The Rolling Stones, who recently reached their 50th year together as a band, celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first-ever single today!
But the single wasn’t a Stones original. It was a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On”. In fact, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t release a song they actually wrote until “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)” on their self-titled debut.
Hard to fault the band for doing what so many other artists did at the time – covering other people’s songs and releasing them as singles – but when looking back on the 50th anniversary of that first track, it’s a bit underwhelming to find it’s a cover of a Berry song that had come out only two years earlier.
But the Stones still proved that they absolutely rocked for an early-60s band, and they were the first act to reach widespread popularity without the same squeaky-clean image as Motown groups, or even the early Beatles. Bill Wyman explained in an interview with Billboard in 1971 with anecdotes about their early shows and how promoters frowned upon them early in their career as the “Bad Boys” of rock & roll:
“We started playing dances and pubs, just sweating whatever clothes we has at the moment…We’d get all sweaty playing and loading the equipment and they’d print cracks about how we didn’t bathe…A lot of nightclub owners would throw us out of their places after our first set, even when big crowds had come to see us. They’d say we didn’t play proper music and then tell the press some lies about how our dressing room smelled like a pigsty.”
So it was appropriate for the band to take a fast, guitar-driven rock & roll song (Chuck Berry was arguably the heaviest music around at the time) and make it even faster, add even more emphasis to the guitar and replace the piano and horns with a harmonica.
Listen to both versions below and tell us which version you prefer. Did the Stones improve upon Berry’s “Come On” with their faster, dirtier version? Or is Berry’s guitar work too impeccable in the original for any cover to top it?
Rolling Stones “Come On”
Chuck Berry “Come On”
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