The Rolling Stones

Poison Ivy

Composed by Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller

Song Review by

It's sometimes thought that the Rolling Stones started life as a blues band dedicated to rather esoteric covers of American songs. While there were plenty of such items in their early repertoire, in fact the group was conscious of recording fairly commercial rock'n'roll covers from the very start of their recording career. For their first pass at a second single, for instance, they did a cover of the Coasters' classic late-1950s hit "Poison Ivy." In tandem with a version of the Benny Spellman song "Fortune Teller," this was actually scheduled for release by Decca UK in 1963 and given a catalog number, but canceled. "Poison Ivy"'s subsequent appearances in the Rolling Stones catalog are a source of understandable confusion. The original recording (which would have been on the single) ended up being used, along with "Fortune Teller," on the obscure January 1964 various-artists Decca compilation album Saturday Club. A re-recorded version done a few months later was used on a far more high-profile Rolling Stones EP that same month. The song was unissued (as by the Stones) in the US in any form until one of the versions cropped up on More Hot Rocks in the early 1970s. The 2002 ABKCO reissue of More Hot Rocks included both versions, identified as "Poison Ivy (version 1)" and "Poison Ivy (version 2)." Getting beyond the discographical details into the music itself, in its original Coasters version, "Poison Ivy" was a classic if frivolous rock novelty about the poison ivy itch, written by the top songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and liberally sprinkled with catchy calypso-like and two-note guitar hooks. The Rolling Stones did some of their least impressive covers when they tried to tackle songs that had actually been big American pop hits (such as "My Girl" and "Under the Boardwalk") rather than more cultish items, and "Poison Ivy"'s another example. On the track identified as "version 1," the Stones don't add much to the tune, copying the Coasters' arrangement fairly closely, down to using some wood block percussion. The vocals (particularly the backup harmonies) are a bit throaty and raw, and the Stones don't sound as engaged with the material as they usually were. The track identified as "version 2" is better; the arrangement's actually not that different, but the group (and Jagger) sound more comfortable, and the tempo slowed ever-so-slightly to make them sound more relaxed and funky. "Poison Ivy" was, incidentally, covered by a few other British Invasion bands in the 1960s, including the Hollies, Manfred Mann, and the Paramounts (who included future members of Procol Harum).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Rolling Stones 1964 Decca 2:06
No Image 1964 Decca
More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies) 1972 ABKCO Records 2:33
No Image 1973 Decca
No Image 2001 Decca Bootleg
No Image 2001 Decca Bootleg
Singles 1963-1965 2004 ABKCO Records 2:06
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 2:37
No Image ABKCO Records 2:06