Friday, January 15, 2010

Kai WInding/Irma Thomas: Time Is On My Side

Today, we begin a new feature – First Fridays where I explore the hits before they became hits. We will look at the original recordings of songs by other artists and see how these tunes metamorphosed into the songs we know and love.

In 1964, the Rolling Stones had their first US top ten hit with “Time is on my Side”; the tune peaked at number 6. Little do most Americans realize that this was a cover record for the Stones; however, they actually covered the Irma Thomas version and not the original by Kai Winding.

Recorded in 1963, the original version of this song featured the trombone of Kai Winding and backing vocals of Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick, and Dee Dee Warwick. It is an interesting version of the song that only has 11 words – only one of which has more than one syllable and only two of the words are longer than four letters in length. The vocals on Winding’s version only contained: “Time is on my side” and “You’ll come running back to me.”

Irma Thomas Version

Jump to 1964 and the first cover version was released by Louisiana born and bred soul maven Irma Thomas. Realizing that the lyrics as they existed were inadequate, additional content was hastily written on the spot. When released, Irma Thomas’ version was the B-side of “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand),” which was hoped to become an adequate follow-up to her biggest single, “Wish Someone Would Care,” that peaked at #17 earlier in the year. It wasn't.

2X5: The Stones Record it Twice

Before Thomas' single could be flipped to promote the B-side (as this often occurred in those days), the Rolling Stones had released the first of their two recordings of the same song. In fact, Mick and the crew mimicked Thomas’ version that was only released a month earlier. The Stones' original single has an intro featuring the organ of Stones’ sideman and road manager, Ian Stewart. The organ can be heard elsewhere in the tune as well.

While it was part of the hit single, the organ part in the Stones’ original recording almost sounds bizarre when one listens to it in 2010. Stewart's part is reminiscent of a lower budget church organ – say a Lowrey, and it just doesn’t sound quite right. At any moment during the intro, I expect to learn that Mary Henry, the lead character in 1962's low budget thriller “Carnival of Souls,” has actually possessed the keyboard.

Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry: toccata play some organ music soon.

Apparently the Stones were not satisfied with the organ either, and within six months, a newer version of the tune with a lead guitar intro over a less haunting and lower volume organ part was recorded. This version was released on the US album, 12X5. This newer rendition appears on all of the compilation albums to date and the only one likely to be heard on radio. The single mix has slowly faded into oblivion.

Who Writes the Song that Makes the Whole Band Sing?

If you happen to pay attention to record labels, you may have noticed that this particular song has inconsistencies in how it is credited. If you look hard enough, you are likely to find the following combinations for the songwriting credits:
  • Norman Mead
  • Norman Mead and Jimmy Norman
  • Jerry Ragovoy and Jimmy Norman
  • Jerry Ragovoy
But who wrote “Time is on my Side?” The answer is that all of them did. First of all, Norman Mead and Jerry Ragovoy are the same person, as Ragovoy often used the Mead pseudonym for compositional purposes. When the Irma Thomas version was to be recorded, producer H.B. Barnum enlisted songwriter Jimmy Norman to write additional lyrics. Norman's additions are found on Irma Thomas' and both Rolling Stones' versions.

Unfortunately, his name will not appear on any future releases of the tune. Over the years, the song's publishers have removed Jimmy Norman’s name from the song credits and have admitted that the addition of his name was an error. Newer recordings of the song will identify the writer as only Norman Mead or Jerry Ragavoy. Both names have been used.

I hope you've enjoyed this new feature outlining the history of the Rolling Stone's "Time is on my Side.?" Next week on First Fridays, Bob Welch covers himself – with a faster and shorter version his own tune.

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