The Rolling Stones - 12x5 (1964)
Updated: May 9
The Rolling Stones - 12x5 (Decca)
Released in October 1964
Recorded between February 25 and September 29, 1964
With 12x5, The Stones had the American hit record they hoped for with England's Newest Hit Makers. 12x5 hit #3 on the American charts. The record included material from a five-track British E.P. Five by Five (Decca) and seven more cuts. If my math is correct, that adds up to twelve. The album consists of twelve tracks by five guys, and that's why it is called 12x5. The only issue with this advanced mathematical equation is that ousted member/pianist Ian Stewart plays on many of the tracks, so it's more like 12x5 1/2. I must admit I am weirdly fixated on Stewart's relationship with the Stones. It seems as though he was so disrespected when he was kicked out by band manager Andrew Loog-Oldham in 1963, and yet he hung on to work with the group to work at times as their driver, tech, roadie, part-time pianist, and a jack of all trades. If I had been unexpectantly thrown out of a group that I helped develop, I certainly would not drive the jerks around who fired me. Musically, the album is an extension of England's Newest Hit Makers with blues, R&B covers, and a few originals. The big difference is that 12x5 included the Top 10 American hit, "Time Is On My Side." Time was undoubtedly on the Stones' side as they have continued to create and tour decades after finding breakout American success.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1 - "Around and Around" was a Chuck Berry original and the B side to the smash single "Johnny B. Goode." The Stones played the song on the Ed Sullivan Show in October 1964, and it was a staple of their early set. The track is a solid uptempo opening track. The song was also issued on the Animals' self-titled release, which came out a few weeks before the Rolling Stones' version. The song is hard driving, and the Stones play well on this one. Particularly solid is Ian Stewart, one of the groups founding members who was kicked out of the group but remained with the Stones as a road manager and part-time member. Still, nobody does the song better than Chuck Berry. It's a solid enough track to let the record keep spinning around and around.
Track 2 - "Confessin' The Blues" is a cool blues song written by Kansas City bandleader, Jay McShann, who once had legendary bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker as a member of his group. There is some nice harmonica played on this tune, likely by Brian Jones, although Mick Jagger was pretty good at it as well. Of all the British bands playing blues, the Stones may have done it the best, but I prefer to go to the source - the original recordings.
Track 3 - "Empty Heart" is credited to Nanker Phelge, a pseudonym the group used. Maybe they used the alias Nanker Phledge because they disliked the tune. This song leaves the heart empty.
Track 4 - "Time is On My Side" is a classic Stones vehicle. American singer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy originally wrote the tune under the pseudonym Norman Meade. What's with all of these pseudonyms regarding the Rolling Stones? The song was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding in 1963 and covered by soul singer Irma Thomas the same year as the Stones. "Time is on My Side" was the group's first top ten, reaching number six on the Billboard Charts. The Stones later recorded a cleaner version the same year, which was included in the recording (lazy title alert) The Rolling Stones No.2. The latter version is generally the one you hear on the radio; however, this original has a certain rawness. I like Ian Stewart's gospel organ intro, even if it's a little out of place. Time was certainly on the Stones' side, and they needed it. Throughout their career, they released a lot of stuff, some passable, some remarkable, and some forgettable. (*+)
Track 5 - "Good Times, Bad Times" is the best song that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have written up to this point. Interestingly, they did not use a pseudonym on the credits as they must have been proud of this one and were okay with attaching their actual names to the tune. The song is an authentic, stripped-down blues tune that sounds as if it could have been played on a front porch in the Mississippi Delta. Throughout their career, the group, particularly Jagger and Richards, had good times and bad times, as Richards tended to badmouth Jagger. I particularly enjoy many of the Stones' more stripped-down materials like this one. (+)
Track 6 - "It's All Over Now" is a breakup song written by Bobby Womack, an R&B legend. The Stones did a great job with this one as it was the band's first UK #1 song, and it reached #26 in the US. Credit should be given to bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts for laying down the groove. Wyman's bass almost sounds like a tuba on this one. The tune offers a fantastic blend of soul, blues, and rockabilly. John Lennon criticized Keith Richards (Richard's autobiography Life) guitar solo on the track, but I dig it. (*+)
Track 1 - "2120 South Michigan Avenue" is a filler jam blues anchored by a distorted Bill Wyman bass groove. The track is basic and forgettable. Other bands are way better at jamming. I won't return to that address anytime soon, but it was an okay visit; once is enough.
Track 2 - "Under the Boardwalk" is where the Stones may have left this one because the Drifters do it much better. The song was written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick and recorded in 1964 by the Drifters. It charted at #4 on the Billboard Charts. The original Drifters version was to be recorded on May 21, 1964, but the band's lead singer, Rudy Lewis, died of a heroin overdose the night before at 27 years old. Rather than reschedule the session, the group's other vocalist Johnny Moore sang lead. So much for mourning the death of a bandmate.
Track 3 - "Congratulations" is another Jagger and Richards original. It's a decent basic pop song with a nice,s slow groove. I enjoy the dark, cynical message, "Congratulations, you've gone and broken another heart." Take notice of Brian Jones’ 12-string guitar solo. The song gets lazy at the end with many "la, la la la la la la la la la la la la la la's.”
Track 4 - "Grown Up Wrong," is another Mick and Keith original. You can do better, boys - you grew up better than that.
Track 5 - "If You Need Me" is a soul tune initially recorded by Wilson Pickett and then made a hit by Soloman Burke. Jagger and the boys are solid but must be more soulful to compete with Pickett and Burke. Except for "Time is On My Side," I feel they could have picked different covers for the record.
Track 6 - "Susie Q" is an often-covered tune written and recorded by rockabilly recording artist Dale Hawkins in 1957. The Stones did a solid job, but Creedence Clearwater Revival would perfect the tune in 1968.
As with their other 1964 American release, England's Newest Hit Makers, the Rolling Stones were still finding their identity on 12x5 as musicians, songwriters, and recording artists. Their progress was remarkable; through their records, we get to follow the struggle and the journey.
Positions & Awards
(#3 on Billboard Charts, Certified Gold Record).