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2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

2120 South Michigan Avenue by The Rolling Stones

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[instrumental]
Gene Ammons on vinyl 45 rpm
"2120 South Michigan Avenue" is an instrumental jam released by the Rolling Stones on Five by Five, their second EP. Composition credits go to one "Nanker Phelge," which was a name the Stones used to denote that everyone in the band contributed to the writing.

The address in the song is the address for Chess Records, a blues and R&B record company founded in the 1950s by Leonard and Phil Chess, two brothers who emigrated to the U.S. from Poland. Chess released some of the most important and successful blues songs in American history, and they were instrumental (pun intended) in the evolution of American music.

Chess had multiple offices and studios, but the one at 2120 South Michigan Avenue is the most notable. As of 2017, this same building now houses Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation.

Chess's first release was "My Foolish Heart" (with "Bless You" as B-side) by Gene Ammons. The label went on to record such legendary artists as Etta James, the Yardbirds, Little Milton, and the Dells.

Though lesser-known to the public, the session musicians at Chess were also highly regarded. Two of these musicians, drummer Maurice White and bassist Louis Satterfield, later went on to form Earth, Wind, & Fire.

The corner of Michigan and 21st, home of Chess
Chess also had a foray into psychedelic music in 1969 with their United Kingdom subsidiary, Middle Earth Records, named for J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. Tolkien's work was actually a big part of the psychedelic subculture, though that may seem strange today when his work has become so mainstream and pedestrian. Unfortunately for Middle Earth Records, the psychedelic genre's acidic fizzle (again, pun intended) came quick, and by 1970 it was old news. The subsidiary closed that year after releasing only four albums.

For all their wild partying and debauchery, the Stones were serious blues aficionados who respected the historical importance of Chess. This probably explains why they chose to name an improvised jam after the building's address. It's a nod to all the history that came out of that location.

Stones bassist Bill Wyman said in Rolling with the Stones that he started off the "2120 South Michigan Avenue" jam with a bass riff and then the others followed in.

The original release of the song was about two minutes long. It was cut short because of the time restrictions on EPs, which still applied to then-young Stones. There is a longer version, about three and a half minutes long, that appears on the 1964 Around and Around LP and the 25 × 5 2002 CD re-release.

Sly Stone released a song titled "Buttermilk" in 1965. This song took from "2120 South Michigan Avenue's" sound. George Thorogood, who likes to drink alone, released an album with his Destroyers also titled 2120 South Michigan Avenue. There is a cover of the Stones song and covers of various other Chess Records artists on the album.

"2120 South Michigan Avenue" is not a song that tops the list of the Stones' most popular, but it is a grooving tune that shows off the band's infectious enthusiasm and acts as interesting landmark in the their development. With "2120 South Michigan Avenue," we hear a band on the cusp of superstardom paying homage to the music that influenced them. It would be only a few more years before they'd cement their own legacy as one of the most significant bands to ever record at Chess Records. In the midst of this transition into the halls of music legend, it's only fitting that the Stones gave a nod to the legacy that came before them.
~ Jeff Suwak

Songplaces contributor Jeff Suwak is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the novella "Beyond the Tempest Gate" and various works of short fiction. He writes for The Prague Revue, and has a blog about Pacific Northwest travel (Northwest Nomad.com). He loves being berated on Twitter @JeffSuwak and receiving visitors at beyondthetempestgate.com.
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