“Time Is on My Side” is a song written by Jerry Ragovoy (using the pseudonym “Norman Meade”). First recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his Orchestra in 1963, it was covered (with additional lyrics by Jimmy Norman) by both soul singer Irma Thomas and the Rolling Stones in 1964.
Winding session arranger Garry Sherman contacted friend and colleague Ragovoy after Kai had expressed an interest in going in a more commercial and rhythmic direction (in gratitude for the gig Ragovoy granted Sherman 50% of the publishing rights, which he kept until an expensive divorce in 1983). But Ragovoy had thought of no lyrics for the song other than “time is on my side”. Produced by Creed Taylor and engineered by Phil Ramone, and including background vocals by Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, the recording was released on the Verve Records label in October 1963.
In early 1964, Irma Thomas recorded a R&B cover of the song as the B-side for her single “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)”, released on Imperial Records. Songwriter Jimmy Norman was enlisted by the arranger H. B. Barnum to create some more lyrics for the song, which at that time consisted only of the words “Time is on my side” and “You’ll come runnin’ back.” He managed to finish moments before Thomas entered the studio to record it. Produced by Eddie Ray, Thomas’ version of “Time Is on My Side” provided the inspiration for the title of her 1996 greatest hits release Time Is on My Side.
The Rolling Stones recorded two versions of the song in 1964. The first version (a looser arrangement featuring a briefer, organ-only intro), recorded in London in June 1964, was released in the US in 1964, as a single from their album 12 X 5. The second version (more tightly arranged and featuring guitar in the intro), recorded in Chicago on November 8, 1964, was released in the UK on January 15, 1965 on The Rolling Stones No. 2. This is the version that receives airplay and appears on most “best of” compilations. Both versions incorporate elements of Irma Thomas’s recording, including spoken-word interjections in the chorus, a monologue in the middle of the song, and distinctive lead guitar.
The US version was released on September 26, 1964 as a single (a month after Thomas’s cover) and peaked at number six on the US Billboard Pop Singles Chart to become the Rolling Stones’ first top ten hit in the US (their previous single, “It’s All Over Now”, had only peaked at number 26).
A live version of the song from the band’s 1982 live album, Still Life, reached number 62 in the UK Singles Chart.
Mick Jagger – lead vocals, tamborine
Keith Richards – lead guitar,backing vocals
Brian Jones – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Bill Wyman – bass, backing vocals
Charlie Watts – drums
Ian Stewart – organ