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‘Five By Five’: When The Rolling Stones Sung The Blues For Chess

Recorded at Chess Studios, this EP paid homage to their Stones’ blues roots while at the same time helped establish their “sound”.

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The Rolling Stones Five By Five

With the coming of the LP there followed the EP, and in the 1950s and 1960s these were very important releases for any successful artists. With money not as plentiful back then, they filled a gap between the single and the album and in many cases they were specially crafted collections of tracks that could not be bought elsewhere.

After their chart-topping debut EP released in early 1964 The Rolling Stones followed it with another in August of the same year. Suffice to say this is a very special record, one that paid homage to their blues roots and at the same time helped establish the band’s ‘sound’. It was recorded on 11 June at Chess Studios in Chicago and is a mix of band originals and blues and R&B covers.

Cunningly entitled Five by Five, there are five tracks by the five man Stones. It is a little white lie in that Ian Stewart plays organ on a couple of tracks including the band composition ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’, which is of course the address of Chess Records.

The sound that was created by Chess engineer, Ron Malo, was perfect, when added to the ‘young guns on hallowed ground’ approach of the Stones. As the band’s manager, and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham says in his liner notes, “This new EP was recorded in Chicago during their recent American tour and is yet another showcase for their exciting vocalising and unique instrumental sound. And by way of saying ‘thank you’ to you, their friends and fans, we have included an extra track on this their latest disc outing.”

The Stones pay tribute to Chuck Berry by way of ‘Around and Around’ and while they were recording it, the Chess legend visited the studios, keen to see his song covered. When they finished playing he said, “Swing on, gentlemen, you are sounding most well, if I may say so.” Also featured is ‘Confessin’ The Blues’ a song that was a hit for Chuck Berry, although not written by the guitarist. Along with these was a Wilson Pickett song, ‘If You Need Me’, that was covered by Soloman Burke. The fifth song on the EP was ‘Empty Heart’, another Nanker Phelge tune – this being the writing credit the band gave to group compositions.

On 7 August 1964 the NME announced that sales of the band’s latest single ‘It’s All Over Now’ (also recorded at Chess) had reached the half million mark in the UK, and the advance orders for ‘Five by Five’ were 180,000. The EP even reached No.7 on the NME singles chart and failed by just three places to emulate the Beatle’s ‘Twist and Shout’ EP which made No. 4 in August 1963. The Beatles and the Stones were the only two bands in the sixties to achieve such strong sales with their EPs. The Five By Five EP made No.1 on 29 August 1964 and stayed there for the next 15 weeks.

In their review of the EP the NME said, “This EP is full of vitality, appeal and authority”. It’s hard to disagree.

The Rolling Stones’ Five By Five can be bought here.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Hugh McFadden

    August 30, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    The Stones were really good doing R’n’B numbers in the first few years … a good tight outfit and Keith was already an excellent guitarist. They were at their best between 1964 and 1967

  2. Katie

    August 29, 2016 at 8:33 am

    It was titled ” 12×5 ” and I owned that. May have had another name somewhere else but 12 x 5 was a blues album – I loved it. Nice reading all the contributors to it.

  3. Tim Thornton

    August 29, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    I heard the Stones’ versions of so many tunes before I heard the originals!! When I finally got the LPs of Chuck Berry”s Golden Decade, in the early 1970s, I was amazed at how well the boys had covered him! Same studio; same producer; any chance that the original musicians played on the Stones Chicago tracks? Loved them all. Best wishes from Pennsylvania!

    • Colin Betts

      August 31, 2016 at 8:17 am

      the Stones were our local band every friday night at Windsor’s Ricky Tick club(saturdays were Crawdaddy nights in Richmond). it cost 2shillings and 6pence (50cents?) in 63 to stand 3feet from Mick and lean on Keef’s home-made speaker cabinet. later that year they toured with the Ronettes but Stu Stewart had already been cruelly eased out of his own group by the new management cos he didn’t ‘look right’ for their image. aged 15 i was (unpaid) roadie on that tour and Stu was still doing all the driving and donkey work. really lovely guy who deserved so much better. for full details of those seminal days and nights try my memoir ‘frozenlight’ on amazon/kindle’ good reviews from joe boyd. p gambaccini et al.

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