I imagine that in moments of smart alecky tomfoolery, many a person has looked at the cover of The Rolling Stones’ 12 X 5 and yelled, “Sixty,” soon followed by uncontrollable giggling at their own corny brilliance. Had the same people seen the British EP which featured songs that appeared on 12 X 5, they would have probably yelled “Twenty-five.” In either case, the joke would most likely be met with blank stares and shaking heads, maybe a few befuddled shrugs from people not familiar with multiplication or amused by arithmetic.
The twelve songs by the five piece Stones which comprise 12 X 5 are, like its predecessor, deeply entrenched in rhythm and blues and soul; brimming with lively covers and boasting the support of bad-boy Brian Jones. Unlike its predecessor, the album offers some early Stones originals, which, though they stand on forgivably shaky legs, give a taste of what’s to come. It’s definitely an album of portent, something of a glimpse at the bands roots before Out of Our Heads or the all-original Aftermath.
The album kicks off with Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around.” The cover showcases the rhythm section, Keith Richards’ lead guitar, Jones’ piano and Mick Jagger’s vocals working in unison to create a catchy, bopping whole. The same can be said of “It’s All Over Now,” the rhythm section of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman demonstrating their immense importance to the band as Jones and Richards guitars open up into solo bravado. “Confessin’ the Blues” crawls with a standard blues riff, Jones and Richards once again sharing guitar duties, seamlessly giving way for Jagger to wrap that mouth of his around a harmonica.
Ushered in by organ or a tasty guitar lick (depending on what version of the song you have) is The Rolling Stones’ first top-ten single stateside, “Time Is On My Side.” Originally recorded by Irma Thomas, Jagger’s lament and taunting backed by the band guide the song from beginning to the fading repetition of the song’s title, pulsing the word “time” for emphasis. Both “Time Is On My Side” and “Around and Around” were the two songs the band played on their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. Apparently frightened by their motley looks, Sullivan vowed to never have them on the show again. In 1967, The Rolling Stones once again appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” this time playing “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
On the Rolling Stones original songs, it sounds as if Jagger is attempting to tame the muse of lyric writing with a Mars bar and a pouty-lipped pucker. While “Good Times, Bad Times,” the jilted “Congradulations,” and “Grown Up Wrong” aren’t bad by any means, they don’t have the same memorable melodic quality or the lyrical intelligence of what was to come. They stand there for the most part without the pomp, circumstance or flooring power that would characterize, for instance, the riff of “Satisfaction” or the sudden dark blast of “Paint it Black.”
Under the pseudonymous group guise of Nanker Phelge, the band delivers a grooving jam on “2120 South Michigan Avenue.” Named after the street address of Chess Records, the band blends organs, harmonica hums, blistering solos, warm thudding bass and tattering drums. Nanker Phelge also gets the credit for “Empty Heart,” a bounding rhythm and blues track that, along with “Grown Up Wrong,” is arguably one of the best of the album’s originals.
While there’s no iconic Jagger/Richards-written songs on 12 X 5, it’s an album bursting with energy and begging to be heard. By the following year, time matured the group into rock stars grown right, still tied to their roots but coming into their own in a satisfying way.