As I had noted, big things were beginning to happen in 1964. In April, the Rolling Stones released their debut album. Like many of their peers and rivals of the day, their earliest release is mostly cover songs, with only one Mick Jagger / Keith Richards original, “Tell Me” on the list. Technically, there is one other original song, “Now I’ve Got a Witness”, credited to Nanker Phelge. This non-person was a pseudonym used for any song written by the entire band as well as their manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham. As advertised, the Rolling Stones were very true and committed to their blues roots as they splashed on the scene shortly following the Beatles, beginning a friendship and rivalry that lasts to this day.
The common belief was that the Beatles were the clean-cut good boys, and the Rolling Stones were the rough kids from the wrong part of town. In reality, it was the Beatles who came from working class Liverpool, while the Stones were mostly raised in middle-upper class London. Of the two bands, the Stones definitely leaned further in on the blues for their core sound. They named their band from a nearby Muddy Waters album. Both Brian Jones and Mick Jagger were accomplished harmonica players, and with Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, this first album is raw and rough and everything one would hope for the early Rolling Stones.
It all starts with the American road-trip ode “Route 66”, followed by “I Just Want to Make Love to You” by Willie Dixon. Other standout blues numbers include “I’m a King Bee” and “Little by Little”. Turning slightly more pop, they deliver an outstanding take on Chuck Berry’s “Carol”. Even on this first album, particularly on “Walking The Dog” the supersized personality of Mick Jagger shines through. There has never been anything that complicated about the Stones. It starts with Keith Richards and whoever he is paired with (In this case, Brian Jones) blending rock and roll, blues, funk, rockabilly/country and anything else they can find with dueling chords, almost always hitting the perfectly imperfect rhythm sound. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are never flashy, but always drive the tempo that makes the Stones sound a little harder, and a little dirtier, than those who came before them.
Like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and many others, they will eventually reach greater heights as they grow as a band and sharpen their own catalog of songs. That said, this starter-kit of blues classics was the perfect mix to separate themselves from the happy pop sounds of their contemporaries and lead an extended reach-back to American blues that continues even now.