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Cuttin' Heads: Chuck Berry battles The Rolling Stones

The poet laureate of rock’n’roll Chuck Berry takes on Jagger, Richards, Jones, Wyman and Watts on the R&B song that set the Stones rolling... Come On!

Come On was the first single by The Rolling Stones, which is enough to seal its place in the history books right there. The band, who were about to become known as the bad boys of the British beat boom, released the record in June 1963 in the UK, where it reached No.21 in the chart. The song was written by Chuck Berry who released it as a single himself in the US in October 1961, where it failed to chart (although the b-side, Go, Go, Go reached No.38). It was Berry’s last release before he was sent to prison for 20 months for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines for “immoral purposes”, a conviction which earned him more than enough of a bad boy reputation of his own.

The Rolling Stones had been groomed and marketed by their young manager Andrew Loog Oldham as London’s uncouth answer to the Merseybeat sound of The Beatles. The rivalry began when the Stones signed a recording contract with Decca Records in 1963, just seven months after The Beatles had released their first single Love Me Do. But whereas John Lennon and Paul McCartney had written all three of The Beatles’ singles (and b-sides) released up to that point, the Stones had no such songwriting partnership within their ranks to fall back on – as yet. Instead, the band’s live repertoire had been plundered from a rich vein of American blues and R&B songs known only to a small circle of music insiders and devotees. The setlist from the Stones’ first gig at London’s Marquee Club on July 12, 1962 featured customised versions of songs by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Bo Diddley and no fewer than six titles by Jimmy Reed. Most of the Stones’ fans were unlikely to have heard the original versions of these songs and were only dimly aware of the artists who had written them; indeed, it was part of the group’s mission in those early days to popularise the music of the great blues artists that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones idolised. Even so, it is strange now to think that, for all their youthful brio and revolutionary appeal, the Stones were essentially a blues covers band.

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