The Supremes’ sugar-coated soul of Baby Love was knocked from the top spot by something altogether more low down and dirty. The Rolling Stones’ second number 1 holds the distinction of being the only blues song to ever get to the top of the charts. That’s a testament to just how big the band were quickly becoming.
Little Red Rooster (originally The Red Rooster) is a blues standard credited to Willie Dixon. It did however share similarities with Charlie Patton’s Banty Rooster Blues from 1929 and If You See My Rooster (Please Run Him Home) by Memphis Minnie in 1936. It had first been recorded by one of the group’s heroes, Howlin’ Wolf, in 1961. Two years later soul singer Sam Cooke recorded a more poppy, uptempo version that was a hit stateside. At around this time, the American Folk Blues Festival, featuring Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf, was touring the UK, and among its attendees were future bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones.
Fast forward to 1964 and The Rolling Stones had just scored their first number 1 with Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now. Jagger and Richards were making tentative steps towards writing their own songs regularly, but were still in thrall to blues artists, particularly those on Chicago’s Chess Records. Lots of Delta blues made it on to their early material, but now they were planning to follow up It’s All Over Now with a faithful, uncommercial cover of Little Red Rooster. Producer and manager Andrew Loog Oldham wasn’t best pleased. Call it arrogance, call it a desire to put their money where their mouths were, but the UK’s biggest blues act went ahead and recorded it anyway.
Little Red Rooster was blues purist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones’s chance to shine. It’s him playing the bottleneck guitar that resembles a rooster crowing and a dog barking, and the harmonica, and you can’t help guessing that it was his idea to release it as a single. Bill Wyman later rightly said this song was one of Jones’s finest hours. Jagger is also on form, adding a typically louche, lazy air to proceedings. So much so, in fact, that the general belief is that the red rooster in question is in fact Mick singing about his cock. Which makes the fact this got to number 1 even more unbelievable. But then again, this was the year The House of the Rising Sun got to number 1 too, and the charts were increasingly becoming ‘anything goes’ territory.
This was The Rolling Stones’ last cover song to be released as a single in the 60s. Jagger and Richards were about to rival Lennon and McCartney, and Jones’s importance would slowly diminish.
Written by: Willie Dixon
Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham
Weeks at number 1: 1 (3-9 December)
Poet Edith Sitwell – 9 December