Album: 12 X 5
. . .
The Rolling Stones, of course, started their life out as a rhythm and blues cover band. But, because they happened to be in a time and place where the gravitational pull started falling towards groups composing their own songs, thanks a lot Beatles, very early on their evil genius manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Mick and Keith in room and told them they couldn’t leave until they wrote songs.
It was kind of arbitrary that he chose Mick and Keith, of course, a decision that was the beginning of the end for Brian Jones, of course, but history shows it was a good decision.
In the meantime, there were also full band jams that ended up turning into songs, and those songs were credited to “Nanker Phlege,” which was a pseudonym for the entire band — and Oldham, of course, because it was the fucking wild west — and an inside joke that combined a gross face they made to crack each other up plus the last name of a guy who shared a squalor-ridden flat with Mick and Keith in the early days. Because boys are gross.
The Nanker Phlege songs lasted through 1965, after which the Jagger-Richards partnership proved too strong for Oldham to backdoor his way into that sweet songwriting scratch, and included some gems like “Play With Fire,” “Spider and The Fly,” and my favorite song on 12 X 5, “Empty Heart.”
I’ll be the first to admit that “Empty Heart” isn’t much of a song, but I might go as far to say that it’s a blueprint for a lot of the the great songs to follow. I think it’s got the Stones’s first great original riff — played by Brian, not Keith — a clanging, descending thing that finishes with curlicue flourish, and is matched by Charlie’s off-kilter drumbeat, which featured his ride cymbal and double backbeats on the toms when you expected the snare.
A empty heart is like an empty life
I said a empty heart is like a empty life
Well, it makes you feel like you want to cry
Like you want to cry
Like you want to cry
Recorded at Chess Studios, “Empty Heart” feels like an improv: there aren’t any defined verses or choruses, Keith and maybe Brian and maybe even Bill join in on harmonies or “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah” or not, as the case may be, and Brian kills it throughout on harmonica, playing high lonesome train whistles pretty much throughout the entire song. Also making a significant contribution: Ian Stewart, flooding the zone with organ, and then totally disappearing on a whim.
By the time the song hits its fade, it’s a complete and utter cacophony, held together only by Charlie and Bill, while everybody else is going fucking crazy. But the interplay between Keith’s riff and Charlie’s beat is pure and utter magic throughout, and definitely a sign of the greatness to come.
Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page