Three days after playing a gig at Bournemouth’s Gaumont cinema and three days before beginning their fourth UK package tour, The Rolling Stones were back in the studio to record a new single. It was on September 2, 1964, at their old haunt, Regent Sound Studios in London, that the Stones recorded and they cut two songs, the single’s B-side, “Off The Hook” and a song written by Chess stalwart, Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.”
After finishing their fourth UK tour, one that featured the brother and sister soul duo, Inez and Charlie Foxx who had a top 10 American hit the year before with “Mockingbird,” the Stones embarked upon their second American tour. They arrived back in the UK a few days after “Little Red Rooster”’s release.
The Rolling Stones’ fifth UK single also became their second single to top the UK charts, despite being a blues song and having been released on Friday, November 13. It’s a classic first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, as “The Red Rooster” for the Chess label in 1961. The Wolf’s recording features his brilliant slide guitar riff. For the Stones, Brian plays slide and pulls it off – but then again he was just about the first guitarist in Britain to play slide.
“Little Red Rooster” spent just a week at No. 1 in the UK in December, it might have done better had not the Stones been embroiled in an argument with the BBC who refused to have them appear on Top of The Pops the week it made No. 1, although they did play it on both Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars. At the time of its release the New Musical Express said, “If it wasn’t the Stones, I wouldn’t give it much hope, because it’s not all that commercial, but advance orders already guarantee a massive hit.” It became the first blues record to top the charts in Britain.
According to Mick Jagger in November 1964, “People say ‘Little Red Rooster’ is too slow. I don’t see why we should have to conform to any pattern. We thought just for a change, we’d do a nice, straight blues on a single. What’s wrong with that? It’s suitable for dancing. It just depends who you’re dancing with. Charlie’s drumming makes it good for dancing.” If you play the original and the Stones’ version back to back; they’re like a mirror; the Wolf howls, while Mick purrs; it’s what the blues are about.
In America, London Records passed on releasing “Little Red Rooster,” which displeased the band. With its blatant sexual undertones, London may have felt there was every chance that American radio would ban it. Interestingly, Sam Cooke had taken his version of “Little Red Rooster” to No. 11 on the American Hot 100 a year earlier. There was no hint of a ban, maybe London just thought it uncommercial as several stations in the US played it, including KRLA in Los Angeles.
Listen to “Little Red Rooster” and other Stones classics on the new 15LP Rolling Stones box set The Studio Albums Vinyl Collection 1971-2016, which can be bought here.