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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Rolling Stones EP

by the Rolling Stones
Year:
1964
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: MONEY (THAT'S WHAT I WANT)

It’s not quite clear what the goal of the Rolling Stones’ self-titled debut EP was: the two dominant hypotheses are either a) to capitalize on the success of their wild, rocking cover of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” that sowed the seeds for the reputation as the yang to the aforementioned Liverpudlian quartet’s yin; and b) to test the waters on the non-single market before fully introducing the Rolling Stones to the (ever-so-slowly) burgeoning LP market. One thing that’s certain, though, is that despite this EP, at a measly 9-minute running length(!), is unusually shorter than what I normally review, I feel it’s quite an important addition to the Rolling Stones’ catalogue whose components are difficult to assemble by collecting a variety of Rolling Stones’ LPs and compilations (especially if you follow the US catalogue chock-full of redundancies). In fact, despite only having four tracks, it does a pretty good job of summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the Rolling Stones at this early juncture in their career, though admittedly more of the former than the latter.

Essentially, the EPs two sides can be divided into a “rock” side and a “pop” side. As expected from the early Rolling Stones, there’s a Chuck Berry cover, side one opener “Bye Bye Johnny”, and while the Rolling Stones’ sloppy, noisy rendition with harsh vocals doesn’t quite fit the tune’s tale about a mother bidding her now-famous son farewell – unless the goal was to paint the mother as rabidly angry that her son was leaving her –, you have to love the way the rhythm guitar’s incessant chugga-chugga and the lead guitar’s spontaneous licks sound like one instrument (and I couldn’t tell you which guitarist was which; I usually associate Brian Jones with lead guitar in this era, but Keith Richards was the in-group Chuck Berry number one fanboy), not to mention how the whole group boogies along like the train the titular character takes to head west to become a movie star. This level of aggressiveness works all around much better on the next rocker, “Money (That’s What I Want)". All of the subtlety of the Motown original and the Afro-Cuban rhythm implemented in the Beatles’ version is discarded: replacing it with a muddied version of the main riff, a single wheezing harmonica note and stinging guitar leads for emphasis (with the latter containing a tone unlike anything in this time period bar those brilliant guitar solos on the Yardbirds’ Clapton-led singles), pounding tribal drums and an even more tribal set of vocals, – either in Mick’s lead snarl or the other guys’ howl of the title line –, it goes from an innocent tune about the joys of financial solvency to a potential anthem for bank-robbing thugs.

On the pop side of the EP is the second best song here, their cover of Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” (once again proving their yin-yang relationship with the Beatles, as they covered Alexander’s “Anna (Go to Him)”), and the only one to appear on a canon Rolling Stones LP in the US; a fine choice, though American audiences were unlucky to miss out on “Money” for 8 whole years, and only one year for this one. Anyways, unlike other ballad-like material the Stones was doing around this time, “You Better Move On” has the advantage of sounding quite good – and most importantly, appropriate – with their caveman-like assault on their instruments. While the guitars jangle rather than crunch, they have this disorienting ringing to them. The vocals, both lead and backing, aren’t trying to persuade by showing desperation: rather, they’re trying to persuade by threat, with ominous “ooh”-ing from Keith and Bill Wyman while Mick’s snotty attitude lends credence to the line “I’m getting mighty mad” lacking from the original. And of course, the drums aren’t softly caressed by brushes, as Charlie Watts has chosen to beat on the snare and thump on the bass as if the guy moving on Mick’s girl is getting the shit kicked out of him. “Poison Ivy” can borderline be considered “rock” rather than “pop” since the guitar tones are on 8/10 in force rather than an 11 like on side 1, and the alternate take recorded for their third (and unreleased) single has even milder guitars, but the emphasis is more on the melody rather than noise-making, and they show to be pretty decent at harmonies, even if they’re rough around the edges (though it fits the mood of this Coasters’ tune; the vocals are indeed “scratchy” in this chorus).

Of course, it would be awfully odd for an EP to rate especially high when I’m more of an albums man, and I could make a few complaints that are more general than song specific, – the production, even for this era of the Rolling Stones, is particularly abysmal —, but overall, an 11/15 is plenty justifiable. They certainly weren’t showing signs of genius at this point in their career, but the song selection shows some level of thought in regards to the band’s strengths, and if anyone wants to know anything about the band in their pre-“Satisfaction” period, it should include “Money” and “You Better Move On” at the very least; it’s every bit as representative as “I Wanna Be Your Man” before the EP or “Tell Me” after it (and the difference in style they represent). The easiest way to acquire it is the iTunes exclusive (I think) compilation ‘60s UK EP Collection, which compiles this EP with the Stones' later EPs, but it has been reissued as an EP (as have the others) on vinyl fairly recently, so even purists can have a go at it. It may not be my first recommendation for getting into the (early) Stones, but it’s certainly a useful, maybe even necessary, complement to their first two or three UK LPs.

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