The Rolling Stones

Time Is on My Side

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"Time Is On My Side" was the first really big American hit for the Rolling Stones, reaching #6 at the end of 1964. Like most of their early recordings, it was a cover, this one of a single by the great New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas. But the Rolling Stones did make it their own, with a reinterpretation that was more substantial, and substantially different from the original, than most of their early covers. The song starts -- at least, the most familiar version of it starts (more on this later) -- with a piercing, memorable drawn-out bluesy guitar lick, both spiritual in its arch and raunchy. Like more early Rolling Stones than is acknowledged, "Time Is On My Side" is quite the slow ballad, but one which has a lot of insouciant blues-soul, particularly in Mick Jagger's drawn-out, drawling delivery. The band give Jagger underrated support with vocal harmonies in the early parts of the verse (when the title's sung), and especially in the bridge, where the band almost taunts the lover of the song with repeated chants of "you'll come running back." The implicit gospel influences of the song come to the surface in the instrumental break, where Jagger practically gives a spoken sermon over more of (presumably Keith Richards's) stinging blues guitar licks. The drawn-out tension of the song -- suitable for a song boasting that in time, however long it takes, the girl will come back to the singer -- is ably amplified by the several repetitions of the title phrase at the end, building the intensity of the song's cockiness. The history of the song is more complicated than many realize. First of all, the very songwriting credit is unclear; on some issues of the song, it's jointly credited to Norman Meade (a pseudonym for Jerry Ragavoy) and Jimmy Norman, and on other issues, it's credited solely to Jerry Ragavoy (without the Meade pseudonym). Its very first appearance was not on the Irma Thomas single, but as a little-heard recording by jazz trombonist Kai Winding, with Garnet Mimms's Enchanters on vocals. Then it was done -- but as a B-side -- in 1964 by Irma Thomas, in a quite good version, but one with a far more pronounced gospel-soul feel, complete with organ and choral backup vocals, than the Stones' more rock-oriented, guitar-oriented arrangement. Thomas's version is more upbeat and proud than the Stones' cover, lacking the sly braggadocio that Jagger gave to the lyric. Finally, the Rolling Stones, for unclear reasons, recorded two versions. The first and more familiar one -- the one that tends to show up on greatest hits compilations, like Hot Rocks -- is the one with the extended bluesy guitar intro, discussed above. Another version, which tends to appear on issues of their 12 X 5 album, sounds a little less elaborate and thought-out, and more rushed. The main difference -- and one that works to the detriment of the track -- is that instead of the memorable bluesy guitar intro, there's just a basic gospel-like organ chord sequence.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
12 X 5 1964 ABKCO Records 2:54
The Rolling Stones No. 2 1965 Decca 2:58
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) 1966 ABKCO Records 3:01
The Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 ABKCO Records 2:52
Singles 1963-1965 2004 ABKCO Records 2:53
The Singles: 1971-2006 2011 Polydor 3:44
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 3:00