Or, Five Reasons Why You Should Buy The Rolling Stones’ First Album on Vinyl…
Or, part two of a quest to discover whether it’s worth buying those early Stones albums on vinyl… (Here’s part One)
Have you ever checked the Rare Record Price Guide (“RRPG”) prices of Stones LPs? They made me wince like I’d just smelled Keith Richards’ breath in his heyday.
- Rolling Stones First Album: 1st pressing £1,000.
- Rolling Stones #2: £130
- Out of Our Heads: £110
- Aftermath: £110
- Between The Buttons: £150 mono
- Satanic Majesties: £200 mono
£1,000 for the first LP? Aside from the slight problem of not having that much cash, it did make me wonder: Why bother? They’re all on Spotify. Not only might they be highly underwhelming, but wasn’t it all a bit pointless buying original copies? Perhaps Chris was right?
Like the chap Thomas in the bible, I get these minor doubts pop up in my head from time to time. To resolve them, I pop down Spitalfields Record Fair. I can’t help thinking large parts of the New Testament might have had a happier spin if Thomas and a few of his friends had done the same. It never fails to energise the senses, as that unmistakeable smell of musty old record collectors fills the nostrils.
It turns out that you can buy copies of these records in very good condition for much less than £1,000…
Five out of six of the albums were secured over the course of three visits to Spitalfields and Southend Record Fairs. Total amount spent: a not-insignificant £80*, but all were early / “first” pressings. This left me with £20 to find “Satanic Majesties” which was admittedly a problem: I couldn’t find a copy anywhere for less than £40, which was ironic considering my preconception was that it was The Stones’ worst album of the sixties…
But buying the records was not the biggest task. I was reminded of my friend’s challenge: “Find the albums, listen to them, and then come back here and tell us why they aren’t just full of rubbish Chuck Berry covers.”
So here it is: Five Reasons Why You Should Buy The Rolling Stones’ First Album on Vinyl:
1. The copy in your loft might be worth £1,000.
As we now know, record collectors value the very first pressings of records above all, because the fresher the “stampers” are that actually press the vinyl, the fresher the sound. “First” pressings of the UK release are all on a red/silver Decca ”ear” label (pictured below). There are, however, some differences between first pressings.
The very first issue, which is the one that fetches big money plays a different version of that first Jagger / Richards composition “Tell Me” with a running time of 2:52. This edition is recognizable by the matrix number (printed between the label and where the grooves end) of side B: XARL 6272-1A.
All later issues (with varying matrix numbers) play a different version of ”Tell Me” with a running time of 4:06, albeit there are five label variations and four cover variations in existence, making for twenty-one different versions of a “first pressing”.
You can get further information from the album’s page on Discogs, but check out that running time and matrix number whenever you see a copy of the record. Sleeves that credit the 4th track on side A as “Mona” (RRPG: £250 mint) rather than “I Need You Baby” (£130 mint) are also more highly valued amongst the cognoscenti, for no discernible reason other than it’s a slightly earlier pressing. Needless to say my copy was the latter, and although not mint, sounds great.
Still later pressings have a ”boxed” Decca logo on top of the label, these are considered second pressings, and are therefore a good option for those on tighter budgets.
The concept of paying £900 extra to hear a shorter version of a song may appear odd to you. If it does, congratulations. It means you are normal.
2. The Songs Aren’t All Chuck Berry Covers:
Although there is a great version of “Carol”, technically “Route 66” is a Bobby Troup song originally recorded by Nat King Cole. The two best songs are, in fact covers of Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo songs.
“Would you let your daughter go with a Rolling Stone?” asked Andrew Loog Oldham’s famously provocative editorial. You can just imagine the consternation amongst Britain’s parents hearing the Stones’ version of the Muddy Waters / Willie Dixon classic “I Just Want To Make Love To You”. The Stones’ version isn’t as good as Muddy’s original, but gallops along at a good pace nevertheless.
Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee”, however, is perhaps the best song on the album- with a licentious vocal from Jagger that leaves the listener no doubt what Jagger had in mind when he sang of “buzzin’ round your hive”. The other stand out is “Can I Get A Witness”, the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic originally recorded by Marvin Gaye. The Stones don’t come within a million miles of Gaye’s version, but their faster paced version still rocks, and it’s a great song.
However, the cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” is less laid back and, dare I say it, more bluesy than the original, more countrified version with some great harmonica playing. “Mona” stands up well to the original too, with Brian Jones embellishing the Bo Diddley sound with some style. On Solomon Burke’s “You Can Make If You Try” ** Jagger’s vocal merely pales into comparison, albeit The Stones deserve huge credit for unearthing such a great B-Side!
3. The front cover breaks new ground:
On the cover, there’s no clue as to the name of the band. Think that Led Zeppelin were first to do this? Oh no. The Stones were the first pop group to omit the name of the band from the cover.*** Their faces are cast in shadow, in a move reminiscent of the cover of “With The Beatles”. On the reverse, Oldham’s sleeve notes tell us that “The Rolling Stones are more than a group. They are a way of life…”
4. The story behind the first Jagger / Richards composition:
Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham knew The Beatles through having done some PR work for Brian Epstein. In late 1963, during a frustrating recording session at Studio 51 in Soho, when a follow up single to debut “Come On” was proving hard work, Oldham went for a walk in Jermyn Street, near Piccadilly. By chance, out of a taxi jumped Lennon and McCartney, on their way home from a variety club lunch. The boys asked Oldham why he was looking thoughtful.
“Oh, I’m fed up. The Stones can’t find a song to record.”
“Oh, we’ve got a song we’ve almost written. The Stones can record that if yer like”.
The song was “I Wanna Be Your Man”. John and Paul went back with Oldham to the studio where The Stones were still arguing, finished writing the song, and The Stones had their first top twenty hit. The ability of Lennon and McCartney to write a song at the drop of a hat was not lost on Jagger and Richards.
However, it took further “encouragement” before the songwriting came naturally. Needing material for their first album, “Andrew Loog Oldham locked his two flatmates in the kitchen of their Willesden basement and threatened not to let them out until they had written a song” says Philip Norman in his biography of The Stones.
“Tell Me” was the result – not the greatest song you’ll ever hear, to be frank, but was the only Jagger/Richards song that made it onto the first LP.
The album, released in April 1964, sold 100,000 advance copies, knocking “With The Beatles” off top spot (albeit that had been released in the previous November). It stayed at number one for twelve weeks. This is the best document of why The Stones became so popular. We are effectively listening to the R&B set that The Stones played at The Crawdaddy Club in their earliest days. It also gives us a window into the R&B songs the Stones themselves admired.
The LP was released in the USA six weeks later, on 30th May 1964, and in a different form, as was customary at the time. The USA LP was titled “England’s Newest Hit Makers” and included third UK single “Not Fade Away” instead of “Mona”.
One way that vinyl can work with the likes of Spotify is by using the latter to discover the music that inspired The Stones. So here’s a playlist of the original songs that The Rolling Stones covered. It’s every bit as good, and in many cases a little better than the actual LP.
I reported back to Chris. One album down, and some great reasons why a) this is a great album and b) why it’s worth getting on vinyl: It’s a potential goldmine, it has great songs, a great cover, there’s a great story behind it and it’s a brilliant historical document.
One down, five to go…
** And Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog” for that matter