The second album from The Rolling Stones is sonically a continuation of England’s Newest Hitmakers. The huge difference here is the inclusion of four songs by the Jagger/Richards team (and one, the disposable instrumental ode to Chess Records, “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” credited to the group pseudonym, Nanker Phelge).
Chuck Berry gets another shout out with the leadoff position on the album. The Stones version of “Around And Around” matches their earlier version of Berry’s “Carol” in terms of intensity. It’s further proof that nobody did Chuck Berry as well as the Stones. The rest of the album is a combination of blues, early rock ‘n’ roll and, strangely, a vocal group song (“Under The Boardwalk,” the classic song by The Drifters).
What’s of most interest on this album are not the originals. The four songs written by Jagger and Richards (“Empty Heart,” “Good Times Bad Times,” “Congratulations,” and “Grown Up Wrong”) indicate nothing more than that as songwriters they were still finding their voice by imitating their idols. All four of the songs are okay (“Empty Heart” is the best of the lot), but none are really all that remarkable.
What is of interest is the two cover songs that can rightfully be considered the first Rolling Stones classics. Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” was a good soul song that the Stones turned into a magnificent rock song. It was a clear case of a band finding a “sound” of their own, despite it being a cover song. When one thinks of the early Stones classic songs like “Satisfaction” or “Get Off Of My Cloud,” the sonic template is found first on “It’s All Over Now.” Much like Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” forever banished Bob Dylan’s original song to the record collections of hardcore Dylan fans, the Stones’s version of “It’s All Over Now” became the standard that the original only hinted at.
The second Stones classic is more problematic. “Time Is On My Side” is one of the most famous songs in Rolling Stones history…but not the version that’s on 12 X 5. The famous, classic version of the song was released as a single. The version on the 12 X 5 album sounds like a pale, lifeless imitation. I mention it here because the single appeared nowhere else at the time, and it was the hit and far superior even to “It’s All Over Now.” But you’d never know that if the album version was all you had ever heard.
For the rest of the album, it was more of the same from the first album. A version of “Suzie Q” is good, “Under The Boardwalk” isn’t. What is stressed by “Under The Boardwalk,” “It’s All Over Now” and a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “If You Need Me” is just how strongly the Stones were starting the move away from pure blues. In contrast to the first album, only a couple of songs on 12 X 5 could really be considered blues (“Around and Around” which was considered rock by most people, and “Confessin’ The Blues”). The rest show an increasing fascination with rock and soul music. As such, this is the beginning of the transition from blues/R&B to rock. It was a move that would speed up as Jagger and Richards got more comfortable as writers.