough, and catchy, and the claps added to the beat were a nice touch. Jagger's vocals have an edge to them without feeling like he was over-singing it. In short, this song is so freaking cool that it can hardly contain itself.
I Just Want to Make Love to You A
These guitars sound so furious here that they made the work in the previous two tracks seem like child's play! Mick Jagger's even singing so loudly that it seems like he was close to maxing out the studio equipment! (Although that gravelly quality in his vocals were probably just the way they were singing.) It's really easy to get caught up in this utterly raucous performance.
Honest I Do B
The one thing that was not the Stones' forte were these slow bluesy songs. It's not that they were particularly bad at it... they just weren't as overtly great at it like they were at the fast-paced ones. Mick Jagger had powerful vocals on the previous three songs, but here it would have helped if they were more expressive. The instrumentals are quite good, and I like how loudly they mixed the drums and rhythm guitar into the mix! But frankly it's somewhat dull.
Now I've Got a Witness C+
This instrumental was a composition written by everyone in the band, but was attributed to a songwriter called “Nanker Phelge.” I read about the origins of that name, and it's not too interesting. Anyway, this composition is a very generic rhythm & blues instrumental with a boring organ riff at the center of its sound. This seems pretty cheap compared to the previous songs in the album... Though, I will say that the harmonica wailing throughout in the background is really nice, and there's a really *mean* Keith Richards guitar solo in the final half.
Little By Little A-
So, these track reviews are getting pretty hard to write. How many different ways can I say that this is another bold R&B cover? It's only the sixth track, and I've already used my 'these track reviews are getting pretty hard to write' routine. Man, I'm spent! ...Well, I will say that I love that bold drum beat, which immediately launches this sky-high above the tinny thwacks we'd sometimes get from other records in this era. Keith Richards turns in such a mean guitar solo in the middle... Oh, man!! And that wobbling harmonica ... very awesome. I'm not sure what else you want me to say.
I'm a King Bee A+
This is basically irrefutable proof that The Rolling Stones were awesome. It wouldn't have mattered what they did afterwards, this song proves that they're one of the coolest bands in existence. The attitude-ridden march of the drums and bass guitar provide something of a passive menace. Apart of the groove, is a neat sliding effect with one of their guitars, which gives it an unusual quality that sets it apart from the others. Icing on the cake is that incredibly high-pitched guitar solos that comes in briefly to mimic the sound bees make, apparently when it's stinging somebody. Very, very enjoyable.
Oh yeah... Right from that opening guitar sequence, you can tell that this is a Chuck Berry cover. Sometimes, I admit, to not enjoying Chuck Berry covers, because they all sound so freaking cliché sometimes. But The Rolling Stones knew exactly how to do his music justice with sheer verve. Nothing can convince me that this wholly energetic treatment of this material is some of the most toe-tapping, enjoyable R&B tunes I ever heard...
Tell Me (You're Coming Back) B
Behold: The world's first Jagger/Richards composition to appear on an album! Well, they'll get better at it, luckily. The first and foremost thing everyone says about the song is that it's not derived from the blues. Rather, it's a slow, mournful, merseybeat ballad. I do like the mood, and think it showed early promise of the great songs these guys would eventually compose! On the downside, the melody isn't too memorable, and the chorus seems very cliché. It's also quite long. (Well four minutes was pretty much epic in the mid-'60s, and there was good reason for that.)
Can I Get a Witness C
Well, the similarity of this to “Now I've Got a Witness” is more than the song title. It's pretty obvious that song was based on this, which is a Marvin Gaye cover. But this is also relatively disappointing. It's not really that generic R&B riff that disappoints me, but it's that they're not giving this the same sort of verve that they did on most of the other songs. It's also very sloppy sounding. I'm wondering what prompted Mick Jagger to give this sort of strained, whiny vocal performance. Bluh!
You Can Make it if You Try C+
Here's a slow, bluesy ballad, and what I said about those not being the Stones' strong point in my review for “Honest I Do.” They would get better at it, but there's really very little emotion in this whole thing. Those yelps that Mick Jagger blurts out in this sound more like a dog barking than the emotional pleas I suppose he was going for. Hm.
Walking the Dog A-
At least they close the album with a catchy ditty! This sounds like it could have been something The Beatles would have covered in their early albums if they ever got around it. (Funny, I can imagine The Beatles' version as more energetic and somehow more sincere... I guess that goes to show what I think about The Beatles...) Anyway, there is an undeniably cool electric guitar solo in the middle of this. Perhaps it's a little too eager sounding, seemingly trying to out-pace the actual tempo of the song. But, I suppose dogs get like that when they want to go for a walk......
The Rolling Stones' debut album isn't immaculate... But it's undeniably cool. They tend to improve most of the songs they're coving, giving them more verve and excitement than anyone had imagined.
Read More Rolling Stones Reviews By Starcollector!
England's Newest Hitmakers (1964) | 12 X 5 (1964) | The Rolling Stones Now! (1965) | Out of Our Heads (1965) | December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965) | Aftermath (1966) | Between the Buttons (1967) | Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) | Beggar's Banquet (1968) | Let it Bleed (1969) | Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1970) | Sticky Fingers (1971) | Exile on Main St. (1972) | Goats Head Soup (1973) | It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974) | Metamorphosis (1975) | Black and Blue (1976) | Love You Live (1977) | Some Girls (1978) | Emotional Rescue (1980) | Tattoo You (1981) | Undercover (1983) | Dirty Work (1986) | Steel Wheels (1989) | Flashpoint (1991) | Voodoo Lounge (1994) | Stripped (1995) | Bridges to Babylon (1997) | No Security (1998) | Live Licks (2004) | A Bigger Bang (2005) | Rarities 1971-2003 (2005) | Rarities 1971-2003 (2005) | Shine a Light (2008)