The Rolling Stones

Fortune Teller

Composed by Benny Spellman / Naomi Neville

Song Review by

Originally an excellent New Orleans R&B-rock single for Benny Spellman in 1962, "Fortune Teller" was recorded by the Rolling Stones the following year as they searched for a follow-up single to their debut 45, "Come On." The story of how "Fortune Teller" fits into the Stones' career is rather complicated. After it was recorded, it was actually scheduled by Decca UK as their second release, complete with catalog number, but then canceled. It turned up early in 1964 as part of Decca's obscure Saturday Club compilation LP, and in 1966, it was retrieved for use on the group's Got Live If You Want It! album, where it was overdubbed with crowd screams to give the (false) impression that it was a live recording. It wasn't until the early 1970s that the original undubbed studio recording was issued in the US, on the More Hot Rocks compilation. So why was it canceled as their second 45? It's hard to say, because it's actually a pretty good track, though destined to be one of their more obscure ones. At this point in their career, the Stones were searching for American songs to cover that were true to their R&B roots, but catchy enough to stand a chance of commercial success. "Fortune Teller" seemed to fit this bill, from the ultra-catchy, slashing downward guitar chord-riff that opened the track, a similar riff recurring throughout the verses. After the verses about visiting a fortune teller, there were brief instrumental breaks where a wailing harmonica was interwoven with odd (for a Rolling Stones record) wordless, windblown vocals that almost sounded like monks singing rock'n'roll. As was par for the course with numerous early Stones tracks produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, there's a liberal use of echo on both the harmonica and voices that lends them a perhaps unintentionally creepy aura. The lyric itself was quite a witty mini–story: a guy goes to a fortune teller to have his fortune read, gets told he's falling in love, goes back to confront her when he thinks she's told him lies, and then looks in her eyes and realizes -- he's in love. With the fortune teller, of course! And everything ends happily ever after; not only are the couple happy together, he gets his fortune told for free! The Rolling Stones' arrangement was considerably different from Spellman's original, which was a much more happy-go-lucky New Orleans rock tune, transforming it into something more sullen and guitar rock-oriented. But whatever reason, it wasn't what they wanted. Though the group prided itself on finding obscure American songs to cover, "Fortune Teller" wasn't nearly as obscure in Britain as might be expected, and in fact the Merseybeats released a cover version on their debut single in the summer of 1963. The song was also cut by British Invasion acts Tony Jackson (after he left the Searchers to go solo) and the Downliners Sect, and the Who played it in their live set, though it wouldn't be until the mid-1990s that an archival Who recording of the song found release.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Rolling Stones 1964 Doxy Records
Got Live If You Want It! 1966 Universal Music 1:57
No Image 1971 Decca
More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies) 1972 ABKCO Records 2:17
No Image 2001 Decca Bootleg
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 1:56
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 2:20
blue highlight denotes editor's pick