It takes a lot to last 50 years in the music industry. As crazy as it seems, in 1962, five 20 somethings first embarked on an unprecedented career in rock and roll, and leave no musical stone unturned as they constantly pushed artistic boundaries. I doubt Mick Jagger and Keith Richards knew the type of success they’d someday achieve during their teenage days, when they met up after school and listened to their blues and rockabilly records together. The Stones story is epic, admirable, and also tragic. Brian Jones, one of the founding members, unfortunately joined the 27 club just when the band was starting to produce their greatest material. Not to mention, the deadly Atlamont concert in San Francisco, that many people say brought about the end to the flower-power ideals of the 60s. But despite these unfortunate circumstances, coupled with a plethora of arrest warrants, police raids, and drug addictions, The Stones managed to cement their legacy as the greatest rock and roll band. I did my best to compile a list of their 50 best recordings to coincide with the 50 long years the band has officially been around. In order to do this, I had to forgo some of my favorite songs by the band. I also added a list of twenty honorable mentions immediately following, in honor of Keith Richards living 20 years longer than is physically possible, considering…
No explanation really needed for this one. Keith Richards’ favorite Stones’ song to play. One of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock. A song that perfectly encapsulates the band’s storied career. It’s a gas.
It will be clear soon enough that I have a bias towards the Stones. I share the opinion of many when I say I believe Richards is the main artistic impetus behind the Stones’ legendary career. Usually, in the Stones song writing process, Richards would think of a riff and a few lyrics to go along with it. Jagger would then add the rest of the lyrics, something, I might add, he is very very very good at. But “Happy” remains an anamoly in Stones folklore. While recording the album that would become their magnum opus, Exile on Main Street, Richards arrived early to the Necollete Basement in the South of France, and along with producer Jimmy Miller, laid down arguably the greatest Stones songs ever in less than a day.
Three songs into the list, and I’m already pissed with myself. “Sympathy for the Devil” is too good to be at the three spot, and honestly, whenever I am actually listening to the song, I am always convinced it is the best of the Stones’ catalog, period. Although he shares a writing credit with Richards on this one, this is mainly a song penned solely by Jagger, and a true testament of his brilliance as a writer. Influenced by the French poet Baudelaire and Bob Dylan, Jagger created one of the poignant songs of the 60s. According to popular rock legend, the song was being recorded during the time Robert Kennedy was assassinated, thereby requiring the original “Who killed Kennedy” line to become plural. The important thing to realize here is that The Stones aren’t devil worshipers (to my knowledge). The devil in question is metaphorical, and is a comment on how people are quick to judge others without first looking in the mirror, and realizing their own faults.
In all the badass Stones songs, “Midnight Rambler” might be the most badassiest. It deeply pains me that the song did not rank higher on the list, and I sincerely wish I could speak a few angry words to the man responsible for the decision (myself). “Midnight Rambler” is a song too masterful to be real. A collaboration between Jagger and Richards, the song is loosely based on the confession of Albert DeSalvo to the Boston Strangler crimes of the late 60s. I feel that words alone cannot describe the effect this song can potentially have on a functioning set of eardrums. Combining elements of blues, country, and rock, the song perfectly exhibits the unreal talent of the musicians in question. The song concludes with Jagger’s famous, yet strikingly obscene wit: “I’ll stick my knife right down your throat baby and it hurts.”
“Tumbling Dice” is a true favorite among Stones fans, and rock fans period. One of the few songs on the classic Exile on Main Street that can be classified as a single, “Tumbling Dice” tells of a metaphorical gambler who is terrible at being monogamous. In 2010, the Stones’ released the 40th anniversary edition of Exile, and included the long-awaited original version of the song, which was titled “Good Time Women.” Always charmingly vague and humble in interviews, Jagger had this to say about the song’s creation: “It’s weird where your lyric things come from. On Tumbling Dice, I sat down with the house keeper and talked to her about gambling. She liked to play dice and I really didn’t know much about it, but I got it off her and managed to make the song out of that. ‘Tumbling Dice’ was written to fit Keith’s riff. It’s about gambling and love, an old blues trick.” Years after the release of Exile, Jagger said that he could not understand the world’s fascination with the album, as he thought it was quite poorly done. Mick Jagger is my favorite rock vocalist of all time, and I think the man is brilliant, but to say he is a bit of an asshole would be a bit of an understatement.
The Stones’ ode to the honky tonk women around the world is some of their best known work to date. The raucous “Honky Tonk Women” was originally released as a single in 1969, topping the charts in both America and Britain. A little later, The Stones revamped the song on their album Let It Bleed in a country-blues fashion. One of the great things about the song is that the Stones sometimes perform different versions of it in their live performances, slightly tweaking the lyrics to fit the city they are performing in, so that all honky tonk women across the globe will not feel discriminated against. Whether he is stranded on the boulevards of Paris, or meeting gin-soaked bar-room queens in Memphis, or tippling a jar in Jackson, the song always ends with Jagger being unable to drink these ladies off his mind.
“Before They Make Me Run” is a song that sparkles with fierce determination. It is no secret that Keith Richards was addicted to heroin in the late 60s and 70s. Because of his habit, he was forced to contend with a circus of police busts, arrest warrants, and drug raids on his home(s). Not to mention, Richards had seen the effects heroin had had on his buddies, for instance, the late, great, and brilliant Gram Parsons. “Before They Make Me Run,” penned by Richards, is one of those I’m-tired-of-you-fucking-with-me type of songs. Around the time he wrote the song, Richards decided to quit the drug, and it is probably this decision that ultimately saved his life (although Richards always maintains that he never took the drug in excess…sure). In one of those rare but glorious times, Richards also sings lead on the song, making it all the more personal.
The members of the Rolling Stones love women, of all shades and colors. One of the aspects of the Stones repetorie is how fearless they were in such socially conservative times. When Jagger picked up a pen in those glory days, thoughts of offensive lyrics never seem to phase him, but rather, ignited him. In an interview Jann Wenner, the founder and long-time editor of Rolling Stone magazine, Jagger was shocked at the unrestrained way he wrote lyrics in his younger years: “I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘Oh God, I can’t. I’ve got to stop. I can’t just write raw like that.’
The popular claim that the Stones only wrote songs about sex and drugs is steeped in profound ignorance. “Street Fighting Man” is one of the many examples of the Stones’ political leanings. In a 1995 interview with long-time editor and co-founder of Rolling Stone Magazine (no tangible relation), Jagger spoke about his process of writing the song: “It was a direct inspiration, because by contrast, London was very quiet. It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions. I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; DeGaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing.” Legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen also spoke about the massive influence of the song in 1985: “That one line, ‘What can a poor boy do but sing in a rock and roll band?’ is one of the greatest rock and roll lines of all time. The song has that edge-of-the-cliff thing when you hit it. And it’s funny; it’s got humor to it.”
In the sense of flawed retrospect, which of course is always the best kind of retrospection, the feminist movement owes a great deal to the Stones. Without songs like “Under My Thumb,” the movement might have lost steam years ago, having nothing to campaign against. Never ones to stray away from seemingly misogynistic lyrics, The Stones’ “Under My Thumb” infuriated many such groups upon release. Jagger sings about a woman he has long-pursued, who has finally become subservient to his demands, like a pet. It is not difficult to imagine why lines like “Under my thumb/she’s the sweetest pet in the world” would get under the skin of many people, especially female activist groups. But in spite of the offensive lyrics, “Under My Thumb” is one of the Stones most catchy and popular songs to date.
It is difficult to imagine that a band that had their origins in the early 60s was able to make songs like this the 80s. Although the song drips with the same grit and soul that is the band’s trademark, this song is still stamped with the influences of times-a-changin. “Start Me Up” contains the same punchy drums and crisp production that was the staple of arena rock, and define the career of bands like Aerosmith, and later, heavy metal groups like Guns N Roses and Bon Jovi. I personally love it when Jagger emphatically sings “We will never stop, never never never stop.” 50 years since their debut, the Stones are in talks for another album. I guess they are delivering on their promise.
This is probably my first wild card, but the brilliance of “100 Years Ago” can’t be ignored. Goat’s Head Soup is often unfairly deemed as the Stones album that commenced the end of their “genius” period. I strongly disagree, and for anyone that has never heard the 1978 Some Girls album, the Stones never really abandoned their genius. “100 Years Ago” is one of the prime examples of why I think Jagger is the finest vocalist in rock history. Most vocalists just sing, but Jagger uses his voice as an instrument, most times just as dynamic as Richards’ guitar riffs and Charlie Watts’ drumming. The one thing that is commonly said about Goat’s Head Soup, often in derision, is how unorganized the album feels, with critics pointing out that the members of the band all seem to be moving in different directions. I don’t think there is a more shining example of this than in “100 Years Ago,” but the chaotic feel of the song and overall album is something I enjoy. If you find yourself listening to this song, you will notice that it seems to be a collage of many songs put together in sort of a brilliant odyssey of music. I love it, and it’s one of my favorite songs in their entire catalog.
The Stones’ Out of Our Heads is one of their turning point albums, when they stopped solely covering Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters songs and instead began releasing their own material. The Stones first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, once locked Richards and Jagger in a room and told them not to come until they had written a song. The song they wrote eventually became “As Tears Go By,” the most famous version released by long-time Jagger girlfriend, Marianne Faithful. But it was these early exercises that allowed Jagger and Richards to become the greatest song writers in rock and roll history (sorry Lennon/McCartney). “The Spider and The Fly” is one of those early songs that the Stones wrote, and eventually became the staple of their career.
Every time I hear that introduction, with that mellow guitar strumming, I am put at ease. Although they created some of the greatest songs in rock history, The Stones were also a great cover band. In the 2nd version of the Jordan “Jerry” Ragovoy hit, The Stones scored big points in the UK, and after Americans got their fingers out of their asses, the U.S. too. Their version “Time Is On My Side” is one of the most famous in the Stones catalog, and continues to be a big presence on classic rock radio stations around the world.
How do you conclude a flawless album? With songs like “Shine a Light.” Although “Shine a Light” is technically the second-to-last song, with the outstanding “Soul Survivor” as the final track, “Shine a Light” restores order to the chaos we experience on the rollercoaster ride that is Exile on Main Street. I’m not sure if Jagger has ever delivered a more emotional rendering of a song than he does on “Shine a Light.” There is something deeply moving in the way Jagger says :”May the good lord shine a light on you/Make every song you sing, your favorite tune.”
A lot of the Stones’ albums have a bit of the same organizational formula. This is not to say the albums are identical artistically, like The Hangover and The Hangover 2, it’s just that a lot of times the types of songs on each album are arranged in similar order to one another. For instance, many of closing tracks on Stones’ albums are songs that can act as rallying cries for the human race, such as “Soul Survivor” on Exile and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on Let It Bleed (and as I type that, I’m not sure I even agree with myself, but it sounds good nonetheless). Although sometimes the Stones are often mislabeled as vain rockers only concerned with issues pertaining to sex or drugs, “Salt of The Earth” is one of the prime examples of their more conscious sentimentality. Richards commences the song, briefly singing lead. Jagger then follows, toasting the blue collar workers of the world and, well, the salt of the Earth. Both men sound pained in their vocals, allowing for a deeply moving portrait of the human race. Sometimes, in our everyday perusing of celebrity gossip, we forget about the men and women of the world who often work demeaning jobs just to feed their families. The Stones pay their respects with the concluding track to the masterpiece of an album, Beggars’ Banquet.
Although the Stones built their initial career aspirations on the styling of blues legends such as Muddy Waters and Little Walter, they were never abashed in their appreciation of the honky tonk. Many of their songs combine country music with the rock/blues they were so great at obtaining in their sound. “Dead Flowers” might be the greatest and most superb example of the Rock-meets-Blues songs in their catalog. Again, I refer to Gram Parsons here, the musician that tragically died before the world caught on to how brilliant he was. Parsons was responsible for The Byrds’ greatest album, and his solo material is timeless. His groundbreaking approach to making country music had a direct influence on Richards, and “Dead Flowers” is a shining example of Richards getting his Parsons on. The song is a classic in a sea of classics, included on the album Sticky Fingers.
For this very same blog, I once wrote a post about how awesome of a song “You Got The Silver” is. Since I’m lazy, rather than write a fresh and better post here, I will just refer you to the one I wrote before.
I imagine it’s very difficult for a non-Stones fan to sympathize much with the likes of Jagger, who has penned some of the most offensive lyrics in music history. But on “No Expectations,” it’s not hard not to feel sorry for the man singing this sad song. The Stones quiet things down a bit on the second track to Beggars’ Banquet as Jagger sings about the increasingly dim prospect of maintaining a healthy relationship with his female subject. Although this is the same man who made “Under My Thumb,” I still find myself feeling for Jagger, namely when he says “So take me to an airport/And put me on a plane/I got no expectations/To pass through here again.” The song juxtaposes brilliantly with the raucous “Sympathy for the Devil” which directly precedes it on the album.
“All Down The Line” is another song that was initially recorded in the 60s that later ended up in polished fashion on Exile. This early version was acoustic, missing Bill Wyman’s fantastic electric bass. Session musicians Nicky Hopkins and Bobby Keys are also featured along with the band, and Kathi McDonald contributes backing vocals. Like many of the songs on the album, “All Down The Line” is notable for its poignant portrait of America. Backed by McDonald’s and Richards’ vocals, and a groove complete with saxophone, trombone, and trumpet, Jagger describes the many characters and sights that populate the American countryside. Although The Stones were from Britain, they were greatly intrigued by American culture (not to mention fleeing British officials at this time for not paying taxes) and Exile on Main Street is commonly referred to by critics as the “Consummate American Rock and Roll Album.” With songs like “All Down The Line,” it’s not hard to see why.
It’s no secret that The Stones loved women, and when they wanted to, they could get down right romantic. In his autobiography, Richards says that he’s been saved more times in his life by women than by men. In my opinion, “Wild Horses” is the greatest love song in rock. Although The Stones have many contenders for this title in their own catalog, such as “Let It Bleed” or “Loving Cup,” “Wild Horses” can’t be beat. In the landmark documentary, Gimme Shelter, there is an incredible scene where the band is listening to the finished recording of the song for the first time. Richards can be seen on the floor, quietly mumbling the lyrics of the song. Watts appears stoic and impressed at the same time. The third track on Sticky Fingers, “Wild Horses” continues to be one of the most popular among fans of The Stones, and with good reason.
Some girls give me money. Some girls buy me clothes. Some girls give me jewlry, that I never thought I’d own. Some girls give me diamonds. Some girls, heart attacks. Some girls I give all my bread to, I don’t ever won’t it back. With those few lines, you have the entire essence of the song. Upon the song’s released, many women took offense to it in general, but many African American women were upset by the line “And black girls want to get fucked all night.” Richards identified with their claims, and addressed them in his 2010 autobiography, saying “I’ve met a lot of black women. And quite honestly, a lot of them do.”
“Let It Bleed” is my idea of a true love song. I know many teenage girls are swept away when they hear Bruno Mars talk about how perfect they are, but those puppy love sentiments don’t stack up to the realist bent of a song like “Let It Bleed.” “We all need someone we can bleed on/And if you want, you can bleed on me” is a much more powerful statement of love to me than “I love you just the way you are,” which of course, in all potential cases, is complete bullshit. But maybe I’m wrong.
With the release of The Beatles’ landmark recording, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, many people in the music business lost perspective. Often times this manifested itself in week-long treks across the country, with nothing but a tank full of gas and a glove compartment full of LSD. In other cases it caused many misguided attempts to capture the brilliance of what the Beatles had accomplished. Enter The Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, an album full of trippy sounds and even trippier lyrics. Stones’ fans are truly polarized on the issue of the album’s true significance in the band’s folklore. Some call it an underrated classic, while others call it garbage. However, “She’s A Rainbow” is one of the undisputed highlights of the album and the band’s career in general. John Lennon famously derided the song, calling it a complete rip off of his Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” Although he has a strong case, the song is a gem nonetheless.
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the 40th anniversary edition of Exile, and was finally able to hear a bunch of unreleased songs that I had often read about. I initially expected these songs to be, at the most, interesting. I was shocked to see (hear, I guess) how amazing the unreleased material was. “I’m Not Signifying” is probably the most shining example of these songs, and in my eyes, the song ranks right up there with the best the band has ever produced. I often contemplate the career achievements of The Stones with wonder and admiration, but I cannot for the life of me understand why this song was not included on the album. Although Exile is perfect as is in it’s original form, there is no way that it should have taken 40 years for the world to hear “I’m Not Signifying,” one of the Stones’ most bluesiest songs to date. There is something haunting in Jagger’s voice on this one, as he impressively fluctuates his tone and pitch to properly suit the plodding, soulful groove, which is complete with crisp guitar and stellar harmonica work. “Signifying” is a term that originated from African Americans, who often used the colloquialism to describe a practice of blurring the meaning between a figurative and denotative meaning of a word or phrase. It is scary to think that Exile could have easily been better than the masterpiece that it already is.
“Let’s Spend The Night Together” is one of the catchiest songs in the band’s career, surpassed only by “Satisfaction.” In their early song writing days, Jagger and Richards mostly sought to imitate the work of past legends, such as Little Richard and Buddy Holly. Although all their early work contains at least some aspects of the intangible qualities that would make them the world’s greatest band, these early songs mostly set the groundwork for the huge leaps they would take in the coming years. Still, “Let’s Spend The Night Together” is the work of a band hungry to prove themselves, and the intensity of the song seemingly foreshadows the legendary career to come.
Keith Richards had two kids in the 70s: a daughter named Angela and a son named Tara. Richards has said that when writing “Little T & A” the coincidence happened by accident, and was not intentional. I’m sure that made everyone feel a lot better, because the “Little T & A” that Richards refers to in the song has little do with children. The song is a pure rocker, and is one of many shining moments on the Stones’ 1981 album, Tattoo You.
I didn’t want to include this one only because I’m sure everyone has heard it before. With songs like “Gimme Shelter,” “You Got the Silver,” and “Midnight Rambler,” Let It Bleed is already flawless without this concluding track, but I won’t complain about added goodies. There are many reasons why this song continues to be so popular among music fans, and somehow manages to pop up in at least one major blockbuster film at least once a year. According to Jagger, the reason why the choir singers were included was for the juxtaposition effect. The gritty voice of Jagger juxtaposes nicely with the angelic voices of the choir singers, and the overall song has a very Sunday-morning-at-church type of vibe. The Stones were true students of soul in the beginning of their earlier career, and their studies eventually allowed them becomes masters in their own right. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is the culmination of talented people coming into their own style of play.
I don’t know what it is about this one, but in my eyes, it’s by far the most emo of the Stones songs. Through the pained vocals of Jagger, we travel through the underworld of America, via pissing rooms and smelly bordellos. I have always interpreted the anonymous band in question to be the Stones themselves, and “Torn and Frayed” is an excellent portrait of the pressures of being in the world’s most famous rock band. I’m sure all the songs on Exile have their own huge cult following and an entire cannons worth of information written on them, but I don’t ever hear many people speak of the song, and that’s a shame. Every song on Exile plays a part in making it the finest rock album ever, but “Torn and Frayed” is definitely one of the biggest contributors.
I’m only at song 30, and I’m starting to realize some of my favorite Stones songs aren’t even going make a Top 50 list. But anyways… It’s Only Rock & Roll is a Stones album that hasn’t moved and grooved me in the same way as some of the others, even though the album is much better than a lot of the songs that come out today (the reggae-influenced “Luxury” is awesome). With all that said, the title track is definitely something to celebrate. Jagger and Richards often get much of the credit for the band’s work, but apparently guitarist Ronnie Wood was behind the magic on this one. Wood replaced Mick Taylor (who replaced Brian Jones) after The Goat’s Head Soup album, and has been with the band ever since. No one really knows why Mick Taylor quit the band after only a few years, but his brilliant guitar work is admired by all Stones fans. I know it’s only rock and roll…but I like it. Word.
And now on to “Loving Cup,” yet another song from the Exile on Main Street album. (If you haven’t realized by now, Exile is a damn good album). An early version of “Loving Cup” was recorded during the legendary Let It Bleed sessions, but the song was polished and reworked during the Exile sessions and, fortunately for us, finally made it onto the album. Here I will take a break from talking about the Stones and talk about Bobby Keys. Keys is one of those session musicians that contribute to the legendary recordings of people like The Who, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison, but never seems to gain much recognition outside of music insiders themselves. On “Loving Cup,” the session musicians are the cream of crop (although Bill Wyman’s and Charlie Watts’ collaborative drum work is incredible). Nicky Hopkins, another such session musician, is responsible for that gentle piano that plays throughout the song. The harmonic piano, combined with Keys on the saxophone, and of course, the Stones themselves, make this one of the many delightful experiences on the album.
Although “Loving Cup” might be the greatest love song in the Stones catalog, “Star, Star” is far from it, depending on what your definition of the word “love” is, or “is” is. Unfortunately, hip-hop often gets a bad rap for countless rhymes about bitches and hoes, but the Stones were singing about the not so classy women of the world long before 50 cent did it. Out of all the songs that the Stones were criticized for, “Star,Star,” was by far the most offensive and controversial. To my knowledge, the song continues to be banned from most classic rock radio stations, even in our day and age. Throughout the song, Jagger celebrates the love affair he had with a real-life, anonymous groupie who knew what was what in the bedroom so to speak, and how much he misses her affection and two-tone kisses. Not only were the Stones in trouble with feminist groups upon its release, but also John Wayne because of the line “Yeah I’m making bets that you gon’ get John Wayne before he dies.” The whole song is one big ode to a particular groupie, who many have speculated about since the song’s release. Jagger originally planned to name the song “Fuck a Star,” but was prohibited. Instead, he cleverly designed the chorus of the song, which is seemingly the phrase, “You’re a starfucker” repeated, but is actually “Fuck a star.” Genius.
I guess I should put “Ruby Tuesday” here to offset the demeaning bent of “Starfucker.” That, and “Ruby Tuesday” is a also great song. Richards wrote the song about his ex-girlfriend Linda Keith, who left Richards to date Jimi Hendrix and party in London nightclubs. From the moment you hear the tantalizing “She would never say where she was from/Yesterday don’t matter if it’s done,” you immediately know that you are about to experience something special. In a rare moment of non-annoying, pseudo-humbleness, Jagger said that he is very proud of the song during an interview with Jann Wenner in a 1995 issue of Rolling Stone magazine: “It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.”
With so many classic songs on their resume, The Stones have tons of songs that for whatever reason, don’t seem to have the sort of popularity that they deserve. “Moonlight Mile” is an example of this unfortunate phenomenon. Most likely, the fact that Sticky Fingers is a flawless album has something to do with it. Either way, “Moonlight Mile” is one of the finest moments of the Stones career, and brilliantly concludes what many (and somedays I as well) believe to be the Stones greatest album.
The Stones’ various dabbling in country always seemed to produce amazing results. “Far Away Eyes,” from the last really great Stones album, 1978’s Some Girls, is one of these results. One of the reasons why I believe Jagger is the most talented vocalist in Rock is how he is able to transform his voice to match the overall essence of the song. In “Far Away Eyes,” he dons the persona of a American southerner while thinking about his lady. Although the song is deeply emotional, it also sparkles with humor that isn’t solely based on Jagger’s deliberate country accent. It has more to do with things like him speeding through red lights because of the words he heard a preacher say on the radio. Presented in the chorus, The Stones’ advice is simple yet wise: “If you’re down on your luck/And life ain’t worth a damn/Find a girl with faraway eyes.”
If you love live rock albums, you have to love The Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. Although this cover of the Chuck Berry classic first appeared on The Stones debut album, the live version of the song is definitely the best. Richards has cited Berry as his biggest artistic influence, and the two were able to perform together later in their careers. One of the songs they performed together was “Carol,” and courtesy of Youtube, you can watch Berry scold Richards for not playing his material the right way. Richards has spoken about the bittersweet blessing that playing with Berry was for him. On one hand, Berry is his idol, but is also notoriously difficult to work with.
For much of this list, I have been focusing exclusively on the brilliance of Jagger and Richards, but it’s time to give the drummer some. Charlie Watts was with the band since the beginning, and ranks as one of the greatest drummers rock music has ever seen. Richards has often cited Watts as the real heart and soul of the band, and I’m sure many Stones fans would agree. On “Get Off Of My Cloud,” one of the band’s early recordings, Watts starts things off with a superb introduction, then maintains the speedy chaos of the song with his energetic playing. It’s cool to hear Jagger warning people about stepping all in his grill, but mostly the song is dominated by those punchy drums from Watts.
“Little Red Rooster” is a song that has seemingly been covered by every rock musician in existence. After Sam Cooke had success covering the original Howlin’ Wolf version, the young men of The Stones decided to have a crack at it in 1964. They recorded it at Chess Studios, the same studio that blues legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf himself recorded, and the same studio that was portrayed in the Cadillac Records movie. What shocks me most about the Stones is not the arrests or drug abuse, but how brave they were in those early times. You had five British lads recording American Blues music, which originated from African Americans. The Stones were neither unabashed in their appreciation of the music or of their playing of it. “Little Red Rooster” is one of their best attempts to get the blues down.
The first track of Exile brims with as much harmonic ferocity as is possible in music, and sets the pace for the rest of the album. Even on the tracks on Exile that take a slower route, they still are marked by intensity. “Rocks Off” is quite possibly the greatest kick-off to an album in rock history, and it is a real shame that the song is not more popular. Like other songs of the Stones’ catalog, which surpasses impressive, “Rocks Off” is a victim to an unfair lack of recognition. The song might also be the most definitive portrait of The Stones during their Exile period, in which they were basically criminals on the run from The British government. The lines here intensely denote the intensity of their lives during this time, such as “I zip in through the day at lightning speed/Plug in, flush out, and fire the fuckin’ feed.” Like “Before They Make Me Run,” and of course, “Street Fighting Man,” “Rocks Off” is fighting music, with The Stones rallying themselves against the obstacles stacked against them. I really love this one.
I’m sure many Stones would agree that the Some Girls album is the strongest testament of how talented the musicians were. The albums they created in the late 60s and early 70s far surpass traditional notions of the human mind is capable of creating, but Some Girls came at a much different time in a much different form than those albums. Although this might sound redundant or obvious, music in the late 70s was very different. The kings of rock were no longer blues enthusiasts from Britain, but punk rockers like The Clash, Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. Around 1978, The Stones were already seen in the eyes of many as archaic “has-beens.” On “Shattered,” The Stones proved that they could out punk the punk rockers. Although the song is a marked difference than the previous of the band, The Stones still manage to mix their own swag with the punk rock groove. The artists that embrace changing musical trends while still maintaining their original essence are the ones who become legends. With the release of Some Girls, I’m not sure any questions remained as to where The Stones ranked in rock history.
It’s kind of weird to think that a band with such unprecedented success were at one point just kids trying to get their feet wet in the music biz. Although The Stones are probably most admired for the material they released in the late 60s/early 70s, their early material is notable for its intensity. The Stones had not yet become synonymous with rock music at this point, and these early tracks convey the immense hunger these young Brits had to infiltrate the American pop music scene. “She Said Yeah” is a cover of 50s rock and roll singer, Larry Williams’ song. The song has been covered by many artists, such as The Animals, but of course in my opinion The Stones version is the best. The Stones’ version popped up recently as the soundtrack to a kick-ass commercial for Bleu De Chanel cologne.
In 1993, The Stones released the compilation album, Jump Back. This is the first ever album I bought from the band, when I first started discovering their music some 5 or 6 years ago. One day I walked into Wal-Mart expecting to stalk up on Stones disc at a cheap price, and was shocked that this was the only album that you could buy in the store. Anyways, in the liner notes, the band talk about the formation of the song: According to Keith Richards: “‘Beast of Burden’ was another one where Mick just filled in the verses. With the Stones, you take a long song, play it and see if there are any takers. Sometimes they ignore it, sometimes they grab it and record it. After all the faster numbers of Some Girls, everybody settled down and enjoyed the slow one.”
Tattoo You is another one of the Stones albums that doesn’t seem to have as much of a following as it deserves. It’s a shame, because songs like “Start Me Up” and “Hang Fire” are classic tunes. “Waiting On A Friend” is arguably the best song on the album, and consequentially was released as a single. Jagger sounds wholly genuine as he sings “I’m not waiting on a lady/I’m just waiting on a friend” and “Don’t need a whore/I don’t need no booze/Don’t need a virgin priest/But I need someone I can cry to/I need someone to protect.” With songs like “Starfucker” to their credit, it’s always nice to see the softer side of The Stones.
“Every time I’m walking on down the street
Some pretty Mama starts breaking down on me
Stop breaking down, baby please stop breaking down
Stuff is gonna bust your brain out baby
Yeah, It’s gonna make you lose your mind”
The Stones never hid their admiration for Robert Johnson, the godfather of Blues music. In the course of their career, they have covered many Johnson songs, such as “Love in Vain (which I could not in good conscious leave off this list, so I did in a bad one). The Stones rendition manages to keep the blues integrity of Johnson’s original, while maintaining the personality of the band at the same time. It’s a fantastic cover, and goes nicely with all the other fantastic recordings on the musical mammoth, Exile on Main Street.
And yet another song from Exile. Like I’ve probably mentioned before, I like to look at the album as one long road trip through the heart of the American underworld. Songs like “Sweet Virginia” stray away from the glossed over version of America that is sometimes presented in mainstream culture, and instead find scenic beauty elsewhere, mostly in the mire and grit of the country we all love. In the song, Jagger melodically pleads with a female to abandon her conservative ways and emancipate herself. In a way, “Sweet Virginia” is like the explicit version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” Some have wisely claimed that “Virginia” is supposed to symbolize a female virgin. I’m not sure if this is actually the case, but I do know that “got to scrap the shit right off your shoes” is a line that we should all strive to live by, in both its literal and metaphorical sense.
When the band released Beggars Banquet in 1968, the follow-up to the psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request, many folks were elated that The Stones had returned back to the soul-infused rock and roll that they had previously been known for. When they came back to the blues, they had perfected their craft, and their cover of Robert Wilkins’ is just one of the amazing songs from this masterpiece. Beggars Banquet would also be the last time Brian Jones played as a full member of the band.
The Stones’ Out Of Their Heads is the first album that brought them real attention from the mainstream, in the form of chart topping success and screaming teenage girls (it’s interesting to think that those same teenage girls could potentially be screaming for Justin Bieber if they belonged to the present day). This album contained mostly covers, but the originals were explosive, such as “The Last Time,” “The Spider and The Fly,” and of course, “Satisfaction.” “I’m Free” was the last song on the UK edition of the album, but in my honest opinion, the live Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out is the best recorded version of the song. The Stones also performed a live version of “I’m Free” in the excellent Martin Scorsese documentary, Shine A Light.
One of the most tragic things about life is that often times immensely talented people die long before they have properly reached their potential. Buddy Holly is one of these cases, who tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 22. As one of the pioneers of rock and roll music, Holly paved the way for many artists to become successful. The Stones’ cover was the first ever single for the band, and the first time the world was introduced to them. It is interesting to see The Stones’ early live performances of the song on Youtube. For instance, Mick Jagger’s timidity is in great contrast to the flamboyant, supremely confident nature that he would adopt in later years, and inspire Maroon 5 to write a song about.
Much to the delight of long-time Stones fans, the band released their 24th studio album in 2005. There aren’t too many bands that can reach the level of quality and longevity that the Stones have reached in their long career (and according to rumor mill sources, The Stones are in talks for another album, possibly produced by Jack White). It seems impossible that the band that gifted the world with such timeless material could do it more than 40 years after their Rock inauguration back in 1962, but A Bigger Bang somehow contains some of the Stones finest work to date. “Let Me Down Slow” is a true testament to how talented these old dudes were, and continue to be.
I know this decision, and probably the entire list come to think of it, will get me a lot of flack. However, I don’t care. “I Just Want To See His Face” isn’t really a song at all in the traditional sense, lacking clear vocals and a clear chorus, but for some reason, it deeply appeals to me. The song came about from an informal jam session between Mick Jagger, Mick Taylor, and Charlie Watts. Bill Janovitz, of Buffalo Tom fame, once said: “‘I Just Want to See His Face’ has the band exploring the music of America, specifically the country, blues, folk, and soul of the South. It sounds ancient and from another planet; a swampy, stompy gospel song that was recorded to intentionally sound as if it is a field recording document of a long-ago church basement revival meeting.” The song also played a huge role in everyone’s favorite whiskey-infused-singer-songwriter, Tom Waits: “That song had a big impact on me, particularly learning how to sing in that high falsetto, the way Jagger does. When he sings like a girl, I go crazy,” Waits says. “This is just a tree of life. This record is the watering hole.” I’m sure the “perfect” Christians out there have never experienced this sensation, but for the rest of us, sometimes you have moments when you don’t want to talk about Jesus, you just want to see his face.
Aftermath: Honorable Mentions