Four years after its release, on 14 April 1964, Mick Jagger had this to say about The Rolling Stones’ self-titled debut album: “I like our first album very much ’cause it’s all the stuff we used to do on stage.” Given that the band was touring and playing every day during the four days it took to record their UK debut album (two days at the beginning of January that year and two at the end of February), it was hardly surprising that the Stones looked to the music they knew so well and loved so much.
Recording The Rolling Stones’ UK debut album
Nine cover versions, one original song penned by Jagger and Keith Richards, and two group compositions (one with a little help from Phil Spector) make up the Stones’ UK debut album. It was all cut at Regent Sound, one of the least sophisticated (but cheap!) studios in London.
There are few overdubs and the album comes as close as you can get to the live sound of the band at that time – all the songs having been honed to perfection during a year of non-stop touring by Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. The album also included a few guest musicians: Gene Pitney played piano on one track (‘Little By Little’, which also featured its co-writer Phil Spector on maracas) and Ian Stewart appeared on five tracks, contributing piano and organ to the sessions.
The songs were recorded on a two-track stereo in a room insulated with egg cartons, and there wasn’t enough money for re-takes. The results were impressive. “Under those primitive conditions it was easy to make the kind of sound we got on our first album and the early singles, but hard to make a much better one,” said Richards. The Rolling Stones topped the charts for 12 weeks in the UK from early May and remained on the charts for a year.
Manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s behind-the-scenes creativity reached a peak with The Rolling Stones’ debut album. His self-belief – and belief in the band – pushed him into creating a cover that has no name or identity of the group, just a photograph. He would have probably removed the Decca logo if the label had let him.
“The Rolling Stones are more than just a group – they are a way of life,” he wrote in the album’s sleevenotes. “A way of life that has captured the imagination of the nation’s teenagers, and made them one of the most sought after groups in Beatdom. For the Stones have their fingers on the pulse of the basic premise of ‘pop’ music success – that its public buys sound, and the sound is what they give you with this, their first album; a raw, exciting, basic approach to rhythm and blues.”
The cover versions
The covers the Stones recorded for their UK debut album were largely blues and R&B songs originally released on Chess Records, the label that gave the band their biggest inspiration, but they also included homages to the Motown and Stax labels as well.
The nine cover songs on the album are:
‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’
Written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Muddy Waters in April 1954.
‘Honest I Do’
A Top 5 US R&B hit for Jimmy Reed in October 1957, and his biggest hit on the Hot 100, where it reached No.32.
‘I Need You Baby (Mona)’
A Bo Diddley original from 1957. The Stones were huge fans of rock’n’roll pioneer Diddley and had cut a demo version of his song ‘You Can’t Judge A Book by Its Cover’ in October 1962.
‘I’m A King Bee’
When they went into Regent Sound Studios to record their debut album, the Stones agreed that they wanted to do a version of Slim Harpo’s ‘I’m A King Bee’. They followed Harpo’s arrangements but added a slide-guitar break by Brian Jones.
A US R&B hit for Chuck Berry in September 1958, ‘Carol’ also made No.19 on the US Hot 100.
‘Can I Get A Witness’
‘You Can Make It If You Try’
A Top 5 US R&B hit for Gene Allison in January 1958 (it also hit No.36 on the Hot 100).
‘Walking The Dog’
Rufus Thomas released ‘Walking The Dog’ in October 1963, just three months before the Stones started recording their debut album, and it became a Top 5 R&B hit in the US, while also making the Top 10 in the Hot 100.
England’s Newest Hit Makers: differences in the US version
When London Records released the Stones’ debut album in the US, on 30 May 1964, it came with a slightly different album cover. The photo was the same, but the band’s name featured prominently on the front, along with a subtitle: England’s Newest Hit Makers.
The US version also featured a slight alteration to the tracklist. A cover of the Buddy Holly song ‘Not Fade Away’ was introduced (replacing ‘I Need You Baby’) and some of the song titles were amended. ‘Now I’ve Got A Witness (Like Uncle Phil And Uncle Gene)’ was shortened to ‘Now I’ve Got A Witness’, while the Jagger-Richard original ‘Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)’ was listed simply as ‘Tell Me’.
England’s Newest Hit Makers, as it became known, was hit in America, reaching No.11 on the Billboard charts and going gold in the process, though it remains the Stones’ only US studio album not enter the Top 5.