The Rolling Stones have been old for so long now, it’s hard to imagine how dangerous they must have seemed in 1964. There had been a few rivals to The Beatles’ crown the previous year, but they all followed the same template of charming, always smiling, suit-wearing nice guys. The Animals had been different, and broken the mould with their folk-rock cover of The House of the Rising Sun, but when It’s All Over Now replaced it at number 1, The Rolling Stones became the new biggest threat to the Fab Four, despite the fact they were actually pretty good friends. Here were five long-haired rogues who were in thrall to the blues, who rarely posed for the cameras, who posed a threat to the morals of the older generation.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been classmates in the early 50s in Dartford, Kent, but the Jaggers moved five miles away to Wilmington in 1954. Soon after, Jagger formed a garage band with Dick Taylor, and in 1961, Jagger and Richards met again at Dartford railway station. Jagger was carrying Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, and the pair got talking about music. Soon after, the duo and Taylor teamed up with Alan Etherington and Bob Beckwith and became The Blues Boys.
In March 1962 they read about Ealing Jazz Club and Alexis Korner’s R’n’B band Blues Incorporated. The following month they visited the venue and got to know members of the band, and slide guitarist Brian Jones and keyboardist Ian Stewart decided to form a new band with Jagger, Richards and Taylor. Drummer Tony Chapman is also believed to have been in the line-up for the band’s debut gig at London’s Marquee Club on 12 July. Brian Jones was pressed for a band name by a journalist over the phone beforehand, and he spotted a Muddy Waters LP on the floor. The debut gig saw them billed as The Rollin’ Stones, before they changed their name.
The Rolling Stones toured the UK, performing purely blues and R’n’B tunes by other artists. Bill Wyman replaced Taylor on bass that December, and in January 1963, drummer Charlie Watts jumped ship from Blues Incorporated to replace Chapman. The following month they secured a Sunday residency at the Crawdaddy Club. In May, Andrew Loog Oldham replaced Giorgio Gomelsky as their manager. Oldham had been a publicist for Joe Meek, Bob Dylan’s first UK tour, and even The Beatles. It was they who told him about this hot new blues band.
Originally Oldham had the Stones mirror the image of The Beatles, but then wisely decided a contrast would make them stand out of the crowd, and he encouraged them to look threatening and uncouth. He also removed Stewart from the official line-up, deciding he didn’t fit with the image he wanted and that six was one member too many. Stewart remained as road manager and touring keyboardist and would stay with the band until his death in 1985.
Oldham got the Stones signed with Decca Records, who had famously declined The Beatles. Not only that, he arranged for high royalty rates and full artistic control. He appointed himself the band’s producer, despite having no experience, and they would record at Regent Sound Studios, which unlike Abbey Road was mono only. Low booking rates meant longer time in the studio. All this may explain why some of the finest Rolling Stones recordings are of a poor fidelity when compared to those of the Fab Four.
Their debut single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On peaked at number 21, despite their refusal to perform it live. The follow-up, I Wanna Be Your Man, was a Lennon and McCartney (mainly McCartney) original. The duo donated it to the Stones and even finished writing it for them while they looked on. It reached number 12. Personally I prefer the Beatles more poppy version, sang by Ringo Starr on With the Beatles, but their first single of 1964 Not Fade Away, originally by The Crickets, was a big improvement and reached number three. Jagger and Richards had begun to write songs together, but unlike Lennon and McCartney, this took time and wasn’t something they found naturally easy at first.
June 1964 saw the band tour the US for the first time. They didn’t exactly win over hearts and minds like The Beatles had done earlier that year. However, they did manage to record at the legendary Chess Studios in Chicago, and met many of their heroes, including Muddy Waters. A week or so earlier, New York DJ Murray the K, fresh from his successful interview with The Beatles, had featured the Stones on his show, and played them a track by The Valentinos called It’s All Over Now. The Valentinos were also known as The Womack Brothers, and were led by gifted singer-songwriter Bobby Womack before he went solo. Their single hadn’t been a hit, but the Stones enjoyed it and decided to have a go at it themselves. Years later, Womack revealed that when his producer Sam Cooke told him about The Rolling Stones’ plans, he had told Jagger to ‘get his own song’.
Some of the Stones’ early recordings are at times a little too raw for my liking, and occasionally they sound surprisingly lacking in confidence. It’s All Over Now, like Not Fade Away, sees the band becoming more assured in the studio. Maybe recording in such a hallowed building gave them the edge they had been searching for. They take the strident bounce of the original and give it a more ragged, menacing sound, and Jagger is really finding his feet in particular, sounding less like a man impersonating his blues heroes, and developing a cockiness. It may all be over now, but Jagger sounds like he really couldn’t give a shit. Richards and Jones’s backing vocals are enjoyable, and so is Richards’ lead guitar line. The only thing I’m not sure of is his guitar solo, and apparently Richards and Lennon felt the same. It sounds a bit messy and rushed, and like it’s been lifted from a completely different song.
The first of eight number 1s, It’s All Over Now established the band as a true 60s phenomenon in the UK, and saw them begin to make inroads in the US. Six months after its release, the tempestuous Womack received a royalty cheque. He told Cooke that Jagger could have any song of his he wanted.
Written by: Bobby & Shirley Womack
Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham
Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 July)
Actor Ross Kemp – 21 July
Actress Bonnie Langford – 22 July
Footballer John White – 21 July