Sunday, June 17, 2012

Time Is On My Side /
The Rolling Stones

I know, I don't often write about the Stones.  I don't often think about the Stones, that's why, and if I do, it's not 1964-era Stones.

But as I was reviewing my 100 Favorite Singles project the other day, and re-listening to "Tired of Waiting," it suddenly occurred to me how much alike these two singles are.  And I got to thinking....

To a pre-teen Beatlemaniac, this first Stones single to really hit it big in the US was a scary thing. When the Beatles were introduced to American on the Ed Sullivan show, they won hearts; when the Stones followed suit in October 1964, they sent shivers up spines. I still remember watching them that night, closing out the show with this number. As I recall it, Mick shook his tambourine like a rattlesnake shakes his rattles, and lowered his head to glare menacingly at the camera. I actually scooted a few inches further from the TV. I did not like them -- but I sure as hell watched every minute of that charged performance.

It's useful to note that Mick and Keef didn't write this tune themselves -- it was written by Jerry Ragavoy (under the name of Norman Meade, for some reason) and had already been recorded twice in the previous few months, once by jazz trobonist Kai Winding and once by Irma Thomas. When the Stones showed up at Chicago's Chess Records studio in June 1964 to record at the home of the blues that had inspired them, it was a logical recent track for them to cover.

But just listen to Irma's version. Even though it has the same tempo, it's not nearly as draggy and weary-sounding.  In fact, Irma sounds positively buoyant. Time is on her side because she plans to hang in there and wait for her man; she's full of hope and faith.

In contrast, the Stones sound dogged, spiteful, and fixated. Mick's petulant, taunting vocal lags behind the beat (well, that's why it was called backbeat, folks) and Charlie Watts' abusive drum slaps are way forward in the mix.  "Ti-i-i-ime, is on my side," Mick snarls, "Yes it is," and  I get a shiver of sexual fear. He's not the patient lover waiting for her to be ready, he's the stalker, the predator, lying in wait.

"Go ahead and light up the town," he mocks sarcastically in the bridge, adding like a threat, "I'll always be around" as Keith's and Brian's guitars bicker and quarrel behind him. In lieu of Irma's gospel style backing singers, the other Stones utter discordant moans in the background -- "time, time, time" -- like a clock loudly ticking off her last moments of freedom.  This is simply saturated with sexual knowingness; it is hot stuff.

This Chess version made it onto 12 X 5, the Stone's second album, which was released in October 1964. (The single that came out in January 1965 has a different arrangement, with a guitar intro instead of this track's brooding minor-key organ.) That's good to know, because the Kinks recorded "Tired of Waiting" in August 1964 -- they couldn't possibly have been copying the Stones track. It must just have been something in the London air in the summer of 1964 that made everybody feel hostile and exhausted. 

The differences are subtle, but dangerous. If the Kinks are at the end of their rope, tired of waiting for the girl who won't settle down, the Stones can wait forever -- and oh, when she finally comes crawling back, revenge is going to be so sweet. . . .


Anonymous said...

My wife recently encapsulized the almost fifty years of reviews, stories, and writings about The Second Biggest Band in the 60's Invasion:

"Who would have thought that Charlie Watts would turn out to be the best looking?"


Rich in upstate NY

wwolfe said...

I always heard this as Mick's way of saying he knew his band was going to be huge because, in his judgment, they were better than just about all of the competition. As always with Mick, this is expressed in the most indolent manner possible - "I can't even be bothered to prove this to you," he seems to be saying, "Because it's so *obvious.*"