December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
. . .
There’s a lot of meta going on with the Rolling Stones recording of “As Tears Go By.”
For one thing, they probably never expected to be recording it, as it was not only one of the first songs they ever wrote in 1964, it really really didn’t fit the “bad boys of British R&B” image that they were cultivating at the time.
So, instead, Andrew Loog Oldham gave it to an aspiring singer who only recorded it because she couldn’t figure out how to sing the song that was going to be her first single. That aspiring singer, of course, was Marianne Faithfull, who took a very baroque version of “As Tears Go By” to number nine on the British charts on the strength of her sympathetic vocals, the nostalgic lyrics, and a pretty fucking killer melody. Probably the fact that she looked like a young Marianne Faithfull didn’t hurt, either.
By the time the Rolling Stones their version of “As Tears Go By” as their fourth U.S. single in December, 1965, Faithfull was only a short time away from being Mick Jagger’s partner for the rest of the decade, inspiring — and in one key case — co-writing many upcoming Certain Songs.
So is this a cover version, or not?
It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me
I sit and watch
As tears go by
One thing is certain: it’s probably the first single of the next period of the Rolling Stones, where they started experimenting with different instruments, different arrangements and different drugs, but of course nobody quite knew that at the time. Instead, they probably thought it was a bit of rip of “Yesterday,” which basically had the same instrumentation: acoustic guitar, vocals and strings, and wondered if the Stones had lost their edge.
My riches can’t buy everything
I want to hear the children sing
All I hear is the sound
Of rain falling on the ground
I sit and watch
As tears go by
What it is, of course, is — along with “Play With Fire” — one of the greatest of the early Rolling Stones ballads, where they would completely drop the pretense of being a hard-charging rock band, aiming for something completely different. As you probably, I’m not really a ballads kind of guy, and when I first heard “As Tears Go By” as a teenager — I think either Joseph or maybe Craig from across the street (or both!) had a copy of Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 — I didn’t like it.
But it eventually wore me down — even though I could take or leave the strings — because of Jagger’s tender vocal and the great melody line. I mean, he so inhabits the person in the song — who has to be decades older — that he almost sounds sincere!
“As Tears Go By” was the fourth U.S. single in 1965 for the Rolling Stones — following “The Last Time,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off Of My Cloud” — and while the timing for a melancholy song was perfect, it “only” made it to #6 in the U.S. In the U.K. it wasn’t an A-side, but rather the b-side of the dynamite “19th Nervous Breakdown,” which we’ll discuss further tomorrow.
“As Tears Go By”
Mick & Keith perform “As Tears Go By” 1966
“As Tears Go By” live 2008
Marianne Faithfull performs “As Tears Go By,” 1964
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