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For hit songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, immortality resides in his music

Jerry Ragovoy died last week, 48 years after he messed with immortality. His death from a stroke at age 80 may not mean very much to you, but you better believe Father Time is reading the newspaper today with a wicked smirk on his face.

Ragovoy was a songwriter, and a good one, too. A Philly kid with a taste for East Coast soul, he had a hand in a few classics, including 1967's Piece of My Heart, famously recorded by ill-fated rock queen Janis Joplin, for whom he also ominously penned the cut I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven just before she died.

Ragovoy's best song, however, was written in 1963. It was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding. In 1964, two much bigger acts covered the cut: Irma Thomas, who just happened to be the Soul Queen of New Orleans, and an up-and-coming scrum of blue-collar laddies from the U.K., who just happened to be the Rolling Stones.

Another songwriter, Jimmy Norman, was brought in to add lyrics to the song, which, in Ragovoy's version, had only two lines: "You'll come runnin' back" and, of course, "Time is on my side."

It's a breakup song, the protagonist confident that his lost love will return in a matter of days. But Time Is on My Side, especially in its original spare form, is also more than that; it's creepy and defiant. It taunts not just a lover but whoever controls our very mortal coils. "Tiii-iii-iii-mme is on my side, yes, it is."

The Stones recorded two versions of Ragovoy's song — one with a guitar intro, one with an organ intro, the latter becoming their first top 10 hit in the U.S.

The Stones still play Time Is on My Side in concert, Mick Jagger stretching out that first word like a playground tease. Of course, ol' Mick should be careful. On Tuesday, he turns 68.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.

. FAST FACTS

Recalling Ragovoy

Some of Jerry Ragovoy's songs (and the artists who made them famous):

Piece of My Heart (Janis Joplin)

Time Is On My Side (Irma Thomas, the Rolling Stones)

Cry Baby, written with Bert Berns (Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters)

For hit songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, immortality resides in his music 07/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 11:28pm]

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