rolling stones come on first single 1963Articles

Rolling Stones’ First Single ‘Come On’ Released 60 Years Ago Today

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Rolling Stones first single ‘Come On’ released 60 years ago today
*By Marcelo Sonaglioni


It was May 2 1963 and The Rolling Stones’ new manager Andrew Loog Oldham had scheduled the band to record their first single. The only problem was, the band had no idea what to record. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard weren’t writing any songs at all, so they had to look through their record collections to find songs to cover. They ultimately decided on Chuck Berry’s “Come On” which they took from a Berry album released by Chess in October 1961.

All things considered, the song was chosen because it had the potential to appeal to the largest possible audience. The concept was Andrew’s, according to Keith Richards, “to get a strong single so they’d let us make an album, which back then was a privilege”. They chose Muddy Waters’ “I Want to Be Loved” for the B-side, a song they had previously attempted to record at IBC Studios two months prior before finding a manager and a record label interested in releasing their records.

rolling stones come on 1963 single

In the meantime, on May 7 the band practiced at The Wetherby Arms (their rehearsal room in Chelsea, which was located right around the corner from Mick, Keith, and Brian’s apartment in Edith Grove) in order to give “Come On” their unique touch. Three days later, on May 10, the Stones entered Olympic Sound Studios in Carlton Street, the center of the city’s West End, for their first official recording session, with several songs captured on tape. Among others, in Brian Jones: The Untold Life and Mysterious Death of a Rock Legend, journalist Laura Jackson mentions a fantastic rendition of “Dust My Blues” (by Elmore James) with Brian on slide guitar. Since May 2, Oldham had reserved the studio for a fee of £40 for just three brief hours.

Oldham’s production of “Come On” (which lasted just one minute and forty-five seconds) was suggested by sound engineer Roger Savage at the end of the session. However, since it was Oldham’s first session, he simply told Savage to finish it as he pleased. Oldham exclaimed, “I don’t know a damn thing about recording, or music for that matter. This is my baptism by fire as a producer”. As a result, Savage started the project himself. Although he was actually paid £5 per hour, he would remember working for free: “I agreed to record them one night without payment, because he didn’t have any money, so we sorta crept into Olympic late one night. We set up quickly and performed four songs”.

Dick Rowe and a few other Decca managers listened to the band and conferred about what should be done after being somewhat surprised by the results. This was a slap in the face to the ambitious Oldham, who was only nineteen at the time, when “Dick Rowe suggested to Eric Easton that the Stones go back into the studio with a ‘perhaps more qualified producer’ The entire song had to be redone, this time at Decca’s West Hampstead studios, but it didn’t go well. In fact, it ended up being worse than the Olympic session. Rowe ultimately made the decision to release the first version. Oldham later admitted that, “I’m the producer, and this is the first session that I’ve ever handled. I know absolutely nothing about recording or music in general”. While Mick described it as “a bunch of bloody amateurs going to make a hit single.”
(Ref. rolling stones first single)

With Brian Jones and Bill Wyman providing the backing vocals for the A-side, Mick provided the lead vocals on a double-tracked arrangement, along with Bill on bass and Charlie on drums. Keith played rhythm guitar, while Brian also played harmonica. While Chuck Berry’s original version of “Come On” used the phrase “some stupid jerk,” but Mick changed it to “some stupid guy.”

rolling stones come on I want to be loved 1963

From Bill Wyman’s book Stone Alone:
“Beat Monthly described us as ‘five wild beatmen’. But we had more pressing -musical- matters on our minds. As Mick later said, ‘I don’t think “Come On” was very good. In fact it was shit. We disliked it so much we didn’t do it on any of our gigs.’ In fact, our first row with our managers developed because we so hated that first single that we refused to play it on live shows. We thought we’d compromised enough with Andrew to cut the bloody record; naive as we were, we thought it was his and Decca’s job then to go out and sell it. We must have been the only artists in the world to refuse to play their all-important debut single…

To anyone who knew the group and its musical roots, the song was really a lie. Comparing it with the tapes we had recorded through Glyn Johns at IBC, it was obvious that Andrew was nudging us towards a hit at all costs. On stage, however, our blues repertoire remained intact. Press reaction to ‘Come On’ was lukewarm. New Musical Express was non-committal: ‘A song performance aimed straight at the current market for groups. Good chance of selling well.’…

In Melody Maker, singer Craig Douglas reviewed the record, saying, ‘Very ordinary. I can’t hear a word they’re saying. I don’t know what this is all about. If there were a Liverpool accent it might get somewhere’ The paper also said: ‘One of the established R & B groups have suddenly turned up in Beatle haircuts and dark sweaters.’ This infuriated us. Pop Weekly insisted on the comparison: ‘Inspired by the Beatles-cum-Liverpool sound. A fast-moving, lively affair. The group has life and strength. This one just misses.’ Writing about the record later in the New Musical Express, Roy Carr said: ‘The Stones gave it a quick body job, stripped down the coachwork and totally rebuilt the chassis. Stuck in a new engine and tuned up the acceleration.’ That was just about right…

The most accurate and intelligent comments came in Record Mirror from Norman Jopling, whose paper had been the first to interview us at Richmond. ‘The disc doesn’t sound like the Stones,’ he wrote, and he was right. ‘It’s good, catchy, punchy and commercial, but it’s not the fanatical R & B sound that the audiences wait hours to hear. It should make the charts in a smallish way.’ But there was a shaft of sunlight from the pop weekly Disc, in which Don Nicholl wrote: ‘The Beatles, who recommended the Stones [to Decca], may well live to rue the day. This group could be challenging them for top places in the immediate future. The sturdy beat will drive you mad this summer’ “
(Ref. rolling stones first single)

On July 7, a month after its release, the Stones lip-synced Come On on Lucky Stars Summer Spin, a popular English TV show, the band’s first TV appearance ever. They were all wearing black-and-white houndstooth jackets with a black velvet collar at the time. In response, the Stones disallowed the song from being played during their set. Oldham became furious when this was revealed to him at the Scene Club in Soho.

Keith Richards: “He went crazy when we didn’t play “Come On” and we argued about it. He insisted that we use it at each performance”. But that didn’t last for very long. Afterwards the show’s producer told the Stones manager he should “get rid of that vile-looking lead singer with the tire-tread lips.” Eventually the rest of the band decided to keep Mick Jagger. Pianist Ian Stewart was absent in the show because he had already been dropped from the lineup by Oldham in May.

From the book Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones, by Stephen Davis:
“Birmingham, Sunday, July 7 1963. The Rolling Stones appeared smiling nervously on TV for the first time (Lucky Stars Summer Spin), miming to a tape of “Come On” in their juvenile black-velvet-collared checked suits, last on a bill with half a dozen now-forgotten acts. Mick shook his Beatles-cut hair and twitched espastically as the studio crew on in horror. Critics in the papers began to compare the Stones unfavorably to the more charming Beatles. Words like “apes” and “cavemen” were deployed in an ultimately successful effort to brand the Stones as the ugly, thuggish flip side of the sunny and engaging lads from Liverpool. Andrew thought this was brilliant and encouraged it, to the dismay of the Stones’ families”
(Ref. rolling stones first single)

Four weeks after its release on June 7, “Come On” entered the charts on July 27, reaching No. 20 on the New Musical Express. The band had to go out and purchase additional copies of the new single because Decca reportedly only sent four to Oldham’s office, preventing them from having one each. The Stones weren’t too fond of their debut single. It surely lacked groove in comparison to Chuck Berry’s rendition, and the group comes off as static, devoid of any sense of humor or even a hint of their true musical identity… Nevertheless, their cover version has a certain charm.

The foundation is established by the Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman duo, with Wyman opening the introduction with a superb bass line that is incredibly precise. Using his Harmony H70 Meteor guitar and plenty of reverb, Keith Richards provides a solid rhythmic foundation. With his Hohner harmonica, Brian Jones makes contributions that are somewhat reminiscent of John Lennon in sound and phrasing, and Mick Jagger sings the lyrics with assurance and a voice texture that is ultimately similar to his own today. Bill and Brian’s backing vocals are overdubbed twice to give him a stronger voice. The only performer who didn’t play was “sixth Stone” Ian Stewart, who later admitted he didn’t like the song.
(Ref. rolling stones first single)

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