The Rolling Stones – England’s Newest Hitmakers

England’s Newest Hitmakers (1964)


1. Not Fade Away 2. Route 66 3. I Just Want To Make Love To You 4. Honest I Do 5. Now I’ve Got A Witness 6. Little By Little 7. I’m A King Bee 8. Carol 9. Tell Me 10. Can I Get A Witness 11. You Can Make It If You Try 12. Walking The Dog


“The Rolling Stones are not a band, they are a way of life.” That’s what Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager, wrote in the liner notes of the first Stones album, England’s Newest Hitmakers (ah, the days when record companies named albums. Weren’t those the greatest? I maintain that practice should never have been abandoned, if only for the laughs we could’ve gotten out of the multitudes of stupid commercial jingle-level slogans and hilariously clueless assessments of artists’ schticks. Led Zeppelin II could’ve been The Sizzling Sounds of Swinging London! You’re Living All Over Me could’ve been The Latest Groovy Jams From The World Of Alternative Rock! And by now Bob Dylan would’ve been on Approximately The 79th Side Of Bob Dylan!). In 1964. Imagine that. Brian Epstein disciple and master provocateur that he was—he himself instigated the “would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” meme that solidified the Stones dangerous, scruffy image—Oldham was probably just trying to stir up some excitement for the boys; the accuracy of a claim that a band that had been in existence for barely two years was “a way of life” would’ve been, at the time, dubious at best. But Ol’ Loogy turned out to be right on, huh? Today, if someone were to say that rock ‘n roll was more than just a genre of music, it is a way of life, we would know exactly what they were talking about and agree with them without blinking an eye. But back in ’64, rock ‘n roll was still being defined and melded, and if there was a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, it certainly wasn’t as immediately identifiable as it is today. So Oldham’s statement comes out looking rather prophetic – about rock ‘n roll in general, but certainly about the Stones specifically. The Stones epitomize what rock ‘n roll is to a lot of people – the rebellion, the danger, the debauchery, the… guitar riffs. And if most Stones fans don’t necessarily live like them, they can certainly live by them. Accepting Mick, Keith and Brian Jones as your father, son and holy ghost, respectively, makes for a lot more good times than accepting that other holy trinity. Not to mention the fact that the songs they sing kick a lot more ass.

Which brings us to England’s Newest Hitmakers, a debut that is as auspicious as it is clearly developmental. Among history’s greatest mysteries is why so many teenage British honkys got the blues after World War II. I suppose it doesn’t make any less sense than the fact that I love ancient mountain music when theoretically I should be all about Grizzly Bear or something. And lord knows if, when I was in high school, I noticed a fellow longhaired teenager riding around on the 6 train carrying around a Ralph Stanley CD, I would be immediately intrigued. And wouldn’t you know? That’s how the Stones began. Keith saw Mick on a train in Dartford with a stack of Muddy Waters records under his arm and they struck up a conversation on the basis of those records (this is one crucial historical event that seems so impossibly fortuitous that it almost makes me want to believe in God). And, heeding to the tenants of that conversation, all the Stones really wanted to do in the beginning was spread the gospel of those records that drew Mick and Keith together. Their whole purpose was to turn people on to Muddy and Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. Hell, they named themselves after a Muddy Waters song. Like Mick once said, “What’s the point in listening to us doing “I’m A King Bee” when you can listen to Slim Harpo doing it?”

In 1962, this may have been a very valid question. But now we well know that, in the process of putting their own spin on their blues heroes’ records, the Stones had a large hand in inventing our modern conception of what rock ‘n roll is. And, at this early stage, “putting their own spin” on other people’s songs was what they were all about. The Jagger/Richards songwriting team is, at this point, only in an embryonic stage of development. It contributes only one song, the pleading, 12-string jangle ballad “Tell Me,” which impresses by not only being Beatlesque but also Beatles-worthy. The shambling bluesy jam “Little By Little,” the one other original composition—allegedly written by Mick and Phil “Murderous Afro” Spector—is credited to “Nanker Phelge,” a pseudonym they used in the early years for songs written by the entire band. Everything else is a cover. Blues covers, mostly, but this record is thoroughly rock ‘n roll – high energy, adrenaline fueled, red hot rock ‘n roll. The huge Chuck Berry influence makes sure of that… they work up Chuck’s “Carol,” which is so fast that they must’ve found a fast forward button hidden in Charlie’s ass crack or something to get him to keep the beat that tightly at that speed… or maybe he’s just that good. They also do a cover of Berry’s cover of Bobby Troupe’s classic “Route 66,” and turn it into one of the finest slices of straight rock ‘n roll to be found in the first decade of the genre’s existence. Both songs introduce the world to Keith’s stabbing, highly-Berryish riffing style. Keith plays most of the solos, too, since Brian possessed limited gifts with the 6-string… however, give him the man credit for being the first white guy to ever play bottleneck slide guitar. And you know, he played with just about as much Muddy Waters-style bluesy grit and authenticity as any other white guy who came after him – his appropriately stinging leads on “I’m A King Bee” serve as proof enough for now. He could also play a mean blues harp, and even sings those affected, gruff backup vocals on the cheerfully leering handclap orgy “Walking The Dog.” It’s an underreported fact that Brian was the one who essentially started the band, and named it, and appointed himself the “band leader.” The fact that he couldn’t write songs to save his life—literally—would soon put an end to his “leader” status, real or imagined. But England’s Newest Hitmakers is one of a scant few Stones albums where Brian really plays like the band’s musical leader.

It’s interesting that “I’m A King Bee” is the only song on this album that the Stones even make an attempt at an authentic-sounding blues style rather than a rocked up version of it. For instance, they turn Muddy’s classic slow vamp “I Just Want To Make Love To You” into a high-speed, scratchy choogle. It makes sense, since Mick, proud bearer of a prominent cowlick on the album cover, sounds remarkably young, and perhaps unable to pull off some Muddy-style growling without sounding sheepish and inadequate. His yowling, wannabe black guy phrasing is firmly in place, but he doesn’t quite know how to sing yet. His inexperience results in really detracting performance deficiencies only when he’s trying to fill Marvin Gaye’s shoes on “Can I Get A Witness” (understandably so) and yelping out the limp soul ballad “You Can Make It If You Try.” Otherwise, his charming amateurism fits perfectly well with the obviously youthful energy of the band, like on their first hit single, “Not Fade Away,” which emphasizes the pounding Bo Diddley beat of the Buddy Holly original and generates some real steam from a full-speed-ahead duel between Keith’s stinging guitar leads and Brian’s wailing harp.

Hitmakers is the Stones at their rawest—at times nakedly so—and for that reason is still a hugely entertaining entry into their catalog. Very soon after they made it, they’d go off flirting with the pop charts and competing with the Beatles. But Hitmakers hews closest to the Stones’ original mission: spreading the blues gospel. It also demonstrates the major hitch in that plan: the Stones didn’t play like Muddy Waters. They sounded like something different: rock ‘n roll rising.


  1. Emily wrote:

    I like how you go from blasphemy to a near-conversion in two paragraphs. Very rock n roll. Another reason I’m looking forward to reading this set of reviews is because I expect it will be something like a musical history of the last 50 years. Good stuff.

  2. victoreador wrote:

    The early Stones greatest contribution to the evolution of Rock was to bring Afro-American R&B to a mass young white audience. Until Mick, Keith and BJ revealed their treasure, this music was previously available only on “race records” and heard only on black music radio throughout the American South and Midwest.
    With the exception of McKinley Morganfield’s I Just Want To Make Love To You (which is really an urban electrified blues/ R&B piece), none of these cuts can be classified as “blues”.
    Not Fade Away is a Buddy Holly Southwest rock number using the Bo Diddley “hambone” beat, which gives it a whiff of the blues.
    Route 66 was written in 1946 as a jazz inflected R&B piece and first covered by Nat “King” Cole. Keith’s idol Chuck Berry turned it rocky in 1961.

    I could go on, cut by cut, but no one listens to victoid. Look em up yourself.

  3. Ben wrote:

    I love the stones but I don’t see what’s so special about their first album. Mick Jagger is trying way too hard to sound like his heroes, and really doesn’t have the voice for these type of songs. The rest of the stones are playing great though. The only songs I really like here are their versions of “Not fade away”. “I just want to make love to you”, “Carol”, Jimmy Reed’s “Shame shame shame” (“Little by little”) and “Now I’ve got a witness”. For the most part it’s better to just stick with the originals.

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