Saturday, 26 May 2018

Marianne Faithfull – As Tears Go By

On this day… Marianne Faithfull recorded her first hit single As Tears Go By, 26th May 1964.

Present at the recording that day future Led Zep bandmates Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass. The composers are Jagger & Richards and the record made number 9 in the UK singles chart and number 22 in the U.S.

Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, in one of the many legends surrounding this early Jagger/Richards song, demanded a number "with brick walls all around it, high windows and no sex." 

Here's Marianne miming along to the track for US TV's Hullaballoo in 1965, in a segment presented by Brian Epstein…

The song remains in her live set to this day. Here she is again, separated from her 18-year-old self by 50 years. Andrew Loog Oldham's high walls are in ruins. She's sorrowful but not bitter. The frippery of the oboe is gone, as is the puppy-ishly eager beat and she's way down the vocal register. As much as I love the '64 version, in this 2005 take she inhabits the performance in a way that an 18-year-old could only dream of…

Faithfull's first album followed soon after. Entitled Come My Way, it's a great folk-flavoured record (released on the Decca label) it contains many of the seeds of Marianne Faithfull’s later career as a respected chanteuse.

The sleeve shot was captured in London's West End…

…on St Martin’s Lane, WC2, in The Salisbury Pub.

This ornate gin palace dates back to 1892 and is one of the West End’s best-preserved old pubs. Ask for directions at the end of the Rock'n'Roll London Pub Walk, or find it under your own steam here…

Here's the trailer for the Rock'n'Roll London Walk which meets at 2pm Tottenham Court Road station every Friday.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

In Praise Of the Rolling Stones' First Single

Adam writes…

We're going Stones-mad here in the run-up to the Rolling Stones arriving in London next week. 

The Rock'n'Roll Pub walk on Wednesday 23rd may will be a Rolling Stones In The 60s special. In honour of the occasion, here's a fan letter to their often maligned first single,  a cover of Chuck Berry's Come On from 1963…

Come On

Words & Music: Chuck Berry
Recorded: June 1963
Released: July 1963
UK Chart Debut: 1 August 1963 (charted at no.32)
UK Chart: No. 21
US Chart: Did not chart
Producer: Andrew Loog OIdham
UK Label: Decca
UK Cat No: F11675

The case is often made for Come On being both the least of all the Chuck Berry numbers covered by the British bands of the beat boom, and the slightest number in the early Rolling Stones canon.

Berry’s original lacks his usual pace and drive, opting for a con brio approach ill-at-odds with the pissed-off lyric – the last verse of which gives up in a welter of inelegant moon-in-June rhymes so atypical of the man dubbed the first poet of rock.

Here's Berry's original…

The 21st Century Stones chose to omit their version of the song from their 40th Anniversary collection 40 Licks, quite a snub considering this was the record that set the Stones rolling. But within its brief one minute and 48 seconds we can find all the seeds of the Stones' greatness.

I am here to plead its case.

Here's the Stones version…

As a debut single, it is pure Rolling Stones – the antithesis of the soppy sentiments that filled the upper reaches of the charts on the week in which it tiptoed in at number 32. Consider Tony Hatch’s Sweets for my Sweet in the hands of The Searchers on its way to number one while Mitch Murray’s I Like It by Gerry and the Pacemakers was just beginning its descent from the top spot.
Come On is a grumpy record, full of broken down cars, wrong numbers and lost jobs. The narrative tells of the hoops through which our protagonist must jump to keep his relationship going. In this, it is a blues, albeit a modern, urban, upwardly mobile blues. The consumer durables such as cars and telephones that serve as the song’s plot devices, and the total absence of redemption in the number distance it from the sentiments of a more traditional blues. But on the UK chart of the 1st August 1963, it was as close to the genuine article as was available to the British record buying public.

Jagger, for the most part, inhabits the vocal vividly – no mean feat for a 20-year-old LSE student from Kent, given that its sentiments spring so strongly from black America. 

In the number at hand, Berry’s jalopy has broken down, and, being broke himself, he can’t pay to have it fixed. His wish, that someone would just come along and smash the old banger up, is practically un-AmericanYou wouldn’t, for example, catch middle class white boys such as Brian Wilson and Mike Love of The Beach Boys cussin’ that symbol of American affluence, the car. (When, in 1964, after being released from a five year stretch in prison, Berry turned to the automobile once more in No Particular Place to Go, he still can’t keep a straight face: in verse one the car is a status symbol; by the fade out, it is a farce on wheels when his girl gets trapped by her safety belt.)

It’s only on the final verse of Come On, where Berry’s uncharacteristically weak lyric offers no support, that Jagger begins to flail a little, resorting to a slightly swung pop approach to replace Berry’s more successful, pedantic, one-note delivery. The other factor working against Jagger has been a key change to cover the lack of guitar break. This only succeeds in brightening the mood, the last thing the song needs. (It also puts Keith’s unlikely Graham Nash act on falsetto BV’s a little out of his range.) All is redeemed, however, by the pleading, bluesy coda, in which Jagger returns to his best Dartford, Mississippi tones and a fourth, minor chord is added to the sequence, the whole underpinned by Brian Jones’s disillusioned harmonica.

It is Jones – an effortless multi-instrumentalist – who provides the record with its signature instrument in his harmonica. In this cover, the harp is doing the work that a brass section undertook in the original – trying to inject energy into the proceedings. Here, it also lets off the tension on the bad tempered fourth line of every chorus with a wailing phrase akin to a train whistle. This evocation of wide-open space implies the protagonist will not be putting up with the current situation for very much longer.

That Come On had not yet had a UK release would have added to its muso kudos for the Stones, as well as having the benefit of being a “new” song to British record buyers. Keith Richards (who, in a very 50s touch, had been persuaded by manager Andrew Loog Oldham to drop the “s” from the end of his name to have a showbiz resonance with Cliff) later described the number as “middle ground” in terms of being both bluesy and having pop chart potential.

Berry himself, a top ten act in the US, had only charted significantly on two occasions in the UK at this point, with the rock‘n’roll classics School Day in 1957 and Sweet Little Sixteen in 1958. But his other numbers were out of bounds thanks to their familiarity from the movies Rock! Rock! Rock! (1956) in which he performed You Can’t Catch Me and 1959’s Go, Johnny, Go! which featured Johnny B. GoodeMemphis Tennessee and Little Queenie.

Perhaps most crucially representative of all for early period Stones, the number was not written by the band. They were slavish in their adherence to blues material. Come On’s B-side is not a cynical rehash with the band’s name stuck-on to mop up writing royalties, but rather a sincere rendition of Willie Dixon’s I Want to be Loved… 

When they finally did turn to their own composition, it was Jagger and Richards and not founder member and self-styled leader Brian Jones who emerged as the hitsmiths. This power shift that saw the gradual alienation of Jones began in 1964 with the composition of the distinctly un-Stonesy As Tears Go By (a number 9 hit for Marianne Faithfull almost a year after Come On’s chart debut)…

Of the Stones debut disc, only its chart position was inauspicious. In the current climate, the band may well have been dropped. Andrew Loog Oldham later claimed to have bought the single on to the charts himself. Within three singles, however, the Stones joined The Beatles in almost having the top spot as a guarantee with each release. But it wasn’t until 1966, with the release of the first all self-penned album Aftermath that the Rolling Stones abandoned Chuck Berry. The band went on to cut a Berry number on each of their first three albums, as well as Bye Bye Johnny (the “sequel” to Johnny B. Goode) on the Rolling Stones E.P of 1964. And on each occasion they serve him very well. In turn, they, along with The Beatles and others in what the Americans called the British Invasion revived interest in Berry’s career – a much needed fillip following Berry’s five year stretch in prison for transporting a minor across a state line. The girl in question had been brought from Mexico to work as a hat check girl in Berry’s St Louis club. Soon after she was fired and was then arrested on a prostitution charge. All roads led back to Berry and he was convicted (his second spell in jail) and fined $5,000.

Berry’s response to the Stones and The Beatles? Well the great man was never going to wring his cap and give a bunch of white Englishmen the credit for inventing the blues.

“Not to my knowledge,” Berry replied to one reporter who asked him of the Rolling Stones, coming over as coy and spiky as a Tennessee Williams diva, “have I talked with this person of whom you spoke – Dick Jagger?”

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Rolling Stones No.1 B-Sides

This Rolling Stones Playlist flips all 8 UK number one singles scored by The Stones between 1964 and 1969 to take a listen to the B-Sides…

Good Times Bad Times B-Side of It's All Over Now (1964)

The Bobby Womack A-side was The Stones first UK No.1 single and, at this point in their career, Jagger/Richards* originals are still being tucked away on the B-side. A faithful blues, can we hear the Stones clinging to their blues roots as the A-sides become more mainstream?

Off the Hook B-Side of Little Red Rooster (1964)

For me, this is the most rebellious Stones record of all. How come? Think about it: a balls-out, full-blown blues, no pop undertones. 

It's commercial suicide. 

It's not just a blues… it's a SLOW blues. NOTHING like it had ever been unleashed on the Hit Parade. Certainly nothing like it ever hit the top spot. Pure swagger.

This B-Side is pretty bluesy, too, but much more commercial - another J&R original*.

* There has been something of an Orwellian re-write here – the original writing credit was Nanker/Phelge, the pseudonym for early group original compositions. In recent years, the credit has been changed to Jagger/Richards.

The name Phelge was a former flatmate of Richards, Jones and Jagger and Edith Grove. Nanker was the name of a grotesque face pulled by Brian Jones

Play With Fire B-Side of The Last Time (1965)

A Swinging London classic, one of the great underrated Jagger & Richards compositions, a tale of the perils of social mobility. "Now she gets her kicks in Stepney/Not in Knightsbridge anymore". Very Stones, this, that Jagger should identify the dark underbelly of cuddly Swinging London.

The Spider & The Fly B-Side of Satisfaction (1965)

More back-to-basics blues and another Nanker/Phelge original - see * above. Listen out for the line: She was common/Flirty. She looked about 30" (!!!)

The Singer Not The Song Get Off My Cloud (1965)

A reflective number in more way than one – an introspective lyric and an arrangement that reflects the vogue for Folk Rock. the only one in this playlist that actually sounds like a B-Side.

Long, Long While B-Side of Paint It Black (1966)

Back to the blues. 

Child of the Moon B-Side of Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968)

The last hurrah of the psychedelic Stones. And by George they've almost got it! Indelibly Beatlely but, for my money, up there with 2000 Light Years From Home as the Stones best tilt at psychedelia.

You Can't Always Get What You Want B-Side of Honky Tonk Woman (1969)

The sheer audacity, the arrogance of putting such a stonewall classic out as a B-side is very Stones. Sits alongside Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Beatles' Hey Jude in a suite of hymns to the passing of the 60s. Meanwhile on the A-Side it pedal-to-the-metal for the next 50 years.

Here's the full playlist…

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Marc Bolan Tributes In London

Today I'm putting Marc Bolan centre stage - Bolan often crops up on my Rock'n'Roll London walk, and his fans remain a deeply devoted bunch.

Bolan was born in Stoke Newington, East London in 1947. A plaque marks the place where he lived…

It is just one London tribute to this greatest of all glam rockers – as I said, his fans are known for their devotion.

At Golders Green Crematorium in North London, where Bolan was cremated in 1977, there are no less than three memorials in his name. This traditional plaque…

… this more suitably glam tablet…

… and this rather beautiful bench, carved in the image of a swan, an allusion to his hit Ride a White Swan.

Here's a bit of Bolan archaeology, his 1966 single The Third Degree

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The Rock'n'Roll London Walk meets at 2pm Tottenham Court Road station (exit 1) every Friday all year round. You can follow the Rock'n'Roll London Walk on Facebook –

Here's the trailer…

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Ashes To Ashes at Abbey Road

Adam writes…

From time-to-time, we spot a famous musician along the route of my Rock'n'Roll London walk. This is London and, as I state in the voice over for the Rock'n'Roll London video, all roads lead here as the capital of the music biz in this country.

But the most memorable sighting along the route of any of my London Walks involved not a star, but an ordinary person.

On any other day, she would have been as anonymous on any London street as you or me. And on any other day I wouldn't have given her a second glance.

I was leading a private musical London tour for a family from New York. It was an all-morning tour and we had taken a taxi to finish at the famous Abbey Road crossing.

We were waiting for the traffic and the crowds to calm down a little so that I could snap the obligatory photo of the family on the world's most famous cross walk. As we waited our turn, I noticed that one woman was crossing back and forth. Not in a conspicuous way. She would walk, at a regular pace from one side of the road to the other, pause for a few moments, and then cross back.

It's not uncommon for fans to pose for two-or-three "takes" - if you've come a long way to get this shot then it would be a shame if it wasn't right.

But as we waited for our turn - it was a particularly busy morning at Abbey Road – something caught my eye as the woman, in her 50s, maybe her 60s, crossed again.

It first glance I thought she was smoking - a cigarette or vape contraption was creating wispy clouds from her hand (Paul, after all, has a fag on the go in the famous sleeve picture).

But the cloud wasn't drifting up. It was falling down.

It was then I realised… she was scattering ashes. Solemn and discreet, she was carrying out the last request of a loved one.

A most moving scene. Elegiac yet strangely joyful.   

Join me on The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour this Sunday 11am Tottenham Court Road tube.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

My Back Pages Ep.3: The Fifth Beatle

The question I am asked more than any other on my music tours is always "Can you recommend a good music book?"

Inspired by this question, I've launched a book review vlog to tie in with my tours.

It's called My Back Pages (from the Dylan song of the same name) and here's Episode 3…

Rock'n'Roll London Walk meets at 2pm Tottenham Court Road station (exit 1) every Friday all year round. You can follow the Rock'n'Roll London Walk on Facebook –

Here's the trailer…

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

My Back Pages Episode 2: The Story of Pop #BookTube

The question I am asked more than any other on my music tours is always "Can you recommend a good music book?"

Inspired by this question, I've launched a book review vlog to tie in with my tours.

It's called My Back Pages (from the Dylan song of the same name) and here's Episode 2…

Rock'n'Roll London Walk meets at 2pm Tottenham Court Road station (exit 1) every Friday all year round. You can follow the Rock'n'Roll London Walk on Facebook –

Here's the trailer…