An album a week #1: December’s Children (and everybody’s) by The Rolling Stones
Inspired by One Album a Day, I have (perhaps characteristically) decided to aim lower — I’m going for one a week… Partly because my collection is not that big and partly because I just can’t be bothered. It should work out at about one a week, anyway.
And this week it really is a record — December’s Children (and everybody’s) by The Rolling Stones. Indeed, my copy is so genuine it plays rather poorly.
This is late very early Stones. Next in line would come Aftermath, their first album of all original material. This one is evenly split between covers and originals. Speaking of covers, here’s the cover picture, captured by long time collaborator Gerard Mankowitz:
And it would not be an early Stones record without some kind of trippy nonsense scrawled out by their manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham:
And in fact he does not even quite tell the truth; these are not twelve new tracks at all. This album is an oddity of the era in which releases were very different in the US and the UK and record companies wielded enormous power over their signings. There is no UK equivalent for this album, as far as I know. It is made of up tracks going back to almost the very beginning of the Stones’s recording career (the rather sweet ‘You Better Move On’ which I first saw/heard on 5×25). It contains a couple of big singles, including ‘Get Off of My Cloud’, the follow-up to ‘Satisfaction’ and (for me at least) preferable to that song if nothing else for Charlie’s drumming and the syncopated backing vocals. That is at the start of side 2. The album opens with a frantic cover (‘She Said Yeah’) which showcases Mick’s rapid-fire croaking, and that track is followed by three more covers before we get UK B-side ‘The Singer Not the Song’ which is a nice example of Keith’s and Brian’s guitars ‘interweaving’ such that one comes to the front then the other, filling in each other’s licks rather nicely. This lies at the heart of the Stones’s sound, along with the hairy backing vocals that sound more like fun than like the Beatles.
Each side ends with a pointless live track that is better skipped. Side two is originals except for said final track, and all but ‘Gotta Get Away’ are Stones gold (and that track is not half bad). ‘I’m Free’ is another showcase for Charlie Watts, marred only by an aimless little guitar break that is saved by being (at least) short. ‘As Tears Go By’ is a ballad, apparently the first song Jagger/Richards wrote together at the behest of Oldham, and originally recorded by Marianne Faithful. This version was released in the US as a single. ‘Blue Turns to Grey’ is a little gem of guitar pop, perhaps a little clichéd, but showing a little more feeling than the (already) cynical Stones were wont to show.
Of the covers on this album (ignoring the noisy, pointless live stuff), only ‘You Better Move On’ stands out from the average, while of the originals all except ‘Blue Turns to Grey’ can be found on The London Years, which is absolutely essential for any record collection that has any interest in the 60s. This is because the album is flanged together from singles and B-sides and tracks previously released in the UK but not the US, while The London Years is unusually comprehensive in that it contains all the singles and B-sides from both sides of the Atlantic (not from Australia, though, where believe it or not the Stones’s version of ‘Under the Boardwalk’ was a single, if I recall correctly). And in this age of mp3, I guess there’s no need to buy whole albums for just a couple of songs anyway. Further, this really is ‘just a bunch of songs’. There is no careful sequencing, no ‘album experience’ here, and so there’s no harm in just cherry picking what you like. This is well before AOR.
So, in short, this little album (29 minutes long, including the live stuff) only has two songs that can’t be sourced elsewhere more sensibly. So it’s a marginal purchase at best; I got my copy a long time ago and I can’t recall where, and if I had already had the singles collection I’m not sure I would have forked out for it. I am not a Stones completist. Having said that, I’m glad I have ‘Blue Turns to Grey’ and ‘You Better Move On’. Even if the sound is a bit dodgy — for several reasons.
(1) It is vinyl and vinyl clicks and pops and gets scratched (warmth — huh! Just means the transmission function has no sharp edges.)
(2) It is old and at some point was not well treated; and