Credit: Decca

The Rolling Stones debut album was a tribute to the past and a taste of the future

Somehow, by some good grace of some God or other, The Rolling Stones are still a touring band—or at least they would be had the coronavirus pandemic not halted their plans for yet another tour of North America. As they approach their sixth decade as a band we thought we’d look back at their furious debut album from 1964 on the day of its release. The brilliant The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers).

Of course, the album didn’t start off that way. It started, as most things did with The Rolling Stones, in a flurry of furious rock and roll. Recorded in just four days it would not only pay tribute to the past but beckon a bright new future to the fore. The Stones had well and truly arrived.

In truth, the band had been a part of the London nightlife scene for some time and the debut record reflects that. Mick Jagger later said of the record, “I like our first album very much ’cause it’s all the stuff we used to do on stage.” The new album acted as a peephole to the band’s growing notoriety on stage. Their live shows had become swelled with energy and the noise around the group reflected their effervescent performances.

The Beatles were beginning to be swallowed up in Beatlemania but while they were being marketed as your boy-next-door-band, The Rolling Stones were the dangerous underbelly. They were the archetypal leather-clad, cigarette smoking, stay-out-all-night and don’t tell your parents, naughty kids. It was reflected in their debut album too.

The Fab Four had been touting their version of the Merseybeat but The Rolling Stones, fuelled by Brian Jones and Keith Richards love of the Delta Blues, were bringing something far darker and far more dangerous. The Rolling Stones would see the group take on these tracks with aplomb and deliver nine epic covers of classic rhythm and blues songs.

The album, as well as paying homage to the past, would also offer up a glimpse of the future. It saw the group take on songs by legends such as Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley, as well as always finding inspiration in the legends of rock and roll too. Their cover of King Cole Trio’s ‘Route 66’ was deeply affected by Chuck Berry’s 1962 version. The Stones also put three originals on the LP

‘Little By Little’ and ‘Now I’ve Got Witness’ were a collaborative effort with a little help from the infamous Phil Spector on the former. But there was also a taste of what was to come as The Glimmer Twins, AKA Keith Richards and Mick Jagger score their first song together, ‘Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)’. The group were paving the way to their ultimate stadium-sized success.

The Rolling Stones can be accused of maximising their commercial material these days, who can blame them? But in the early, in the days when the art was more important than the cheque at the end of it, the group were still pushing boundaries. The band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham would act as another member of the band and ensure their integrity remained untarnished, aside from adding the subtitle of England’s Newest Hitmakers for the American release.

One such place he enacted his vision was with the album’s artwork. It’s a cutting edge design—no name, no title, just a picture of the band. We imagine he’d prefer to remove Decca from the imagery too. It’s reflected in his sleeve notes, “The Rolling Stones are more than just a group – they are a way of life.”

“A way of life that has captured the imagination of the nation’s teenagers, and made them one of the most sought after groups in Beatdom. For the Stones have their fingers on the pulse of the basic premise of ‘pop’ music success – that its public buys sound, and the sound is what they give you with this, their first album; a raw, exciting, basic approach to rhythm and blues.”

With that perfect synopsis ringing in your ears sit back and revisit The Rolling Stones debut album, released on this day in 1964. It’s a half-hour stint of pure rhythm and blues that is guaranteed to get you out of your seat.

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