12 X 5
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/02/2007
In 1964, the juggernaut that was (and still is) The Rolling Stones began to truly hit its stride in the
12 X 5, their second album (at least in terms of what was released on this side of the pond), was both a step forward and a step backward for Mick Jagger and company. On one side, this disc gave the London lads their first taste of singles chart success (though you may be surprised when you hear the original version – more on that in a moment), and the songwriting duo of Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards make a few more steps into the limelight, even though this remains a covers album. But the joy is counterweighed by the unavoidable fact that this disc isn’t as exciting as its predecessor – though it could not be called a failure in any sense of the word.
The first thing the listener notes on this disc (whose name hints at the number of tracks and number of band members) is that there is more of a rock feel to it, though the blues is hardly abandoned. Covers of tracks like “Around And Around” (which has more life to it than any version I ever heard The Grateful Dead do) and “Confessin’ The Blues” show that the Stones still thought of themselves as a blues band, much like their contemporaries with whom they got their start.
Yet that feeling admittedly begins to slip when you hear covers of “Under The Boardwalk” (which will never take the place of the Drifters’s classic version) and “Susie Q” (which seems far too short at just under two minutes). It’s almost as if there’s a bit of musical wanderlust traveling through the Stones – a fact confirmed by the almost doo-wop sound of one Jagger-Richards original, “Congratulations,” as well as one of the disc’s two hits, “It’s All Over Now”.
The stylistic shift does seem to work for the Stones (though “Congratulations” is a little slow for my tastes), and the cover of “It’s All Over Now” crackles with energy. If I had to select my one or two favorite tracks from 12 X 5, “It’s All Over Now” would be right up there with the instrumental “
The disc’s biggest hit, “Time Is On My Side,” will throw listeners for a curve – mainly because this isn’t going to be the version most people know the best. It turns out there were two versions of this track recorded – the more popular one, featuring a Richards guitar lead rather than Ian Stewart’s organ work, was recorded a few months after the original. While this is unsettling at first, there is a bit of barely-controlled excitement to this version, making it feel a little rushed. Maybe it’s because the Stones knew exactly what they were sitting on.
For all of the successes of 12 X 5, the remainder of the disc just seems to lag in terms of energy. Whereas England’s Newest Hit Makers had a certain level of raw intensity, the overall feeling on 12 X 5 is more laid back – and that isn’t what seemed to have been called for. The three originals from Jagger and Richards still didn’t show much sign of the superstars they were to become in terms of songwriting. Granted, tracks like “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Empty Heart” aren’t bad, and expecting something along the lines of “Start Me Up” this early in the Stones’s career is unfair. But there’s precious little about these three originals that make them stand out among the crowd.
12 X 5 is a more tentative second step from the Stones, and is still worth the trouble of checking out as it was the first disc that truly marked the beginning of superstardom for the band – but the true explosion that would make the Stones household musical names was still ahead of them.