Monday, August 31, 2009

Song of the Week: "Time is On My Side", Irma Thomas

Starting today, Flip-Siders are going to be treated to a theme week (similar to what we did a month ago with our week-long look at George Gershwin's Summertime). This week's theme is perhaps best described as "the original version of much better known cover versions." Not very catchy, I know, but it does the trick. We'll be digging deep into Flip-Side central's record collection to pull out some dusty, scratchy and smelly records to let you hear some wonderful songs that flopped (relatively) on the charts but were reborn in the hands and voices of other artists who -- for one reason or another -- were able to bring the beauty of the song in question to the masses. We'll post both versions of the song for you to hear.

We kick off the week with a song made famous by the Rolling Stones, Time is On My Side. The Stones released Time is On My Side in September of '64 as their second US single. It became the lads first Top 10 hit in the States and landed them a slot performing the song on the Ed Sullivan show. It's a great song written by producer Jerry Ragovoy under the pseudonym, Norman Meade. (Astute Flip-Side readers will recall that Ragovoy is the same person who wrote As Long As I Have You for Garnet Mimms, which was featured with a SoTW back in March of '09 ). The Rolling Stones perform Time is On My Side perfectly and convincingly and succeeded in getting all the little girls screaming for Mick Jagger.

So, how did the boys come to this song? Just one month before the Rolling Stones released Time is On My Side for London Records, a young woman down in New Orleans, Louisiana released Time is On My Side as a Flip-Side to her Imperial Records recording, Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand). What's remarkable about the two recordings, is how faithful to the original recording the Stones were. The Rolling Stones slowed it down ever so slightly and added a longer intro (two different Stones versions actually exist - a US release version with an organ intro (the one to which we link) and a slightly later re-recording -- which is the better and better known version -- with a guitar intro). What struck me about Irma Thomas' version when I first heard it is that it includes the snaggly toothed guitar lead under the spoken word part in the middle. I have no idea who plays it for Thomas, but he/she deserves a heap of praise for that addition that I had assumed was a Keith Richards invention.


  1. As I'm sure you know, the Stones also covered "Pain in My Heart," which was Otis Redding's rewritten version of "Ruler of My Heart" that Irma did around this time.

    That guitar part is great, and it's probably my favorite thing about the Stones version too. I wouldn't be shocked if Ragavoy played it himself (he was credited with guitar on that Mims song you wrote about before), but I don't know for sure.

  2. I don't think it is Ragavoy playing guitar as she recorded this down in New Orleans and he was up in Philly, for the most part. My first guess, before I knew where it was recorded, was Steve Cropper. Sounds like him, no?

  3. Wow! The Irma Thomas version is a killer. Very gospel feel, love the organ and the kettle drums. Cropper does seem a likely suspect for the guitar playing, though it doesn't sound like him, at least to me. I would guess it was Lonnie Mack except he was more northern (Ohio I think) and I don't know that he did much session work.

    Do you know of another female artist that did "Time" during the same era? I remember the first time I realized that the Stones version was a cover was hearing it sung by a female artist, but I'd swear it wasn't Irma. Maybe the version I heard post-dated the Stones version.