Category Archives: Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones: Covering the Covers

When you teach a course on the Rolling Stones, as I’ve done three times now for a couple adult-education programs, you talk a lot about their influences. As the Stones covered so many songs by other artists in the 1960s, that often means discussing and playing some tunes they interpreted. Even for someone like me who’s been a fan for forty-five years or so, that leads you to think about and listen to some things that haven’t crossed your mind for a long time, and even to hear and learn some new stuff.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

Of the dozens of songs they covered (especially when you count demos, outtakes, and BBC sessions), it’s now struck me that there are a few instances where the Stones probably didn’t hear the original version, learning the material from an actual cover by someone else. This isn’t that rare; the Beatles, for instance, almost certainly learned “I Got to Find My Baby” (which they did twice on the BBC in 1963) from Chuck Berry’s 1960 recording, not the early-1940s original by Doctor Clayton (or even Little Walter’s 1954 version), as you can read about in one of my earlier blogposts. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was based not so much on the Big Mama Thornton original (which he was aware of) as a crass Bill Haley-like 1955 cover by early, now-almost-forgotten rock’n’roll group Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys. There must be countless other examples.

Of the covers the Rolling Stones placed on their official recordings (and even counting the high-quality unofficial ones), it strikes me that there are five that they likely learned from covers, rather than the originals. One of them is perhaps their most commercially successful cover version; another is perhaps the most obscure cover they placed on one of their albums. The three others have less interesting paths to the band, probably coming in all cases via their single biggest influence, Chuck Berry. Let’s start with the most obscure such item, Robert Wilkins’s “Prodigal Son,” which appeared on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet.

After the Stones covered "Prodigal Son," this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

After the Stones covered “Prodigal Son,” this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

As has often been stated by historians, Beggars Banquet marked a return by the Stones to a much bluesier sound than they’d favored since starting to write the bulk of their own repertoire around 1965 (and certainly a much bluesier sound than they’d gone for on their 1967 psychedelic LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request). While the band had occasionally gone into acoustic blues of the pre-World War II variety (as on the early Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition “Good Times, Bad Times,” used on the 1964 B-side of “It’s All Over Now”), Beggars Banquet also went into more Delta-style acoustic blues than any of their previous releases.

All of the Stones would have known something about the form, but the biggest kick in this direction was probably supplied by Keith Richards, who told Guitar Player in 1977, “During that long recording layoff after [the 1967 album] Between the Buttons, I got rather bored with what I was playing on guitar—maybe because we weren’t working, and it was part of that frustration of stopping after all those years and suddenly having nothing to do. So my playing sort of stopped, along with me. Then I started looking into some Twenties and Thirties blues records. Slowly, I began to realize that a lot of them were in very strange tunings.”

This might have been a time when he listened to Robert Wilkins, who made his first body of recordings between 1928 and 1936. One of those recordings (performed in 1929) was “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which musically is nearly identical to the song Wilkins would later—much later—record as “Prodigal Son.” Lyrically, however, it’s totally different. Where “Prodigal Son” is almost a narrative of a, well, prodigal son, “That’s No Way to Get Along” has very basic words about being treated bad by low-down women; crying and falling into self-pity as a result; and telling the basic tale to his mama. The only strong lyrical similarity to “Prodigal Son,” in fact, is in the title phrase “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which is repeated with some variations at the end of the verses.

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins's 1929 single "That's No Way to Get Along."

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins’s 1929 single “That’s No Way to Get Along.”

Like many of the Delta bluesmen who recorded in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Wilkins was rediscovered during the folk revival of the early-to-mid-‘60s, relaunching a recording and performing career after decades without any discs. In the intervening years he’d become much more religious, in both his life and his music. He was now playing a sort of blues-gospel, reworking “That’s No Way to Get Along” with biblical lyrics. The result was “Prodigal Son,” a ten-minute epic where “That’s No Way to Get Along” had lasted just shy of three.

It’s been reported that the Stones learned, or based their version of, “Prodigal Son” on Wilkins’s version on the compilation The Blues at Newport 1964 Part 2, recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964. That would make sense; Newport was the biggest folk festival of the time, and the albums recorded there were pretty widely heard by folk and blues fans. It’s also possible, however, that they heard it first, or also heard, the version Wilkins recorded in the studio slightly earlier (in February 1964) for the Piedmont Records LP Reverend Robert Wilkins—Memphis Gospel Singer. By 1964 the Stones were going to the US and had a lot more money than they’d ever had before. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Richards and/or some other guys in the band found the Piedmont album in an American record store, or even in a London store that imported folk and blues LPs; Dobell’s, on Charing Cross Road in Central London, was especially known for doing so.

The two 1964 versions are pretty similar, but no matter which one you hear (and both are pretty accessible now), it’s interesting how much the Stones condensed the lyrics. The Stones almost certainly wouldn’t have considering putting a ten-minute blues cover of any kind on a 1968 LP, and knocked “Prodigal Son” down to three minutes, mostly by eliminating a lot of repetition—cutting to the chase, almost. Where Wilkins made whole verses out of singing the same line over and over, Mick Jagger combined the lines into verses. Nonetheless, it’s often still not all that easy to make out the words he’s singing.

Were the Stones even aware that “Prodigal Son” had evolved from the 1929 Wilkins recording of “That’s No Way to Get Along”? Possibly not; in the late 1960s, early blues records weren’t nearly as easy to get (or hear) as they are now. Yet they quite possibly were aware of “That’s No Way to Get Along,” as it had been reissued in 1963 on the Origin Jazz Library compilation LP Mississippi Blues 1927-1940—not exactly common fare at most record stores, but almost certainly in the bins at some record stores the Stones visited.

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A more intriguing question is: were the Rolling Stones aware that Wilkins had, in 1928, recorded a number titled “Rolling Stone Blues” (in parts 1 and 2, no less)? It’s pretty well known that the Rolling Stones named themselves after a Muddy Waters song titled “Rollin’ Stone,” first issued on a 1950 single. Here’s guessing, however, that they hadn’t heard “Rolling Stone Blues,” which in 1962 was very hard to find or hear, especially in the UK. It wouldn’t even get reissued until the 1967 compilation Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 (1927-1942). The term “rolling stone” had already been in slang use by the time Wilkins recorded “Rolling Stone Blues,” but that might well be the first time it was used in a blues song.

As a final footnote to the “Prodigal Son” saga, the song was mistakenly listed as a Jagger-Richards composition when Beggars Banquet was first released. This was changed on future editions, this fine March 1, 1969 Rolling Stone article by Tony Glover  (of the US blues-folk act Koerner, Ray & Glover)  detailing how the matter was brought to the attention of the group and their record label. Wilkins, stated Peter Kuyendall (who owned the song rights) in the piece, “seemed quite happy that people will be hearing his song. It couldn’t bother him that a rock group has done it.”

If “Prodigal Son” was one of the more obscure covers the Rolling Stones released, “Time Is On My Side” was arguably the most famous. Certainly that’s the case in the US, where it became the band’s first Top Ten hit in late 1964 (though it wasn’t released as a single in their native UK, where a cover of “Little Red Rooster” was issued instead, making #1 in the British charts). The group learned the song from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas’s more gospel-flavored version. But Thomas’s rendition, as good as it was, wasn’t the original. The original, rather weirdly, was by famed jazz trombonist Kai Winding, who put it out as a single on Verve Records in October 1963.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding's version of "Time Is On My Side" were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as "Vocal Group" on the label.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding’s version of “Time Is On My Side” were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as “Vocal Group” on the label.

The choice of material wasn’t as strange as it might first appear. In an era where off-the-wall instrumental hit singles were not uncommon, Winding had scored one a few months earlier with “More.” In truth, that hit was more memorable for the lines played by Jean-Jacques Perry on the Ondioline (which sounded like a high-pitched, keening organ) than it was for Winding’s low-profile trombone. But when it came time for a follow-up that might likewise make the pop charts, songwriter-producer Jerry Ragovoy was contacted. He passed on one of his compositions, “Time Is On My Side.” (Ragovoy would become most famous for co-writing the soul songs “Piece of My Heart,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Get It While You Can,” and “My Baby,” all of which were covered by Janis Joplin.)

After being used to the Stones’ version for fifty years, it’s a shock to hear Winding’s single. The melody is all there, and are the words to the chorus and the parts of the verse where the title is sung. But nothing else is there word-wise, the singers credited only as “vocal group” on the 45 oohing wordlessly as Winding plays trombone. It’s as if they’ve recorded everything for a full vocal number, but simply forgotten to dub or punch in those parts of the verses (and there’s no spoken rap in the middle, that being an instrumental break again dominated by trombone). For all its incomplete feel, the “vocal group” really wails with soul near the end. And no wonder – the group were top New York session singers Dionne Warwick (actually by then a star), her sister Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney).

The missing words weren’t a mistake. Ragovoy simply hadn’t written any. In a way, it’s like numerous easy listening arrangements of popular hits in the 1960s, where those pesky verses were ignored, the anonymous session singers only bothering with the title and chorus. The strategy was employed on numerous early reggae covers of British and American hits too. If nothing else, it must have saved on the typesetting bills for the lyric sheets used at the recording sessions.

In most respects, however, Kai Winding’s arrangement is fairly similar to the one used on Irma Thomas’s cover. When she did her version in 1964, however, the verses were filled in with more lyrics, as was the instrumental break (with a spoken rap). Those words were devised by Jimmy Norman, which is why the writing credits are for Norman Meade and Jimmy Norman. But who’s that Norman Meade? That’s a pseudonym for Jerry Ragovoy. Got all that? And when the Stones covered Thomas’s cover, a near-instrumental for a jazz trombonist somehow became a British Invasion hit for a blues-rock band.

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The last few cases in which the Rolling Stones probably didn’t hear the original aren’t as interesting as “Prodigal Son” and “Time Is On My Side,” but still worth noting. “Confessin’ the Blues,” on their second US LP 12 X 5 in 1964 (and also on the UK EP 5 X 5 that year), is a fairly slow and standard blues that’s one of their less celebrated early tracks. It was first done as a piano-dominated shuffle way back in 1941 by jazz-blues pianist Jay McShann, with Walter Brown on vocals. Chuck Berry did a peppier blues-rockin’ version on his 1960 album Rockin’ at the Hops, which had no less than three other songs the Stones would record: “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Down the Road Apiece,” and “Let It Rock.” (Not to mention “I Got to Find My Baby,” which as noted earlier was done by the Beatles on the BBC.)

One would think the Stones would be far, far more likely to be familiar with Berry’s version than McShann’s. In his fine 1976 disc-oriented career overview The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr doesn’t seem to think so, noting that “surprisingly, the Stones keep to McShann’s slower interpretation.” My guess is, however, that the Stones did base their version on Berry’s, simply slowing the tempo way down, from rock to blues. One other piece of evidence in favor of Berry being the model is that while the Stones omit lyrics that appear in Berry’s interpretation, there are even more lyrics in McShann’s that Mick Jagger doesn’t sing. And Mick sticks much closer to the order of Berry’s lyrics than the order of McShann’s. The order’s exactly the same as Chuck’s version, in fact, though one of the verses Berry uses is axed. (It’s also possible the Stones were influenced by harmonica great Little Walter’s midtempo arrangement of the song, which he recorded for a single in January 1958.)

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Along the same lines, there’s probably no one who doubts the Rolling Stones found “Down the Road Apiece” (on their 1965 LPs The Rolling Stones Now! in the US and The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK) through Chuck Berry. It was first done, however, in 1940 as a piano-based boogie by the Will Bradley Trio. Keith Richards copies Chuck Berry’s intro riff pretty much note-for-note, so there’s really no question the Stones took Berry’s interpretation as their model. Berry is also certainly the source for “Don’t Lie to Me,” first done as a piano-guitar blues with a kazoo solo in 1940 by Tampa Red, and redone on Berry’s 1961 album New Juke Box Hits, Fats Domino having done a cover in 1951 as well. The Stones recorded this in June 1964, but didn’t put it out until the 1975 outtake collection Metamorphosis, by which time the title had somehow changed from “Don’t You Lie to Me” to just “Don’t Lie to Me.”

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The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

New Juke Box Hits was also where the Rolling Stones learned “Route 66,” one of the most popular tracks on their 1964 debut album. Written by Bobby Troup, it was a big hit in a far more polite, jazzy version for Nat “King” Cole in 1946, back in the days when he led the King Cole Trio. But the weirdest intermediary version you could imagine helped the Stones learn the lyrics, though not the way they played it (which was taken from Berry’s version, as is obvious again from how the band does a more guitar-oriented variation of the opening piano-dominated riff of Chuck’s track).

For according to the memoir of Jimmy Phelge—the same “Phelge” who was honored by half of the Nanker-Phelge pseudonym used on early Rolling Stones group compositions—they learned the lyrics not from Berry’s version, but…Perry Como’s. Phelge shared a flat with Mick, Keith, and Brian Jones in 1963, and when he moved in, he brought with him a Perry Como LP. After the founder Stones were done laughing at him, they noticed that “Route 66” was on it. According to Phelge’s book Nankering with the Rolling Stones: The Untold Story of the Early Days, Jones then suggested to Jagger, “Why don’t you get the words down?”

Wrote Phelge, “Mick played it three more times until he had finished writing all the words down. When Mick had finished Keith leapt over to the record player. He hastily removed the Como album then said, ‘Thank Christ, let’s have some Chuck Berry.’”

From Robert Wilkins to Perry Como…you never thought we’d get there. Did you? But there’s one thing that links them together—recordings they did influenced cover versions done by the Rolling Stones, if in the most different ways imaginable.

The Perry Como version of "Route 66" from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.

The Perry Como version of “Route 66″ from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.

 

The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones

“The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones” – it’s kind of a silly debate, if not nearly as silly as “The Beatles Vs. The Four Seasons,” as Vee-Jay Records titled one cash-in LP. You’ve got what many, even tens of millions, consider two of the greatest rock bands of all time – do you really have to choose one over the other? Or, worse, choose one and not the other, as some hard-liners (more Stones fanatics than Beatlemaniacs) maintain? They’re both great (or, at least, the Stones were great), and I’ve taught comprehensive courses on both groups.

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But here’s something I’ve never seen brought up when “The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones” is mentioned – how did those bands fare on the relatively rare occasions when they did go head-to-head? Not on the same stage or boxing ring or anything like that, but on the same song? For the two acts did sometimes do the same song, and a little more often than many think. True, there were just two occasions when they actually released studio versions of the same number. But if you count BBC and live performances, the quantity nearly doubles, though even then, it doesn’t reach double figures. Taking the attitude that no one else will do this unless I will, here’s a play-by-play rundown of those infrequent instances when the titans performed the same tune, with just-for-fun verdicts that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Let’s start with the only two songs the Beatles and Stones both did in the studio, with all four versions, as it happens, getting waxed in 1963 near the beginning of their careers.

Money: Despite the differences between the groups played up by the media and some fans, the two bands actually admired quite a few of the same US rock and soul artists, and it’s not all that surprising that they would cover some of the same songs. The only such animal to make it onto their 1963 discs, however, was “Money,” one of the first Motown hits (though not quite as big as many remember, Barrett Strong’s original peaking at #23 in 1960).

The Beatles did “Money” on their second album, and it’s really not all that controversial an opinion to assert they totally outdistanced the original, both by virtue of John Lennon’s fierce lead vocal and Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s exuberant backup harmonies. There are actually a few Beatles versions of “Money,” starting with a fairly anemic one from their January 1, 1962 audition for Decca Records (with Pete Best still on drums), and also including a half-dozen BBC performances. The studio cut on With the Beatles, however, is the best from every angle, and one of the best of the many fine covers they recorded.

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It’s also not that controversial an opinion to declare that the Beatles pretty much kill the Stones in an A-B comparison of their respective versions. In fact, a lot of listeners probably still don’t even know the Stones did “Money,” as it first appeared on a January 1964 UK EP, and wasn’t issued in the States until the More Hot Rocks compilation almost ten years later. The Rolling Stones’ version is raw to the point of almost being sloppy, has rather hoarse and untutored backup vocals, and is pretty murkily recorded (though it’s hardly alone in that last department among early Stones tracks). For all that, it’s not that bad, with some cool if slightly haphazard harmonica and generally commendable enthusiasm. The Stones were hardly the only other British Invasion group to do “Money,” by the way, other entries being cut by Freddie & the Dreamers (a predictably silly and stilted one) and Bern Elliott & the Fenmen (who took their rather generic interpretation to #14 in the UK), among others.

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The Verdict: Still – a clear victory, perhaps even a knockout, for the Beatles.

I Wanna Be Your Man: The other song the Beatles and Stones cut studio versions of in 1963 wasn’t even, for one of the bands at least, a cover. The famous story’s a little too long to recap here, but basically Stones manager Andrew Oldham, in need of a song for his clients’ second single, stumbled into John Lennon and Paul McCartney in central London, and corralled them into visiting a Stones rehearsal, where they finished off “I Wanna Be Your Man” on the spot. “I Wanna Be Your Man” would be the Rolling Stones’ first substantial British hit (stopping just short of the Top Ten), though it wouldn’t even be an A-side in the US, where it didn’t even appear on an LP (or, for many years, even on a compilation).

Though it was released a few weeks after the Stones’ version, the Beatles’ rendition was recorded about a month earlier. While something of a filler track on Meet the Beatles, with lyrics even more basic than most of the early Lennon-McCartney compositions, it pummels along with great, slightly bluesy effervescence, Ringo Starr on lead. It’s a good rocker, if a fairly secondary one in the scheme of early Beatles material. A little later, they’d do a cool version on the BBC with a slight Bo Diddley beat.

i wanna be your man sheet music

That said, the Rolling Stones’ arrangement beats the Beatles hands down. The slide guitar by Brian Jones is downright vicious, Bill Wyman plays an into-the-red pumping bass, and Mick Jagger gives it a sneer wholly missing in Ringo’s vocal. Where the Beatles play it jocular, the Rolling Stones are assaultive, bringing out the song’s subtle blues flavor so that it becomes a genuine pounding blues-rocker. John and Paul gave them a great assist by giving them the tune, but the Stones made it in their own, in a version both superior to and quite different than the Beatles’.

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The Verdict: A clear victory for the Stones, though not the knockout that “Money” was for the Beatles.

Now we’ll start getting into territory beyond the two official instances in which the bands released the same song, much of which remains unknown to the general public:

Roll Over Beethoven: Another highlight from the Beatles’ second album, “Roll Over Beethoven” was an excellent Chuck Berry cover, from George Harrison’s adept soloing (and lead vocal) to the insistent propulsion of the rest of the band on backup. Again they did this a bunch of times on the BBC (a particularly good June 24, 1963 one with a twice-as-long instrumental solo is on the iTunes download-only compilation The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963), and there are good live versions floating around on tape and film (though the one done in Hamburg in December 1962, like the rest of the live tapes from that quasi-official batch, has pretty poor sound).

BeatlesBeethoven

It’s still not generally known that the Rolling Stones recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” at a BBC session on September 23, 1963, in large part because it still hasn’t been officially released. Bootlegged with very good sound, it’s a tremendous version, and, again, quite different to the one by the Beatles. Keith Richards’s guitar has a more raucous edge, Mick Jagger’s vocal a more cutting bluesy tone, and the tempo’s more frenetic. Most notably, Richards unleashes a simply marvelous solo with a heck of a lot more bluesy note-bending. Of the numerous songs the Stones did on the BBC without counterparts on their official records (though these weren’t nearly as numerous as the ones the Beatles taped), “Roll Over Beethoven” might be the very best. (They also did a less impressive, looser version of “Roll Over Beethoven” at a later BBC session on March 8 , 1964.)

The Rolling Stones performed "Roll Over Beethoven" on BBC radio in 1963, but did not release a studio version.

The Rolling Stones performed “Roll Over Beethoven” on BBC radio in 1963, but did not release a studio version.

The Verdict: Too close to call, really, though if pressed I might choose the Stones’ version, Keith’s solo being the deciding factor.

Carol: Another Chuck Berry song both bands did, the twist being that this time, the Rolling Stones’ version is the more familiar one. “Carol” was a highlight of the band’s first album in 1964, with a pushy buzz, and authoritative Keith Richards guitar licks, that made it slightly different from the original, if not terribly different.

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The Beatles did not record this at EMI, but did a top-flight version for the BBC on July 2, 1963. Much more well known to the general listener after its official appearance on Live at the BBC in 1994, it was one of five songs from this session they didn’t put on their 1960s releases. Let me quote from my description in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film: “’Carol’ is handled here by John on solo vocals, and slightly precedes the much more famous delivery of the same song by the Rolling Stones on their debut 1964 album. It’s a contentious assertion, but the Beatles’ less noted interpretation is yet better than the one by the Stones, who took the song at a much more even, clipped beat. The Beatles’ interpretation has a more forward-thrusting groove, Lennon’s best cocky rock ’n’ roll voice, and propulsive Harrison guitar riffing, especially when he flicks off some cliff-descending notes near the end of the instrumental break.”

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The Verdict: Like the above paragraph notes, a contentious assertion, but I think this is a clear victory for the Beatles, though the Rolling Stones’ effort is quite respectable.

Memphis, Tennessee: Here we have a case of a song that neither the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones put on their official ‘60s releases, though both did it for the BBC. The Beatles, in fact, had done it on January 1, 1962 back at their Decca audition, and at their first BBC session on March 7, 1962, with Pete Best still on drums. Their arrangement (and indeed the whole band) had improved by the time they did it four more times for the BBC (with Ringo) in 1963, John Lennon still on lead vocals. On the whole, though, it’s not one of their better covers, though it’s okay.

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Again, not many people are aware the Rolling Stones did “Memphis” too, as their September 23, 1963 BBC version (recorded at the same session they did “Roll Over Beethoven”) hasn’t been officially released. Which is too bad, in part because it’s decisively better than the Beatles’. The Beatles’ arrangement is a little lumpy, but the Stones do it with just the right deftness, exquisitely interwoven guitars, and an appropriately wistful Mick Jagger vocal. As an aside, it is a shame that just four of the band’s 1963-65 BBC tracks have come out (and then only as a bonus disc on the expensive super-deluxe edition of their GRRR! compilation), as there are enough to fill up a double CD.

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The Verdict: A clear victory for the Rolling Stones, which doesn’t mean that the Beatles’ 1963 BBC versions (some of which have been officially issued) aren’t worth having.

I’m Talking About You: As if there’s any doubt that Chuck Berry was the most common meeting point in their influences, here’s yet another song covered by both bands. The Rolling Stones’ version (slightly retitled “Talkin’ Bout You”) is by far the more familiar, having appeared back in 1965 on the December’s Children LP (in the US) and the Out of Our Heads LP (in the UK). It’s a good one that’s funkier and slyer in execution that the original. The group, incidentally, did a yet earlier version for the BBC on September 23, 1963 (in the same batch including “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Memphis, Tennessee”) that unfortunately hasn’t survived. For that matter, that same session included a version of “Money” that didn’t survive either.

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Until very recently, the best of the two surviving Beatles versions of “I’m Talking About You” was quite obscure. An energetic but lo-fi one from December 1962 had been available since 1977 on the Hamburg Star-Club tapes. A better, though not totally hi-fi, BBC performance from March 16, 1963 finally came out in late 2013 on On Air: Live at the BBC Vol. 2. It’s pretty good as well, benefiting from a brash John Lennon lead vocal, and an odd chuckle right before they go into the instrumental break, with a George Harrison solo that (like many of his BBC performances) are rawer than what he was wont to put on the group’s studio releases. The bass line of the Chuck Berry original, incidentally, provided the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s bass on “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Beatles' BBC version of "I'm Talking About You" is included on this 2013 compilation.

The Beatles’ BBC version of “I’m Talking About You” is included on this 2013 compilation.

Still – the Beatles’ version is not quite as distinctive, or as different from the original, as the Stones’ take. So –

The Verdict: A decisive win for the Rolling Stones, though not by a huge margin.

Little Queenie: It’s rather amazing – of the half-dozen recordings of seriously performed songs that both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did in the 1960s, four were Chuck Berry tunes. Again, this should eliminate any doubt that he was their most common shared point of reference, though no doubt there were some other songs (by Berry and others) both bands covered that one or both of them didn’t put on surviving tapes.

The Stones’ version of “Little Queenie” is by far the better known of the two, a late-’69 concert performance having featured on their Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! album. Give the group credit for not just replicating Berry’s version (which some of their earlier Berry covers verge on doing) but slowing it down considerably and making it funkier and more salacious, though that was in keeping with how their whole approach had changed by the late 1960s, especially with Brian Jones out of the band.

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It’s a shame that the only existing Beatles performance of “Little Queenie” is from their lo-fi December 1962 Star-Club tapes, which makes it a little hard to properly face off against the much later one by the Stones. Nonetheless, I’ll go out on a limb and say the Beatles’ version is better. It has a terrifically infectious Paul McCartney vocal, and a really unusual, exhilarating George Harrison guitar solo that has no counterpart in the Berry original. If only they’d recorded this for the BBC in good fidelity, a la “Carol,” there would be no doubt whether this surpassed the Stones’ interpretation. Nonetheless –

The Verdict: The Beatles win, though the marginal fidelity of their version, and the respectable quality of the Stones’ rendition, makes it something of a borderline triumph.

The only Beatles version of "Little Queenie" is on the tapes they recorded in Hamburg in December 1962.

The only Beatles version of “Little Queenie” is on the tapes they recorded in Hamburg in December 1962.

By the way, the Beatles did casually jam on a few other songs the Stones also did during their January 1969 sessions for what was then intended to be the Get Back album and film, though it would be retitled Let It Be. Among them were Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” Hank Snow/Ray Charles’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” and even the Stones’ own “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Lady Jane.” These were just too casually executed, however (and sometimes poorly recorded), to consider serious attempts at a recordable performance. For that reason, they’ve been excluded from this discussion, though for what it’s worth, the versions of “Hitch Hike” (with George Harrison’s fine lead vocals sadly undermiked) and “Not Fade Away” (ditto) aren’t bad.

In sum – is there a winner in the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones? Even if judged solely on the few songs on which they went toe-to-toe? Seems to me it’s about as close to a draw as it gets. And isn’t that how it should be?

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British Invasion LP Covers: The UK Vs. the US

In the past few years, I’ve taught a bunch of rock history courses at the College of Marin that use a lot of audiovisual material. Often I show PowerPoint slides of record sleeves, and often, as it happens, these are of 1960s British bands. This got me thinking, in the usual way of subjects of interest mostly to hardcore music geeks, of how often LP covers were different in the US and UK, at least until the late 1960s, when the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper helped establish a uniform worldwide format for bands of influence.

Until then, and sometimes even afterward, there was a lot of variation, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones down to British Invasion greats who never successfully invaded the US market. Somebody had to be making decisions resulting in such substantial differences as these:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

That’s one of the most high-profile examples, though relatively few US listeners were even aware of the Who when their debut album came out, and fewer still aware that a UK version had a much different cover (and a very slightly different track listing).

The usual historical viewpoint, when these things are discussed at all (they are in my classes if nowhere else!), is that US record labels did a great disservice to UK acts in repackaging their albums for the American market. Not only did they diminish the quality of the presentation, goes this argument, but they altered the artist’s original intentions, though in the case of cover art (and even sometimes track selection), those decisions were sometimes made by people other than the artists.

In the case of the track selection, that’s often true. It’s well known that British rock groups’ LPs were often sliced and diced for the US audience so that more albums could be issued. Instead of the thirteen or fourteen songs usually found on UK albums, there would often be eleven or twelve (or even just ten). Tracks from UK LPs, 45s, and EPs would be slung together, sometimes haphazardly, without the groups’ input. There are many examples, the Beatles’ Yesterday…and Today being perhaps the most famous because it was first issued with a rare “butcher” cover. In some cases, American labels just cut out a few songs from the UK versions; you’d have to be out of your mind, for instance, to prefer the US Revolver (missing three songs, all of which featured John Lennon as lead singer and primary composer), or the US version of the Yardbirds’ 1966 album (which removed a couple songs, albeit a couple of the less impressive ones, from the UK edition). That thread could be a whole post in itself, and I won’t go it that at article-length here.

As for the album sleeves, though, I wonder if it was really such a dilution or desecration to have different covers in the US. This won’t be a universally popular opinion, but I really can’t think of a single instance where the US artwork was just incredibly, undeniably inferior to the UK counterpart. And sometimes, I think it was actually better.

Let’s start with a few A-B comparisons where I’d contend the US cover is markedly superior:

The UK cover of Fairport Convention's second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The UK cover of Fairport Convention’s second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

It’s a little painful to put this forth, since the UK cover is definitely what Fairport Convention wanted. But I’d much rather look at a picture of the band – their best lineup, and on their best album – than a fairly crude blackboard sketch. That photo on the US version does seem to capture the personality of the band – friendly (never mind that they changed personnel more than almost any other major group of the time) and woodsy, though they were very much a London group. The title was different in the UK (What We Did on Our Holidays), too, with A&M opting for the bland Fairport Convention, though the debut LP that preceded this (unissued in the US at that time) also used that title, confusing discographers for many years to come. Maybe the original title wasn’t used Stateside since “holidays” mean something much different here, referring to the dozen or so official annual government holidays; in the UK, “holidays” are what Americans call “vacations.”

In 1966, the Yardbirds put out essentially the same album in the US and UK, though as noted the US version cut out a couple songs. Again, it was given both different covers and different titles:

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as "Roger the Engineer," after the writing on the cover sketch.

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as “Roger the Engineer,” after the writing on the cover sketch.

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, "Over Under Sideways Down."

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, “Over Under Sideways Down.”

And again, the UK version (officially titled The Yardbirds, but unofficially referred to as Roger the Engineer) is definitely what the band wanted, since rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja actually drew the cover. The US sleeve is kind of anodyne, but at least it pictures the group, with Jeff Beck as lead guitarist. The UK version’s kind of ugly, to be brutal. Here’s an uncommon example of the Canadian cover coming off best:

YardbirdsCanada

But note, as many would be quick to point out, this has a photo of the lineup during the brief mid-1966 period when Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were both in the band. Which is cool, but Jimmy Page doesn’t play on the LP, only joining shortly after it was recorded.

Donovan’s Sunshine Superman is a downright rare, maybe even unique, case where the US version is preferable from every angle, including but not limited to the cover:

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan's best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan’s best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

The UK version didn't even have a picture of Donovan.

The UK version didn’t even have a picture of Donovan.

As a result of a complicated contractual dispute, Sunshine Superman came out first in the US, in August 1966. When it came out in the UK nine months later, it was precisely the kind of bastardization American labels are often panned for, cobbling together seven of the twelve tracks from the American edition with five songs from his next LP, Mellow Yellow. You’d have to be out of your mind to prefer the UK version, and the inferior cover – a rather unmemorable fairytale-ish illustration, where the US original has a picture of Donovan surrounded by trippy if florid graphics – isn’t even the most important reason.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to the graphic that led off this post, comparing the two covers for the Who’s first album:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

I think I’ve heard someone or some people knock the US image as cheap, exploiting the London connection during the height of the British Invasion by putting Big Ben in the background. The UK original does have a greater sense of their mod fashion. But I have to say I like the US variation better, with their moody expressions and, yes, that hovering Big Ben reminding us of their Englishness.

Before Rubber Soul, most of the Beatles’ US albums didn’t come close to replicating the contents of their UK counterparts. In the UK, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were real, full LPs; in the US, they were tweaked as “soundtracks,” surrounding songs used in the actual movies with fairly crappy instrumental orchestral filler on which the Beatles didn’t play. The sleeves changed too, though not as obnoxiously as the music:

The UK version of A Hard Day's Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The UK version of A Hard Day’s Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

Both of these covers have their merits. The UK original gives you more frames and, in so doing, actually conveys a more cinematic quality, in keeping with an album based around a film. The US variation does give you larger images; the ones on the UK sleeve are pretty small. Moving to their second film:

The Beatles aren't exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The Beatles aren’t exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The UK original is less garish. But this time it’s the US spinoff that more clearly, even loudly, states the connection to the film. A gatefold sleeve, not common for rock LPs in those days, was a notable bonus. No points for the way the album took off six songs from the UK version, however, and sequenced it not so that the seven Beatles songs were on one side and the orchestral muzak on the other (as Yellow Submarine would), but alternated Beatles songs with the instrumentals. To this day, when you look at used copies, the Beatles tracks are often gray from overplay; the instrumentals, in contrast, are black, as a consequence of fans constantly taking the needle off to skip over them.

Moving to the Beatles’ closest rivals, the Rolling Stones’ first album, unusually for the time, was almost the same as their UK debut in both content and cover design. Note the not-so-subtle difference in one respect, however:

The Rolling Stones' first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

The Rolling Stones’ first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

The UK original – in perhaps an unprecedented move – did not put the band’s name (or album title, which was also The Rolling Stones) anywhere on the front cover, relying solely on the photo to make an impact (and a phenomenally successful one for a debut LP by a band with only one Top Ten British hit, as the album topped the UK charts). In the US – where the Stones were considerably slower to take off than in their native land, and were indeed virtually unknown in mid-1964 – London Records, the arm of the group’s UK Decca label, wasn’t going to take any such chances. The name of the band would go on the cover. And, the British Invasion being only a few months old, London Records was going to be damned sure to remind you these guys were English, adding the subtitle “England’s Newest Hit Makers.”

The difference in cover design got more substantial on their 1966 album Aftermath. This was an important record in the Rolling Stones’ career, as it was the first of their LPs to consist entirely of original material. It was kind of compromised in its US edition, which cut out a few songs, though it did add “Paint It Black” (just a single in the UK). And there were entirely different front sleeves:

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

It’s not an obvious call here, but I prefer the US image, whose slight blurriness adds a bit of mystery. I’m not big on the red tint on the UK release.

The same year, the Stones came out with their first greatest hits collection. Though the title was the same in both countries, the songs were different (with substantial overlap), and the covers entirely different:

The US version, which actually came out first.

The US version, which actually came out first.

The UK version.

The UK version.

I think this is a clear victory for the US version, with that memorable setting of the Stones by the water (actually taken in Hollywood’s Franklin Canyon Park, not England as many naturally assumed at the time). The UK cover isn’t bad, though, and was distinct enough to be used on the picture sleeve of the US “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow” 45, Brian Jones’s bandaged hand and all.

One of the more memorable, if gaudy, American British Invasion covers was Them’s debut LP. Compare it with its rough UK counterpart (which had a different track listing, though with substantial overlap):

Like the Rolling Stones' first UK album (also on Decca), Them's first album, The Angry Young Them, didn't put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Like the Rolling Stones’ first UK album (also on Decca), Them’s first album, The Angry Young Them, didn’t put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

The US cover’s been criticized for its Halloween-ish lettering and layout, but I think it actually complements the oft-spooky tenor of Them’s music. And the photo of the band’s better. The guys don’t look all that angry on The Angry Young Them, either.

Not so much angry as Moody were the different covers designed for the Moody Blues’ UK and US debuts:

The Moody Blues' first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues’ first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues' first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The Moody Blues’ first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The images are similar enough that they may well have been from the same photo session. No clear winner here in my view, and why not have two covers rather than one, though the US design is more blatantly and gauchely commercial with its large blue borders and big-letter blare of the hit song it features, “Go Now.” As for the subtitle “featuring From the Bottom of My Heart,” that was their follow-up to “Go Now,” and not nearly as successful, stalling at #93 in the US charts, though it was a quite good original.

Digging so deep into the British Invasion that you come across bands who never had a hit here, there’s the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow. The best ‘60s UK group never to make it into the States, the Pretty Things started out as a rawer version of the Rolling Stones; lead guitarist Dick Taylor had been in the Stones until late 1962. By the late ‘60s, they’d evolved into psychedelic rock, and S.F. Sorrow was one of rock’s first concept albums:

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown's attempt to crack the white rock market.

The US edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown’s attempt to crack the white rock market.

It’s a clear victory, in a change of pace, for the UK version. Which was certainly more in line with the band’s vision, as the cover was designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May. The US cover (on Motown’s Rare Earth subsidiary) had its curiosity value, though, for its tombstone shape if nothing else. The cover change wasn’t the biggest way Rare Earth fumbled the ball; though the album had come out at the end of 1968 in the UK, it wasn’t released until August 1969 in the US, which meant that some American listeners and critics accused it of being a rip-off of the Who’s Tommy (which it predated by months in the UK).

Jimi Hendrix was American, of course, but he rose to stardom in Britain as leader of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their maiden outing Are You Experienced, for all its classic status, was substantially different in both track listing and cover design in its UK and US editions:

The UK version of Are You Experienced

The UK version of Are You Experienced.

The more psychedelic US version.

The more psychedelic US version.

The US cover’s been accused of being more gimmicky. Perhaps, but the distorted photo’s simply more memorable, and more in tune with the vinyl’s psychedelic contents, than the sober, rather so-so UK sleeve. The substitution of British hit singles “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” for some tracks also struck some as crass, but also improved the LP. The CD gets around the problem by including all of the songs from both versions.

Going a little beyond the British Invasion into the beginning of the 1970s, no overview like this would be complete without presenting one of the most famous sleeve variants of all:

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn't even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn’t even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

But you certainly couldn't miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

But you certainly couldn’t miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

The UK cover of Bowie reclining in a dress is understandably the more famous of the pair, tying in as it did with his then-controversial androgynous image. The US cover is downright weird, and looks at first like it might be something cooked up without his consent, by someone who had no familiarity with Bowie’s music. Not so; it was designed by a friend of Bowie’s, Michael J. Weller. Equally strangely, it might be considered the original, as though Bowie was very much a British artist, the LP came out first in the US (in November 1970), not emerging in his native UK until about six months later.

These are just some of the most striking sleeve variations that come to mind. There were numerous others, some not interesting enough to merit much comment, some by artists not interesting enough to merit much comment. No doubt some of the decisions guiding these differences were arbitrary, made by labels, publicists, managers, or under assistant west coast promotion men with little knowledge of either the artist or rock music. But looking back from our time, when packaging is often standard the world over – and when there often isn’t any packaging (on download sites), or when the packaging is much smaller and less interesting to gaze at – these idiosyncratic blips and skips in international marketing are to be treasured.

Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile

Due for publication on Da Capo Press on May 15, Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile is the third book Robert Greenfield’s written on the Stones in the early 1970s. It’s also the slimmest, built around the band’s fairly brief March 1971 “farewell” tour of the UK before leaving England to take up residence in France as tax exiles. Greenfield was along for the tour, and fleshes out the one-or-two-sitting read with after-the-fact inside stories he learned later (sometimes years later); an amusing account of extracting a lengthy interview out of Keith Richards over the course of many days in France in 1971; and a few accounts of hanging with the Stones the following year (particularly while Exile on Main Street was mixed in LA in early 1972). At least some of the stories and quotes also appeared in Greenfield’s Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones; since neither book is indexed, it’s hard to make an exact count.

Greenfieldcover

Still, I kind of like Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. It’s more humbly and humorously written than his other two Stones volumes. If you want some he-was-there insights into the band’s quirky and changing dynamic, you’ll get those in the observations of tension Mick Jagger’s then-new relationship with bride-to-be Bianca was causing; the struggles of Keith Richards and his then-common-law wife Anita Pallenberg to kick drug dependency; and the stranglehold Mick and Keith already had over the group, the other three often waiting around for the two figureheads to deign to show up before they could get going onstage or in the studio, granted neither explanations nor apologies. Richards in particular seems like a pill to be around, flaunting his nobody-tells-me-what-to-do power whether insisting his dog be allowed to travel with him on a plane (eventually Charlie Watts comes up with a bag for “Boogie”’s ride in the hold) or prying the door off a locked dressing room rather than wait for the promoter and his keys.

If you’re one of those nerds who actually cares about the music as much as the sideshows, there are some bits that have survived only because Greenfield happened to be around. There’s Marshall Chess of Rolling Stones Records, for instance, bugging Jagger at the dinner party after the first gig in Newcastle. Sticky Fingers was about to be issued—contradicting all post-1970s marketing wisdom, the Stones were touring right before its release—and Chess had to coax the track sequence out of the band. Or, rather, out of Jagger, the chief decision maker when you came down to it. “More than twenty minutes on a side and you lose level,” Marshall told Mick. “You know that. It’s how they cut the grooves. So we have to work out the running order.”

Failing to make much progress as the evening wears on, Chess even asks Jagger to cut a verse out of “Moonlight Mile,” all in the name of getting Sticky Fingers into the shops with maximum fidelity. Mick’s response after a few minutes of Marshall’s spiel: “What, Marshall?”

One of many bootlegs of the Rolling Stones' concert at Leeds University on March 13, 1971.

One of many bootlegs of the Rolling Stones’ concert at Leeds University on March 13, 1971.

Even with Sticky Fingers due for release in a month’s time, there was still a chance, according to Chess, that Jagger would go back to the studio to re-record some vocals. He never did, in part because the Stones really had to be out of the country at the end of the month to start their tax exiledom. In fact, that’s the reason the band were touring in advance of Sticky Fingers’ release in the first place, even playing some songs (“Dead Flowers,” “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar”) from the LP in concert that had yet to be available. Imagining that happening today, when everyone from label heads to lowly copyright lawyers would be predicting instant death if original songs were aired before commercial availability, or worse.

I’m not sure whether this has previously appeared anywhere, but there’s also a quote from Mick Taylor’s wife of the time, Rose, that gives you more insight into the younger Mick’s frustrations with the Rolling Stones than anything I remember reading in an actual Mick Taylor interview:

“The tour wasn’t really fun because even at that point I think Mick Taylor realized he had made a mistake by joining them. Even then. Because he could have done other things. He could have gone and joined Paul Butterfield. He could have done music he was more interested in than rock’n’roll. He could have played the blues. And jazz. He was also taking classical guitar lessons. His music interests were very wide and if he had done something that he had been the boss of, it would have been better for him than taking this job which of course everyone said, ‘Oh, you have to do this. It’s so wonderful.’ 

“In all the time he did it, he never ever thought it was wonderful. Ever. If he played well, it was okay except that Keith would turn his amp down. Or he would only have the time of his solo to play well and that was that. If he played badly, they applauded anyway so he felt there was no discernment on the part of the audience. He didn’t feel he was making any contribution that was really important. He was so sensitive. And he was never satisfied with what he did with them, really.”

In the UK, one track from the March 13, 1971 concert at Leeds University, "Let It Rock," was released on a three-track single.

In the UK, one track from the March 13, 1971 concert at Leeds University, “Let It Rock,” was released on a three-track single.

Even some of the more marginal hangers-on come up with a story or two worth hearing. Jerry Pompili, in charge of the tour’s security, somehow got tasked with transcribing lyrics for “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar,” “Moonlight Miles,” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” so they could be copyrighted (quite possibly to guard against infringement after the Rolling Stones played Sticky Fingers material on this very tour). He actually went to Jagger’s house to

“drop a needle on them and try to figure out what the hell he was singing. Which was not really all that easy. I played the acetates over and over and wrote down all the lyrics I could understand by hand. Then I took the pages back…and Mick came into the office and looked at them and that got his memory going so he was able to fill in most of the blanks. We had one disagreement and it was on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’ There was one line that sounded to me and everybody else like ‘Yeah, I’ve got flatted feet now, now, now,’ but Mick swore that was not what he had sung. He couldn’t remember what it was, so we just went with ‘Yeah, I’ve got flatted feet now, now, now.’”

Decision-making at the highest level really wasn’t as corporate those days.

Nor was landing an audience with one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Assigned to interview Keith Richards by Rolling Stone, Greenfield simply drove to his legendary base in Nellcôte, walked in the unlocked door, and got a hearty hug from the man, though the pair had barely interacted during the farewell tour. On his next visit, things weren’t going quite as well, Anita Pallenberg asking Greenfield, “Did you bring us something to smoke so we can all get high, yes?” It so happened Greenfield had just been given some hash by a PR guy in Cannes, and after it was passed around and given Keith’s blessing, “I was now most definitely persona grata at Villa Nellcôte.”

And when Greenfield was having trouble pinning Keith down for a finale to the interview, he did what anyone would have done in those circumstances, back in 1971, at any rate. He called Marshall Chess, who immediately flew over from London. After a closed-door Chess/Richards meeting, Greenfield got everything he needed the next morning. Now that’s corporate efficiency, even if the author had to wait around Nellcôte as endlessly as Watts, Wyman, and Taylor for Keith to get his act together.

Of course, there were plenty of drugs, women, and whatnot to while away the days in the meantime. If that wasn’t enough of a distraction, cartons of albums yet to be released on either side of the Atlantic were delivered to the villa daily. Keith, Greenfield reports, was particularly enamored of a reggae tune called “Funky Jamaica” by the JA Horns, playing it over and over—though Internet searches do not yield details of any record by that title by that artist. Can anyone out there help?

Maybe the record Keith Richards heard was actually "Funky Nassau," a hit for the Bahamas band the Beginning of the End in 1971.

Maybe the record Keith Richards heard was actually “Funky Nassau,” a hit for the Bahamas band the Beginning of the End in 1971.

Knowing Richards’s role as lord of the manor extended even to control of the turntable, Greenfield had to wait until everyone else had turned in to “put James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon on the stereo without being laughed at.” Richards barged in nonetheless to pick up his young son’s toys, “shooting me a cynical look that left no doubt as to what he thought of my current musical selection.”

And now a final Keith story, actually from 1973, in the book’s last section: in mid-1973, he got in trouble with the British authorities on drug charges and over possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. He and Pallenberg got off with a £250 fine, but on the day of the trial Mick Jagger told engineer Andy Johns, “I think Keith’s going down. But it’s all right. I’ve got Jesse Ed Davis with his bags packed in L.A. He can be on the next plane.” We all know some of the near-misses of guitarists who almost got to be in the Rolling Stones, like Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel; here’s another one, even if it might have only been a temporary replacement to fulfill tour obligations.

For all his bumbling, Greenfield did get a lot out of his time with the Stones. Not just three books, but also one of the longest, best interviews with a classic rocker ever conducted. That’s the one he did with Richards in 1971, which was so mammoth it takes up no less than 75 pages in the 1973 anthology The Rolling Stone Interviews Vol. 2. (Read it online here.) For that, Greenfield should be grateful, as it built much of the foundation for his career as an author. And for that interview, we should be grateful, as it provides the deepest first-hand insight by any of the Stones on their first and best decade.

Robert Greenfield's massive 1971 interview with Keith Richards in his French villa was a cover story for Rolling Stone.

Robert Greenfield’s massive 1971 interview with Keith Richards in his French villa was a cover story for Rolling Stone.