Each month, American hardcore punk historian Tony Rettman will tell you about some new old shit to you need to buy. Like talking to your friend at the bar, but your friend has much better and more interesting taste than you. Check out last month's column here, and scoop the original CREEM archive, while you’re at it.
For hours now, I’ve been staring at two things. One is the box set appropriately titled 7" Singles 1963-1966, which contains all 18 singles released by the Rolling Stones at the very beginning of their career. The other is a tiny, blinking, vertical line on an empty file on the screen of my laptop. My mush-y brain follows its flashes, and struggles to consider how to write about this band in a manner that hasn’t been done numerous times before. Should I do it under the guise of some hipster music critic, and dismiss it as shit that only appeals to those whose nether regions don’t work no more? Do I attempt to review it without breaking the shrinkwrap so I can sell it to some mark at a later date for a hefty price? After dismissing every half-baked angle I can think of, it becomes apparent I’m actually going to have to sit down and write about this box set free of spin or irony. And on the day when there’s a daylong Law & Order: SVU marathon on no less? Aw, shit.
Well, let’s give it a listen.
A good place to start is at the beginning. Revisiting the Stones’ cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” released as their first ever single, demonstrates their formula for future world domination. Strip away the swing from rhythm & blues, music invented by Black Americans, and replace it with an amped-up, angst-ridden white boy rock ’n’ roll drive that’ll turn kids crazy and horny. The band’s second single, from the same year—their take on the Lennon-McCartney penned “I Wanna Be Your Man”—will forever sound spirited, a raucous ride due to the clash and twang of Keith Richards and Brian Jones’ guitars, and the steady chug provided by bassist Bill Wyman.
On their debut self-titled four-song EP, released in early 1964, the Stones’ unique interpretation of U.S. R&B is once again boldly on display: there’s not only their wonderfully scuzzy rendition of the Coasters’ “Poison Ivy,” but a captivating version of Arthur Alexander's “You Better Move On,” where Jagger showcases his ability to convey a kaleidoscope of emotions through a simple and effective vocal tone.
A few months later (and a deeper dive into the box set) brings us to the spring of ’64, when the Rolling Stones’ self-titled debut album was released, along with a single for the only Jagger/Richards composition on the record. It’s “Tell Me,” a noble but unremarkable stab at a Phil Spector-style number. But the B-Side—a boisterous, cranked-up version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You”—is yet another example of the Stones’ knack for taking Black American classics and transforming them into something palatable for an audience ignorant of their history.