Early Rolling Stones Recordings

In March 1963 the Stones recorded five songs – Bo Diddley’s ‘Diddley Daddy’ and ‘Road Runner’, Jimmy Reed’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ and ‘Honey What’s Wrong?’, and Muddy Waters’ ‘I Want To Be Loved’ – at the instigation of Glyn Johns, a friend of Ian Stewart’s, lead singer of south London R&B group the Presidents, and a sound engineer at IBC Studios in Portland Place, north of Oxford Circus. The band were delighted with the finished tracks, not least Brian Jones, whose unwavering aim was to replicate the authenticity of the original records. The session tape would be spooled and re-spooled for every visitor to the group’s Fulham flat, but attracted no meaningful record company interest.

Two months later, with Andrew Oldham installed as their manager, the Stones tried another studio, Olympic, in south west London, where the novice Oldham doubled as producer to supervise the recording of the A- and B-sides of the band’s debut single, ‘Come On’ and ‘I Want To Be Loved’. The second was one of the tracks they’d recorded at IBC, but, although ‘Come On’ was a Chuck Berry song, it was not in the band’s repertoire. Oldham’s influence was already evident: he had insisted that they should consider covering only the most commercial-sounding records in their collection.

In the same week that the Stones recorded that first single, the Record Mirror’s Norman Jopling, having seen the band at the Station Hotel, reported, “(The Stones) are probably destined to be the biggest group in the R&B scene. Unlike all other R&B groups the Stones have a definite visual appeal. They play and sing in a way one would expect more from a coloured US R&B team… They have achieved the American sound better than any other group over here.” Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames’ fans at the Flamingo All-Nighter would have taken issue with that last assertion, but Jopling had accurately foreseen the Rolling Stones’ destiny.

It was a destiny not mirrored throughout R&B. Even from the dulling distance of the next decade, Alexis Korner’s frustration at the record industry’s reluctance to back Blues Incorporated animated him. “They didn’t want to know,” he fulminated. “We had a single-length version of ‘(I’ve Got My) Mojo Working’ on that first session in 1962. It was the tune of that period. It would’ve caught on, it would’ve sold, but they wouldn’t release it. In January 1963, we put down a version of ‘(Night Time Is) The Right Time’, which Decca completely messed up by dubbing choirs and I don’t know what else on and finally issued about a year later on one of those (various artists) albums. It was the time of the first Ray Charles tour here, and ‘The Right Time’ was his big number. They didn’t want to know. They couldn’t get used to the idea that a wailing band could possibly sell any records.” No doubt there was an element of ageism at play too, because, although Blues Inc’s then frontman Ronnie Jones was young and handsome, the majority of the band’s personnel were unmistakably, as Charlie Watts observed, “eccentric old men”, unmarketable in a teen-oriented music industry.

Released at the end of June and promoted on Thank Your Lucky Stars, ‘Come On’ peaked at No 21 in September. By then the band had cancelled upcoming club dates to join their first nationwide package tour, opening for John Leyton, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and the headlining Everly Brothers. They had also recorded ‘Fortune Teller’ and ‘Poison Ivy’, both familiar to anyone who had seen them live, as a second single, but, following an eleventh hour change of heart, this pairing was shelved. If their first hit’s sole connection with the Stones’ core repertoire had been its originator, Chuck Berry, the replacement follow-up came from an entirely unaccredited source: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

In April the four Beatles had checked out the Stones at the Station Hotel. Then, in August, following a chance encounter in the West End with Andrew Oldham, briefly a Beatles publicist, Lennon and McCartney showed up at a Stones rehearsal and ran through a new song of theirs, which they felt would suit the band. With the Beatles at No 1 for the third time since January, what group with ambition would turn down a Lennon-McCartney composition? Not the Rolling Stones.

In truth, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ was not out of Lennon and McCartney’s top drawer. Had it been, then surely either John or Paul would have sung lead on the Beatles’ own version? As it was, when it appeared on their second album, With The Beatles, the vocal was Ringo’s. But it was an adept pastiche of British R&B and, reinforced by Brian Jones’ trademark slide guitar, made it to No 12. Of the Stones’ next eight singles, only two would fail to top the charts. Even ‘Little Red Rooster’, a valedictory version of what might be termed a post-modern blues by Sam Cooke, reached No 1. The Rolling Stones had turned rhythm and blues into pop hits. For themselves, at least.

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