On Friday, November 13, 1964, The Rolling Stones released their fifth UK single. It would go on to become their second UK No. 1 and, less than a month later, on December 5, 1964, become the first blues record to top the UK singles chart.
“Little Red Rooster” is a classic from the pen of Willie Dixon, first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf for the Chess in 1961 and also featuring the brilliant Hubert Sumlin playing the classic slide guitar riff.
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 Wolf’s original and The Stones’ version back to back; they’re like a mirror; the Wolf howls, while Mick purrs; but ultimately both are what the Blues are about…S.E.X.
The Stones recorded their version on September 2, 1964, at Regent Sound Studios in London, along with the single’s b-side, “Off The Hook.” Three days later the Stones began their 4th UK package tour, this one featuring the brother and sister soul duo, Inez and Charlie Foxx who had a top 10 American hit the year before with “Mockingbird.” In between their UK tour and the release of “Little Red Rooster,” the Stones embarked upon their second American tour, arriving back in the UK a few days after the single’s release.
“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. In America, London Records passed on releasing Rooster, which displeased the band. With its blatant sexual undertones London may have felt there was every chance that American radio would ban it.
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, and still one of just a handful.
Follow the The Rolling Stones: Love The Blues playlist for more essential Stones blues covers.