Monday, 30 June 2014
The Rolling Stones "Out Of Our Heads" (1965)
She Said Yeah!/Mercy Mercy/Hitch Hike/That's How Strong My Love Is/Good Times/Gotta Get Away///Talkin' Bout You/Cry To Me/Oh Baby (We've Got A Good Thing Goin')/Heart Of Stone/The Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man/I'm Free
You'd never been inside a record store before. You'd walked past them of course, wondering what possible scenes of inequity could possibly be taking place inside, given the raucous tuneless blasts blaring out of the shop every day and the confusing bright coloured sleeves pasted all over the shop window very clumsily. You happily thought you'd have gone your whole lives without having to step inside one, but then your soon-to-be-teenage daughter asked you so sweetly and so innocently to buy her the new Rolling Stones LP and, well, you couldn't turn her down. So, nervously, you entered, navigating a gaggle of long haired layabouts who were lying around the shop counter - too late to hide your look of disdain you realise that they are actually the staff at work here. Feeling consciously older than you'd ever felt in your life before, you look through the 'new releases', vaguely recognising a few as those nice young Beatles who were on the Ed Sullivan show again the after day (why can't little Susie Jane want one of their records? That Paul McCartney was a bit of a dish on the quiet, if you shaved most of his hair off). Without any luck - you'd spent the past ten minutes confusing the album titles and the band names, both of them seemed so unlikely and daft - you ask one of the scruffy gentleman at the counter for the latest Rolling Stones LP. 'Their third' the man - well, boy really - proudly tells you. Frankly you don't care, nor do you understand that half look of pride on the man-boy's face (it's not as if the Rolling Stones are likely to still be going and recording in 50 years' time is it?) He finds it, hands it to you and you glance at the cover.
It's even worse than you expected. The one on the cover Susie Jane tries to pretend that she doesn't like with a mop on his head, but even her mother has recognised she has more than a slight crush on is staring fiercely at the camera. The whole band look sulky, untidy. She expected them to look a little unkempt around the edges but this? - the band weren't even central to the camera but were peering, even leering down a narrow gangway between two wooden panels. All of them looked angry, all of them looked almost ridiculously 'cool', a modern word you disdain but can't bring yourself to find a replacement for - this band are now and they represent everything you don't like about it. Even the album title 'Out Of Our Heads' seems needlessly provocative: I mean, Susie Jane won't understand it, she's too young (err, isn't she?!) but surely the band are referring to some sort of drug use as well as madness, something the old blues musicians used to be accused of when she was young. But of course, it was alright then - they lived way over there where there was no chance they could ever meet - but recently every nice young white middle class youngster she knew had something of the snarl she saw captured on the album cover, even the ones who had always been most sweet and polite when taking Susie Jane and her younger siblings to parties when they were younger. Perhaps you ought to buy her something else - but would that break her heart? You decide to play safe, mumble something to the store manager about this possibly not being the right record and can you get your money back if you return within a week?
Worriedly you put the record on the turntable expecting a horrendous rush of noise. To be fair there is s bit of a rush of noise on the opening track 'She Said Yeah!' A sort of metallic buzzing noise that reminds you of a saw. In fact you had to check your speakers a couple of times, just to check there were no loose connections. But before you have a chance to do that (these songs are short - thank goodness!) in comes 'Mercy Mercy'. It's surprisingly pleasant. 'Hitch-Hike' isn't bad either. 'That's How Strong My Love Is' rings a bell so you go and check your husband's soul record collection and there it is, being covered by an up and coming soul singer you quite liked (in the days when you hadn't seen him on television and still thought he was white), Otis Redding. The rest of the album follows in a blur, but quite a pleasant blur. Before you quite know it you find yourself reaching out to turn the record over (these songs are very very short!) and somewhere along the line you convince yourself that Susie Jane can have her record after all. Another worry starts to approach you now, though. What if Susie Jane -who seems to be setting so much store by her 'new favourite group' who are 'not at all like the others, mum' but 'really mean what they sing' - not like those awful Herman's Hermits or Dave Clark Five you keep tapping your foot to on television, apparently - doesn't like her record? It's not 'soft' exactly, but it's not what she was probably expecting. Where was the bad language, the mumbled incoherent words, the nasty sniping attitude (well, OK, that was there too in parts, but as far as you could tell the only people getting sneered at on this record were the promotions men trying to sell the records - and you weren't exactly a big fan of them yourself). Steeling yourself for disappointment, the big day comes. And Susie Jane adores her present, playing it endlessly and proudly showing it off to all her young friends - who promptly take a 'vow' that whichever of them has a birthday closest to the next Rolling Stones release will make sure their mum buys it for them too.
In a quiet moment you have a word. 'My dear' you say, gently, hoping that you won't put her off her purchase. 'But this isn't rock and roll - or B and B or R and B or whatever it's called. This is soul - an old fashioned soul record, like the sort your father and I have got whole record racks of and you say sounds like the amateur dramatics night down the local theatre on Friday nights we used to drag you to.' She shakes her head. 'There aren't any horns'. You grimly ask her if she isn't just the teensy weensy-iest bit disappointed in the fact that the Rolling Stones have - what's that awful modern phrase? - 'sold out'? But Susie Jane doesn't believe that for a minute: the sneer on the cover is what she's buying the album for really; truth be known she didn't really like the all-out rock and roll covers her idols performed on the first two records (which her friend Annabelle bought with her pocket money back when they came out) all that much anyway. For her the Rolling Stones are about so much more than music, you see - but how do you go about explaining that to your elders, who sit in front of the radio (you didn't even have a television until you were 11) without even knowing what their favourite musicians really looked like at all? You shrug your shoulders, happy just that she's happy and decide that the future of the young generation might not be in such bad hands after all. Absently mindedly reaching your hand out for some of what you call your 'mother's little helpers', you suddenly decide that, actually, you might not need them after all...
'Out Of Our Heads', Rolling Stones album number three, is a curious beast. If the first two albums are hot and sweaty R and B., this one sounds afraid to get its feet wet. As you may have guessed if you made it to the end of our above introduction, it's a soul album 'pretending' to be an R and B album, thanks chiefly (in the British version, anyways) to the Larry Williams and Chuck Berry rockers which start both side of the album and sound almost seamlessly like what came before. The rest though is a curious mix of soul covers and pop originals - the first real crop of Jagger-Richards originals, following on from the three rather basic songs that appeared on previous album 'Rolling Stones no 2'. What's even weirder than this sudden career-changing trajectory for a band still only a couple of years young is how calmly the fans seemed to take it. There was no outcry from incensed fans demanding to know why the band were only giving one set of royalties this time around to band mentor Chuck Berry, or teenagers with flaming torches threatening to burn down the Decca offices if the Stones didn't stop writing their own soppy ballads and twee pop songs where the rock and roll hole used to be. The few fans who noticed seemed to treat the whole album as a natural evolution and to this day many reviewers speaking about this album tend to say, well, the Rolling Stones liked jumping on bandwagons and 1965 must have been a particularly 'soulful' year.
But hang on a minute: 1963 with perhaps the first few months of 1964 was the glory year for Motown ('Heat Wave' 'Stubborn Kind Of Feller' 'Fingertips' 'My Guy' 'Baby Love'), not 1965 (who but the passionate collectors remembers the Supremes' singles that year, 'Mother, Dear' and 'Nothing But Heartaches'?!) No, 1965 was the year of heavy rock, crunching heavy guitars, amplifiers up to 11, smoke, noise and chaos. It's the year when The Who release 'My generation', when The Kinks deliver 'Till The End Of The Day', the year the Small Faces start as a powerhouse of fury and energy. You'd think today that The Rolling Stones would be perfect for this 'new' setting - and they will be, just as soon as Mick 'n' Keef stop pootling around trying to sound like the Beatles on a particularly wet day and write 'Satisfaction', perhaps the ultimate expression of the dominant sound of the year. They're still a long way from writing that song, however and finding their 'true voice', now that Merseybeat has moved on and R and B covers are beginning to look slightly passé. It didn't at all surprise me to learn that 'Satisfaction' didn't come out of nowhere either - the hit single that we've loved for all these decades was intended by Keith at least as nothing more than a demo, his blistered guitar simply laying down the part where he wanted some soulful 'Otis Redding' style horns to be. The Stones are actually being quite brave by trying to hang onto soul as a main basis for their sound as long as they did - and soul, so dominant on this album, will be long gone by the time of album four 'Aftermath', a year away in calendar terms but half a life away in approach and attack.
The biggest casualty of this record is poor old Brian Jones. Despite taking centre stage on the cover (Mick being just that little too unsymmetrical just yet to be the band's romantic idol and Keith Richards looking a little too - God help us all - young), Brian gets notably little to do on this record and it will be that way till the end, sadly. Of all the Stones Brian was the one pushing and pushing and pushing for the Stones to bring R and B songs to the masses, to make 'white' America fall in love with the black artists that were their heritage and to 'turn' youngsters onto the twin desires of a brave new world and respect for the forgotten heroes of the old one. Already feeling slightly shut out by the fact that Mick and Keef - who once shared his similar disdain for bands that wrote their on material instead of steeping themselves in 'adult' songs lived in over decades - have turned into a handy pair of writers and manager Andrew Loog Oldham has big plans for them outside the band, hawking their songs out for other singers like penny sweets. Brian has sweated buckets to get the Stones to this point and, yes, didn't always go about it the right way as almost every Stones book since his death has put it (taking a bigger share of the money in the early days - and not telling the others - was indeed a crass move for a band equally unemployed and broke where all they had was an ability to be 'in it together'). In hindsight Brian should have fought back, dug out some obscure blues number that as the better of the two Stones guitarists at this stage (if already the more unreliable) Keith hadn't a hope in hell of matching. The Stones fans who bought the band's records for the R and B alone would no doubt have clung to the idea of Brian as their saviour then - but instead Brian seems to have spent most of 1965 sulking, wondering why no one was making the fuss about the band's new (and in his eyes unwanted) direction.
The biggest winner of this record is Mick Jagger. Till now he's been 'the one with the big lips' and very much another cog in the band's sound, but on this record Mick gets his own 'voice. More subtle than most soul singers but more expressive than most white cover bands of the 1960s here he finds the perfect halfway house between real emotion and acting, something which serves him well right up to the present day. Many R and B groups looked down on the Stones and their like (till the royalty cheques poured in!), but most soul groups were genuinely supportive of the Stones and actually quite admired Mick's vocals on records like this one (they stood, very generally speaking, to make less money than their R and B counterparts too, as not that many soul singers wrote their own material back in 1965 except one or two big names). It would be unfair to say that this album contains Mick's greatest performances because it doesn't - his work in the late Decca years and the early 70s is delicious and as a Stones fan I still take the unpopular view that the band's psychedelic years were their best, in no short part because of Jagger's swagger. But hearing the Stones albums in order the biggest leap between albums two (when the Stones are part of the pack behind the Beatles) and album three (when they're very much 'the second band behind the Beatles) is Mick's confidence. Few songs are tougher to master than 'That's How Strong My Love Is' and Mick, aged just 23, does a soul classic justice. 'Cry To Me' shows what he can do with a soul song that next to nobody knows. Even his and Keith's own 'Heart Of Stone' shows a real knowledge and passion for soul that Mick's R and B covers, however good, don't quite possess. The difference is between an enthusiast who wants the world to experience something he loves - and the connoisseur who knows why he loves it. The Stones should have made a 'soul' record a long time ago - while Brian Jones was given a solo deal and allowed to make the definitive 'white' R and B one.
A short word too on the songs. Glib, appalling, smug, facile, obvious, generic and yet still a remarkable improvement on the last batch, Mick and Keith's songs are at the halfway point between inspiration-bordering-on-plagiarism ('I'm Free' has a middle eight lifted wholesale from The Beatles' 'Eight Days A Week' released nine months earlier, perhaps safe in the knowledge that their old friends and early champions wouldn't sue!) and genuine inventiveness ('Heart Of Stone' is rightly hailed as perhaps the first Jagger-Richards classic, although 'Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man' is an impressive silly yet fun song too if you like that sort of thing). Notably the Stones still have half an ear on writing songs for other people - half of their four songs on this record sound as if they written with other people in mind ('Gotta Get Away' is the kind of generic pop people like P J Proby were always getting fobbed off with by big named writers, while 'Heart Of Stone' sounds like it was written with Otis Redding in mind, full of his characteristic emoting and pleading). The band's own songs take up a third of the LP - more than the quarter on the second record, true, but hardly the cornerstone of the Stones sound just yet. However it was the strong reception given to 'Stone' especially that seem to have given the band the confidence (as well as the 'fashion' of the times) to record almost all their own material from hereon in starting with next album 'Aftermath'. Frankly Mick and Keith don't know what the Stones sound 'is' just now and only discover it by accident with the soon-to-come 'Satisfaction', so enjoy these cameos and attempts to sound like other people while you can - it won't be too many years before 'Emotional Rescue' and practically all the albums after have the Stones stuck in half-groove-mode, trying to remember what their sound is and barely moving from it.
One other point to make before we close is that, for once, American fans got a better deal than their European counterparts. Practically every record label in America used to 'shuffle' British albums back in 1965 and Decca was no exception, with a massive half of the album changed for the USA. The result is that American fans, ignorant of what the album should have sounded like, consider this one of the band's strongest early sets: singles 'The Last Time' and 'Satisfaction' make this album a more confident, upbeat record while respective A sides 'Play With Fire' and 'Spider And The Fly' come from the same not-quite-pop, not-quite-soul, not-quite-R-and-B mixture as their better known couplings. A lot of the soul element of the record has gone - even 'Heart Of Stone', sadly, the one strong song the UK version does over the American counterpart - whole the addition of the 'Got Live If You Want It' version of 'It's Alright' turns much of the first side into a rougher, tougher album much more in keeping with the sound of 1965 period Who, Kinks and Small Faces.
So, is it any good? Yes and no. The Rolling Stones are still on a learning curve and to my ears they're taking longer to work out their niche in 1960s rock circles than most of their contemporaries (in fact, hearing this album more or less back to back with period Searchers album 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' has convinced me that it's the Londoners who should have been in most danger of being 'forgotten' and part of 'yesterday's papers', not the Merseybeat Scousers). Even as 'difficult third albums' go 'Out Of Our Heads' goes down an awful lot of cul-de-sacs (and a lot of awful cul-de-sacs) and although it's very different to 'Rolling Stones no 2' and as big a stylistic jump as many other bands were making in 1965., it's not necessarily an improvement (the playing is still loose bordering on scruffy, Decca's production typically muddy and murky - which often makes The Stones sound as if they're playing down a wind tunnel - and while there are more band originals that's not automatically an improvement just yet). However there are more album highlights here than on the last two albums and, most interestingly, none of the highlights sounds anything like the other. 'Talkin' Bout You' is a fabulous Chuck Berry song the band were clearly saving until they could play it well enough to do it justice and this cover is both the highlight of the band's R and B phase and pretty much a wave goodbye to it (for a while, at least: as a result its remarkably similar to the Kinks' take on 'Milk Cow Blues' released two months later). 'That's How Strong My Love Is' is a great Mick Jagger vocal on a great soul song. 'Cry To Me' shows that you don't need feedback to be intense, with an even greater Jagger vocal. 'I'm Free' is a fine happy-go-lucky pop song. 'Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man' is a productive and often hilarious bit of letting-off-steam that's a much more natural reaction to adulation and pressure than the fab four's downcast country rock of 'Beatles For Sale'. And best of all 'Heart Of Stone' is a breakthrough Jagger-Richards song, along with 'The Last Time' the equal greatest of their songs so far and the first to be better than any of the much-covered classic album tracks by other artists. However, for all this album's good points, I can't help but feel how much more powerful - and highly regarded - this third album might have been had it featured just a little of that raucous rebellion both title and cover promised...
The Beatles have gone down on history as the 'real' champions of Montana singer-songwriter Larry Williams, following fab four covers of 'Bad Boy' 'Slow Down' and 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie', but they never covered one of his more popular songs 'She Said Yeah' (also covered by The Hollies, but sadly their fun and funky version didn't come out till 2003; that said Macca covered it for his 1999 solo album 'Run Devil Run'). It's a shame the Stones didn't cover any other Larry Williams numbers as they clearly had a compatible style for his rushed, slightly histrionic songs of excitement and joy. Well, Mick Jagger does anyway - everyone else sounds slightly at sea across this track, with one of their sloppiest backing tracks despite buzzing with tight compression and distortion. At just 100 seconds the Stones cover is more rushed than most and someone (probably Brian) is always slightly behind the beat, giving the song a slightly surreal, hazy quality; it doesn't help that Bill and Charlie are near enough inaudible on this track too, with the main sound a sea of guitar and echo. Keith puts in a good solo though. Certainly the only sense of the real joy at the centre of the song is Mick's (the narrator's girlfriend has just said 'yes' - presumably to marriage given the mention of a 'ring', although given how excited this narrator sounds it could just be is imagination running away with him - she might simply have said 'yes' to a date or just agreed to do his laundry to him; you sense that this jumpy 'Tigger' narrator would be just as excited then). I'm surprised this song didn't take off more in the early 60s climate of nonsense lyrics and energy (the 'dum dum deedle ee dum dum' is delightful, the narrator so pleased with life there are no words to express his joy) or that Larry Willaims didn't become a bigger name. This Stones cover isn't the best, though - surprisingly the Hollies cover of a few months earlier sparkles with much more energy and power; while Mick's right on the money everyone else in the Stones is either asleep or poorly mixed.
'Mercy, Mercy' isn't one of the better album moments either. This Don Covay-Ronnie Miller song was a pretty new song back when this album came out, a minor hit for Covay in 1964 (with, allegedly, a very young Jimi Hendrix as one of his backing band). It sounds like a long-lasting soul standard, though, complete with the typical 'pleading' style at the heart of every soul song of the era and is another song that ought to sound better than it does. While no soul singer per se Mick was always good at 'acting' the part but here his timing seems to be off and his vocal is clumsily mixed, as if he's stuck in the middle of the Stones instead of riding on top of them as he does best. Perhaps learning from their mistake earlier, Charlie's drums are loud and proud and central to the song's attack - and yet they're arguably a little too loud, drowning out the singer. Keith and Brian come up with a great opening - an early example of the 'weaving style' the Stones will only perfect once Ronnie Wood joins the band a decade later - but thereafter the sheer amount of echo and compression on this song (typical side effects of everything released on Decca until at least the summer of love) drowns out any subtlety in the performance. The song is much as you'd expect from a soul song having the narrator pleading for forgiveness at its core (compare with another, later Stones cover: 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg', which uses the few clichés this song forgets), but listen out for one of 'the' themes of 1965: a fortune teller warning the narrator about his fortune; unlike 'Fortune Teller', however, the news is bad - his woman's bags are packed already and hidden under the bed for the next argument. The warning comes too late though and by the time this song starts she's already gone. Sadly it's never come to light, even on bootleg, but the Stones apparently recorded a better version of this song back in November 1964 (when this was a very very new song) in the Chess studios where most of the second album was made, taken at a more leisurely pace.
'Hitch-Hike' is, unbelievably, worse. To my ears the Stones never really 'got' Marvin Gaye and his mixture of passionate urgency and melancholia; thankfully this is the last of their handful of Gaye covers. What in its creator's hands (and recorded by him in 1962) is an epic promise of justice and fate, whatever the cost, turns into a rambling song where you don't believe for one second that the band are going to have the patience to 'hitch hike round the world', looking for their missing partner. Unusually Mick sings double-tracked, but while his 'main' self is fine, his backing vocal self intoning 'hitch hike' like a saw drill throughout the song makes you understand all too clearly why the love of his life might have wanted to run away. This was the first song recorded at the band's 'second home' at RCA studios where they'll go on to make most of their Decca work and the band were reportedly 'knocked out' by how great the sound was. That probably says more for how poor the sound had been at their earlier locations, though (even the famed 'Chess' studio doesn't suit the band's amplification), rather than how good this one sounds. In truth, this cover isn't even up to 'Can I Get A Witness?' from the first LP - the recording is just as sloppy and doesn't even have beginner's enthusiasm on its side.
Thankfully 'That's How Strong My Love Is' by soul writer Roosevelt Jamison (and championed by the first singer to record it, O V Wright) is a quality version of a proper classic. While I'd take the Otis Redding version of this song anyday (and, yet again, The Hollies recorded a version for their fourth album 'Would You Believe?' that knocks spots off the Stones' version), this is the perfect vehicle for Mick, who manages to sound both tough, fragile, hopeful, sad and angry over the course of the song. You can easily imagine teenage girls going weak at the knees at the thought of Mick singing this song for them (maybe even Susie Jane?!) but this is no teenage crush but an overwhelming statement of devotion. The narrator even gets a little carried away, ending up with metaphor after metaphor more wild than the last ('I'll be the breeze after the storm has gone, to dry your eyes and keep you warm' - they definitely had better weather back in the 1960s, that's all I'm saying). For once on this album the Stones are in full sync with each other, turning in a recording that sounds as if they'd been playing it for years, not just during rehearsals for the LP. Charlie's little kick into each verse is particularly fine, far more eccentric than anything the many dozens of soul cover versions come up with and the echo at Chess (this is one of the few songs from this album recorded there rather than RCA) really suits this song, making it sound bigger and bigger with each and every verse. Sadly the Stones chicken out of the middle eight ('I'd be the ocean, big and wide...'), stepping back rather than hitting it with even more attack (as per both the Otis and Hollies versions), but everything else is note perfect. A recording from almost forty years later appeared on the 2004 album 'Live Licks' and is one of the highlights of the 'non-hits' CD, showing that the band's still got 'it'.
More evidence of what a great chameleon vocalist Mick Jagger is can be heard on 'Good Times'. Every other 'white' cover of this famous Sam Cooke song sounds decidedly, well, 'white' - an interpretation of a song admired and loved. I'm not the first reviewer to point out how scarily close to Cooke's original this is - so much so that a few people hearing at the time might well have assumed this is the original. Even Brian Jones' high pitched harmony vocal (a rare appearance on this record, where Keith begins to do more of that and Brian less) sounds authentic. Bill and Charlie connect with this groove too, giving it a 'good time' stroll rather than the enthusiastic joy that lesser cover bands in Europe gave it. 'Good Times' is another impressively recent choice for a cover song, being released by Cooke in July 1964, making it just 14 months old when the Stones' version was released; you already sense, though, that the Stones are treating this song with reverence. A simple song promising lots of fun and good times, the most interesting lines come from a knowing bite in the second verse: discussing the fact that time is passing faster now that the narrator is happy than it does when he's sad, Jagger adds a twist: 'I may never feel this good again', in one sentence making this song so much for than a simple expression of joy. One of the better cover songs on the album.
Side one ends with 'Gotta Get Away' , the first Stones original on the album and one that's right up their street, from the delightful nagging riff at the heart of the song and the fact that the Stones are already playing with songs that make them sound like the 'good guys' whereas the more you study the song the more you realise the it's the narrator at fault. Like many of the 'Aftermath' songs around the corner Mick sounds a tad paranoid here, turning in three verses from the angry wronged lover ('I can't stand to see your face!'), to the depressed ('This old rooms is falling in on me!') and to the despondent ('How could you take away your clothes?!') All we're missing is bargaining and acceptance and we've got the 'five stages of mourning' all in one song! The song is a good one for Mick to get his teeth into: he actually has a range to act with instead of just being the 'bad boy' all the time and this song is a good balance between the generally 'pleading' soul/R and B songs and the generally 'nasty' originals in this period. It's a shame the band didn't go for another take, though: Mick is singing his heart out but everyone else sounds down in the dumps, with Brian turning in almost a 'croaking frog' part with his bass-heavy guitar riff. This is a song that needs a lot of energy and the Stones simply don't have it on this recording - but the problem is with the recording not the material, or to put it in the words of another Stones composition 'the singers, not the song'.
Side two features the only Chuck Berry song on the album, 'Talkin' Bout You'. The record third song on the album also covered by The Hollies (as the opening track on their debut 'Stay With The Hollies', released in January 1964), the Londoners again lose out to the Mancunians' sheer energy and pizzazz but their slowed-down interpretation of 'Talkin' is certainly their most inventive Berry cover (I prefer it to the Beatles' rushed squeal on 'At The BBC Volume One' too, incidentally). The original's fast -paced gallop is turned into a slow-burning groove that sounds slightly menacing, as if the narrator thinking about his girl the whole time is really a serial killer, not a love-struck teenager. The band are having fun here on a song that at least gives all of them something to do: Keith's stabs, Brian's slightly off-kilter chords, Cahrlie's sturdy drums and best of all Bill's bass which actually plays the part Berry's guitar did on the original. The result is a ghostly transformation of a song that, even in 1965, seemed a little like it had been played to death (it's actually one of Berry's later hits, released in 1961): the only song on the album to reflect the 'harder edged' sound that was high in the charts across 1965, it shows how good a Stones album on a par with, say, 'Kinks Kontroversy' and 'My Generation' might have sounded.
'Cry To Me' is another of the better covers on the album, a Bert Berns (aka Bert Russell) soul song that despite also being relatively new too (Solomon Burke has the most famous cover, released in 1962 - alarmingly most people remember his version today from its appearance in the film 'Dirty Dancing') already sounds like a standard. Mick's vocal on this song is one of the best from the Stones' early years, sounding both heartfelt (the sudden switches to anger on 'don't you feel like crying' take you by surprise - and Mick too by the sound of it) and slightly tongue-in-cheek, as if the narrator is simply pretending to be sad to woo back a girl he's treated wrong so he can do it all again. In fact, a close inspection of the lyrics muddles this song even further - for years I've assumed that the girl in the song was the one who abandoned the narrator and he was trying to coax her back, but no - now that I actually read the lyrics properly the narrator is actually tearfully expressing his sympathy with another 'victim' of the blues and trying to get her to stop crying in her room by telling her how nasty it is being on your own so she might as well be with him. That sounds like a warning signal to me, especially the way Mick sings the part (so he at least has read the lyrics properly!), even if he does offer to be a shoulder to cry on. While there are plenty of examples on later Stones albums, this is the first time Mick sounds completely at home and in charge of a song and is using all the powers in his arsenal, instead of trying to copy someone else with a little bit of himself added. The song should have stayed in the band's set lists longer, perhaps as the band's 'token' ballad to ease the tension between the harder edged rockers. Brian and Keith have another good thing going on with the guitar parts (again that sounds like Brian taking the 'lead', with the more eccentric, lower part, leaving Keith to sound he's 'ringing a bell'), which just about manages to make up for a less than interested sounding Bill and Charlie. The song still isn't quite as impressive as another recording taped that day, 13th May 1965, though: next on the Stones' list that day was 'Satisfaction'...
So far we've had a pretty strong run of songs since the beginning of the album, but alas 'Oh Baby (We've Got A Good Thing Goin') is not one of the album's better moments. To my ears this is the only appearance of 'sixth Stone' Ian 'Stu' Stewart tickling the ivories - like Brian he was getting rather sidelined by the lack of R and B grooves on this album. Nice as it is to hear him, however, 'Oh Baby' sounds a little too much like something from the first two Stones albums, a simple groove that doesn't get very far or find many interesting ways of taking the journey. What is groundbreaking - for the Stones in 1965 anyway - is that this is the first Stones song written by a woman (and the last, depending on what you count Marianne Faithful's role on 'Sister Morphine' consisted of). Barbara Lynn Ozen was a guitarist back in the days when being either a woman or being black was enough to end careers and yet she rose above a double set of prejudices to become well regarded in the 1960s (her original of this song made #69 on the US pop charts, although it's her first single and #9 hit 'You'll Lose A Good Thing' that's her best known song), forging a successful career for years before the Stones recorded this album despite being their contemporary (she's just seven years older than Mick and five years younger than Bill). Like the first few songs on the album, though, the mix is all wrong: Mick's trapped in a sea of guitars and now piano and there's simply too much happening around him, even with Keith and Brian playing much the same part for the majority of the song. A shame, because this groove should have been right up the Stones' street - it's one of their better choices of song to cover to be honest, with the typical Stones urgency translated into happiness this time, with Mick devoting himself to staying by his girl's side (that won't happen often on Stones albums from here on in I can tell you...) Most impressively, the song tacitly forgives a spell of her 'scandalizing my name' all over town but doesn't make a big thing out of it as later Stones songs would.
'Heart Of Stone' is the album highlight for me, the second really distinctive Stones original (following 'The Last Time'), actually taped earlier than most of these album tracks in November 1964. As the rest of the album shows, Mick and Keith had clearly been listening to a lot of soul across 1965 and decided to have a bash at writing a soul song of their own. What's impressive with 'Stone' is that it's all so believable: I bet more than one Stones fan checked the label to see why he'd never come across this soul standard before when the album came out: it's one part Otis Redding and one part Marvin Gaye, the two principal influences on this album. The narrator has been hurt too many times, but even he admits that he's the one doing a lot of the upsetting (I've made so many cry, and still I wonder why') and how he even gets off on seeing misery around him ('If you try acting sad, you'll just make me glad'). However, unlike - say - 'Under My Thumb' the narrator is a sympathetic one: like most bullies you sense that he likes breaking other people's hearts because his own breaks so easily and that it's easier to be nasty to his girlfriends than trust that they won't leave anyway when they're on the receiving end of his darker side. The Stones conjure up a wonderful murky sound for this record and for once the Decca depths really suit the recording, with Brian's angular gruff riff hitting Keith's more hopeful strumming head on and a tambourine part (performed by Jack Nietsche) just that little bit behind the beat to give the effect that the narrator's world is about to fall apart. Mick is again on top form, perfectly cast as the bad 'un with a heart of gold, however much he protests it's made of 'stone' and the band sound like they've really rehearsed this one instead of simply hoping for the best. A deserved hit for the band in America when released as a sort of extra-curricular single, it should have been released in Europe too. A longer, slower and rather melodramatic alternate version from July 1964 was later released on the Decca outtakes compilation 'Metamorphosis' in 1975.
'The Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man' is a fun Stones original credited to 'Nanker Phelge' (James Phelge being the band's flatmate in the early days and my good Twitter friend in the present; and a 'Nanker' being the 'name' for the 'face' the band members pulled for interviewers when in a mischievous mood), best known from appearing on the B-side of 'Satisfaction'(and a neat foil to it, as this is another song about dissaatisfaction with life). Never get on the wrong side of the Stones because they're remorseless in vengeance, as manager Loog Oldham will attest with 'Andrew's Blues' the next year and countless wives and girlfriends down the years, plus even the band themselves ('I've Had It With You!') Unusually, though, 'Promotions Man' seems to have been written without a specific target - rather, it's a Ray Davies like comment on the fact that people the band have never even met and hate their material make more money from it than the writers do ('I sure do earn my pay, sitting on the beach each day!' the Stones grumble at the end of another back-breaking tour). However, some Sherlock Holmes-style commentators have seized on the figure of George, erm, Sherlock - the London Records promo man who went on tour with the Stones across 1965 and allegedly moaned about it even more than they did (although, unusually, the band have never mentioned this in print). The song could easily have descended into in-jokes and libel suits (like many a Stones angry rant to come) but here the Stones have remembered the humour in the song: just listen to the relish with which Mick sings 'I'm real real sharp, yes I am, I got a Corvette and a seersucker suit!' two relics from the 1950s, which today would be the equivalent of pretending to be hip by liking, umm, The Spice Girls) and reserve their jibes for the promo man's toupee (amazingly all the Stones seem to have kept their hair or this song could easily have come back to bite them in later life). The music is less convincing than the lyrics and in fact seems to have been 'stolen' from Buster Brown's 1959 song 'Fannie Mae' - not entirely un-coincidentally, the Stones recorded their own unreleased version of the song earlier in the 1964 Chess sessions. What's interesting in hind sight is that only a year before the Stones were still speaking about America as 'Mecca' - the land where their beloved blues and R and B singers had come from and yet already this song is picking holes in the fabric of a particularly American society (the band are keen to narrow the subject of their wrath to the 'West Coast'). You'd never stake a claim for 'Promotions Man' being one of the best Jagger-Richards compositions, but it is one of the funniest of their second-tier songs, the simple sound of a band letting off steam and no doubt chortling with glee at the fact that their promo man's holiday in 1965 will be paid for with a song about his own avarice and greed.
The 'Out Of Our Heads' album then ends with 'I'm Free' which, as we've already seen features another blatant piece of plagiarism in the 'love me, hold me' middle eight stolen wholesale from the fab four's 'Eight Days A Week'. Indeed, in many ways this song about freedom sounds more like a spoof Beatles pastiche than a heartfelt statement: Jagger is singing in distinct tongue-in-cheek style even for him and the falsetto backing vocals sound like they're parroting him and mocking him throughout. That said, 'I'm Free' has had a much longer grasp on the Stones' stage sets than any other song from the album, suggesting that Mick and Keith at least are rather fond of it - and later versions, especially post-Altamont, are sung more with ear-weariness than with a chuckle. Similar to but not quite as good as The Who's later 'I'm Free', the lyrics sound like filler around the basic idea that the narrator is now an adult and can no longer be pushed around by others, while the music is breezy, light and pretty but suggest a far cosier 'freedom' than the lyrics seem to suggest. The angry, snarling single 'Get Off My Cloud', taped at the same session (and which featured on the A side of this song) still sounds closer to the 'true' Stones; somehow a slightly flat performance and a lack of energy mean that 'I'm Free' isn't quite the life-affirming song of joy the song deserved to be.
Overall, then, 'Out Of Our Heads' is a mixed affair. In many ways it's a marking time album - filling in the gap before the Stones start writing full time instead of for a hobby, before the Stones properly embrace the acoustics of their new studio at RCA and before they've properly realised that the anarchic powerhouse of rock featured on 'Satisfaction' is the 'true' Stones sound, not the faithful soul covers they've been doing. But to dimiss 'Out Of Our Heads' would be wrong too: 'Heart of Stone' especially is a strong step forward on the road to 'Aftermath' and beyond, while the Stones - and especially their lead singer - turn in some of their best performances on the covers across this album' so much so that it's almost a shame when they get the boot from Stones LPs starting with the very next LP. Instead 'Heads' is your archetypal 1965 LP: it's not as joyously innocent and carefree as the albums of 1963 and 1964 but it hasn't yet embraced the new and exciting sound of 1966-67. The Stones were hardly going to follow the folk-rock trend that so many other bands adopted throughout the year, but it's a surprise that they didn't adopt either the harder-edged riff-heavy rock sound pioneered by others that year or that the band didn't swing further into Country-and-Western, the way that some other bands (notably The Beatles on 'Beatles For Sale') did. Far from being a demented, uncontrolled, anarchic slab of chaos 'Out Of Our Heads' is actually one of the most closely controlled, stylised LPs the Stones ever made - reinventing themselves as a soul cover stars with a hint of pop. The biggest surprise of the album isn't that the Stones did this but that their target audience seemed to let them - and by and large didn't seem to notice or care. Overall rating - 5/10