Time doesn’t apply to the Rolling Stones quite like it does to other rock bands. Their longevity is staggering — this band has been around for 55 years. Fifty-five years! Founding members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts have been hitched to each other for far longer than the vast majority of marriages last — longer than a lot of lives last, too.
That staying power is an incredible achievement, and it also has a distorting effect. If you’re a fan of the Stones, it’s hard not to always compare them with their glorious 1968 to 1972 peak, when they fully assimilated all their blues, rock-and-roll, R&B, and country influences and turned it into something decadent, dark, ironic, sexy, and wholly their own. That leaves 45 ensuing years of gradually declining cultural relevance and, if we’re being honest, more mediocre music than good, and a seemingly ceaseless parade of product — compilation albums, concert films, live albums, and, recently, the traveling “Exhibitionism” display of band memorabilia. In 2017, it seems equally reasonable to think of the Rolling Stones as rock gods or greedy dinosaurs. Either characterization, though, is inadequate.
In all likelihood, the band’s most recent studio album, the all-blues cover effort Blue & Lonesome, is going to be its last. It’d been 11 years since the previous one, and Mick, Keith, and Charlie are north of 70 years old. Guitarist Ronnie Wood, who joined up in 1976, is the youngster at 69. At some point, time is going to do to them what time always does. Before that though, let’s try and take account of what the Rolling Stones have achieved since they set out from London in 1962. As the following 373 songs attest, it’s been an improbably long, wildly lucrative, bumpy, and very often brilliant rock-and-roll life.
Some general notes before we start:
— Keith Richards is the Rolling Stone everyone loves, the one with whom you could imagine sharing a beer. Mick, not so much. If Jagger were even to deign to have a drink with a plebe, I suspect it’d entail something like his sipping a Peter Thiel vampire smoothie while peering at you through jeweled binoculars and having a Slovenian model smooth anti-aging unguents into his wrinkles. In other words, he’s not cool and Keith is. The problem with that dynamic is that it diminishes Mick’s contribution. A great Rolling Stones song, unlike a great Beatles song or a great Led Zeppelin song, is the result of the band’s leaders working at a peak at the same time. Keith Richards knocks out solid melodies and guitar riffs like the rest of us breathe. (Charlie Watts’s drumming is just as consistent.) So what really separates apex Stones from good Stones, and good Stones from bad Stones is Mick Jagger matching Keith’s excellence. When his singing is engaged and his lyrics have purpose, the results are strong. When he doesn’t, there’s not much Keith can do to help. Keith is the constant; Mick is the variable. (Mick was also the one who pushed the band toward new sounds and styles. Was he a trend chaser? Yes, but he often caught worthwhile sounds.)
— We think of the Rolling Stones as a blues-rock band. Over its six-decade existence, though, the outfit has had several distinct musical periods. From 1962 to 1965, the band — Mick, Keith, Charlie, bassist Bill Wyman, and guitarist Brian Jones, who, along with manager-producer Andrew Loog Oldham, was an important driving force in the early days — was, by design, derivative of its musical heroes. This period includes a lot of music that, to my ears, doesn’t hold up today. When you can easily stream a Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf original, the baby Stones’ covers of mid-century blues material become less enticing. The real thing is right there waiting for you. The band didn’t put out a fully absorbing album till the second half of 1965, not coincidentally when Jagger and Richards started to consistently generate original material.
— The band’s less blues-oriented material from 1966 and 1967 constitutes a minor peak. These guys were very good at writing and recording pop songs! Unique ones, too. The Stones’ sound during this mini-era was pop with punkish, at times almost metallic touches, adorned with Brian Jones’s (then at his creative peak) distinctive instrumental textures — textures lost when his time in the band was up. And once the Stones started down the heavier, harder rocking road, they never really returned to the playful, exuberant atmosphere of albums like Between the Buttons.
— The ’80s weren’t as creatively bad for the Stones as is commonly thought. Mick may have been pandering to glossy production trends in search of a hit, but the material on 1986’s often-maligned Dirty Work, for example, is stronger than the more conventional Stones-isms of better known ’70s albums like It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. If you’re not married to a singular idea of how the band should sound, the ’80s Stones have a lot to offer. Once you get to the ’90s though, the best you can do is to cherry-pick the good songs; the albums become interchangeable, marred by musical and lyrical clichés.
— The Rolling Stones have multiple songs that are lyrically reprehensible to women and people of color — often both at the same time. If I were questioned about this topic at the Pearly Gates, I’d suggest that the Stones’ offensive attitudes had more to do with a craven desire to be provocative than any fundamental malignant worldview, but maybe I’m a fool. Whatever the true motivation behind them, a handful of the band’s songs have been tarred by Jagger and Richards’s sex and race insensitivity. There’s no getting around it. Then there’s the matter of appropriation. Excepting perhaps Elvis, there is no rock act that benefited more from drawing on black music than the Rolling Stones, who have repeatedly talked with respect and deference about how much they’ve taken from their musical idols. I do think that once the band took flight, its music represents a synthesis of their influences, rather than mere mimicry or theft. That said, I don’t know what you do with all these issues other than acknowledge that they’re a problem. Whether that problem is an aesthetically and/or ethically insurmountable one is up to you. (Perhaps comparison with the other great superstar English blues-appropriators Led Zeppelin is helpful here: The Stones weren’t nearly as blasé about stealing songwriting credits and far more diligent about helping their heroes gain wider exposure.)
— This ranking includes covers recorded by the band as well as original compositions. In both instances, I used the earliest album or EP appearance of a given song as the basis for the ranking. (A lot of Stones songs, especially in the very early days, showed up on multiple albums; there’s also a lot of material included on more than one live album.) I didn’t include songs that were only available unofficially. (So no “Cocksucker Blues.”) There are two legitimately released sources of material I discounted. Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago 1981 is co-credited to Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones. It’s not a Rolling Stones album. It’s a Muddy Waters album on which different members of the Stones appear at different times. Similarly, there are two songs on the L.A. Friday live recording where Billy Preston sings his own songs while backed by the Stones. Those are Billy Preston performances, not Rolling Stones performances. In both cases to include them in this ranking would’ve felt misleading.
Anyway, enough preamble. Ladies and gentlemen: The Rolling Stones.
374. “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” Their Satanic Majesties Request
The gaudy album from which this song comes isn’t nearly as much of a post–Sgt. Pepper’s trend-chasing psychedelic disaster as is commonly believed. Except, that is, for this song, a full eight-and-a-half-minute musical blart.
373. “Indian Girl,” Emotional Rescue
Mick sings to the destitute titular character — a hungry survivor in a war-torn country who, it’s implied, has been raped — that “life just goes on getting harder and harder.” Nice. Maybe “Indian Girl” works if you read it as an anti-imperialist character sketch, but if you’re willing to give the benefit of that doubt, then try explaining the cartoonishly sentimental music that accompanies Jagger’s lyrics. Those “Latin” horns? Whatever accent Mick is going for when he sings, “They’re fighting for Mr. Castro / on the streets of Angola”? This song is the pits.
372. “Going Home,” Aftermath
Here and there you’ll find people arguing that this clattering jam, the final track on the otherwise excellent Aftermath, is innovative because of its 11-minute length — nearly unprecedented for a rock band in 1966. The first three minutes of “Going Home” consist of a non-awful blues tune. The following eight are aimless, uninspired, and not especially skillful.
371. “Melody,” Black and Blue
Does anybody under 50 much remember Billy Preston these days? For a spell in the late ’60s and ’70s, the singer-keyboardist was a star, one sufficiently esteemed to play with the Beatles on Let It Be and with the Stones on a handful of songs, including this tedious lump of R&B. It’s based on Preston’s earlier, marginally better song “Do You Love Me?”
370. “Harlem Shuffle,” Dirty Work
The original version of this song, recorded in 1963 by Bob & Earl is suave and limber. The Stones’ version is klutzy and overbearing. The music video is somehow even worse.
369. “Short and Curlies,” It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll
Frequent Stones’ sideman Ian Stewart’s boogie-woogie piano playing on this dreck isn’t embarrassing. The rest of the song, the potential entertainment value of which lies in how funny listeners find lines like “She’s got me by the balls,” very much is.
368. “Key to the Highway,” Dirty Work
This 30-second snippet is maybe too marginal to be ranked so harshly. Then again, it’s a wordless 30-second snippet that the Stones seemed to feel was worth appending to the end of one of their better albums of the ’80s, so render under Jagger what is Jagger’s.
367. “On With the Show,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
In context as the closing track to a muddled concept album, this twee “see you next time” music-hall number at least makes sense (of a sort). On it’s own, it’s a flimsy period piece.
366. “Baby Break It Down,” Voodoo Lounge
A mid-tempo blandwich.
365. “Now I’ve Got a Witness (Like Uncle Gene and Uncle Phil),” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
The most distinctive thing about this organ-driven 1964 instrumental is its title, a reference to Stones’ heroes Gene Pitney and Phil Spector.
364. “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” Five by Five (EP)
The title of this 1964 instrumental bears the address of Chicago’s Chess Records and recording studio, where so many of the Stones’ blues heroes recorded. The instrumental itself is almost diverting.
363. “Under the Boardwalk,” 12 X 5
If my time machine ever starts working, I’m going to set it for 1964 and tell the Rolling Stones that they weren’t, in fact, required to record nondescript versions of songs that had already been hits for other artists.
362. “Hearts for Sale,” Steel Wheels
Aside from a brief jolt when the song modulates to a major key for bridge, this track flatlines.
361. “Hitch Hike,” Out of Our Heads
A draggy Marvin Gaye cover.
360. “Mr. Pitiful,” Light the Fuse
Otis Redding co-wrote this with Steve Cropper and included it on his brilliant The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. The Stones’ cover is skippable.
359. “Hey Negrita,” Black and Blue
The Stones were casting around for new influences on 1976’s Black and Blue, and “Hey Negrita” is one of the album’s two dalliances with reggae. But even if you forgive the iffy lyrics — “Negrita” translates to “little black girl” — the song doesn’t do anything interesting with the rhythms. This song is a ponderous five minutes. Aside from the Clash and Bad Brains, did any rock band figure out how to consistently do something interesting with reggae?
358. “Title 5,” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
A wordless, rudderless doodle from the late ’60s, included for some reason on the 2010 reissue of Exile on Main Street.
357. “Wish I’d Never Met You” (B-side)
An indolent blues song recorded in 1989 and released two years later.
356. “Get Up, Stand Up,” Light the Fuse
Yep, the Bob Marley anthem. The Stones put a cover of this on a live album recorded in Toronto in 2005, which was only made available as a Google Play Music download. It is, for this band, an interesting song choice. And it’s an uninteresting performance. If you’re curious Brussels Affair (Live 1973), also a Google Play exclusive, is fantastic.
355. “Back of My Hand,” A Bigger Bang
And bottom of the barrel. An inert blues.
354. “Cook Cook Blues” (B-side)
A justly forgotten song recorded in 1982 and released in 1989, “Cook Cook Blues” is a lifeless blues shuffle that sounds like a warm-up exercise. Most bands know better than to release this kind of stuff.
353. “Anyway You Look at It” (B-side)
The companion to 1997’s “Saint of Me” single, “Anyway You Look at It” is glacial gunk, complete with a maudlin cello part.
352. “Gomper,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
There are only so many ways to say that ornate psychedelia was not the Stones’ métier. Guru, how is it that a five-minute song like “Gomper” can feel endless?
351. “It Won’t Take Long,” A Bigger Bang
2005’s A Bigger Bang was a rebound for the band after the shaky Bridges to Babylon. And still there was no earthly reason it needed to be 16 songs long. This pro forma rocker should’ve wound up on the chopping block. (How is there not a Rolling Stones song called “Chopping Block?”)
350. “In Another Land,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
Bill Wyman on lead vocals! Which is something he never again did for the Stones. Given his his performance on this spaced-out track, that decision was probably for the best.
349. “Stoned” (B-Side)
Credited to the pseudonym Nanker Phelge, this 1963 band composition is an instrumental loosely based on Booker T. & the M.G.’s hit “Green Onions.” The song has the distinction of being the band’s first non-cover release. That’s the most interesting thing about it.
348. “I’m Gonna Drive” (B-side)
Zero-impact blues-rock from 1994. A classic case of the band using a B-side (the flip to “Out of Tears”) as a dumping ground.
347. “Can’t Be Seen,” Steel Wheels
Keith’s lyrics are atrociously lazy: “I just can’t be seen with you … I just got obscene with you.” This is the kind of song that, if he’d written it, Eddie Money would’ve thought, I gotta do better.
346. “Tie You Up (The Pain of Love),” Undercover
Circa 1983, Huey Lewis and the News, for chrissakes, were doing knock-kneed uptown blues with more zeal than the Stones offered here.
345. “Off the Hook,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
A Jagger-Richards rewrite of a 1953 Little Walter song called “Off the Wall.” Interesting how in recasting the tune, the Stones dampened any spark or joy.
344. “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
An R&B standard by Bobby Troup, done by Stones on their 1964 debut LP. Apart from a couple of crashing Charlie drum fills, the performance is tepid.
343. “I’m a King Bee,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
Apparently Mick Jagger at one point told Rolling Stone, “What’s the point in listening to us do ‘I’m a King Bee’ when you can hear Slim Harpo do it?” Mick’s no dummy.
342. “Sleep Tonight,” Dirty Work
A compassionately maundering Keith ballad.
341. “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
Brian Jones contributes a hip slide-guitar part to the band’s take on a Muddy Waters classic. As with so many of the Stones’ early blues covers, though, when you can hear the deeper, heavier, more unique originals, I don’t think the Stones’ versions (with a couple exceptions) offer more than historical interest.
340. “Mean Disposition,” Voodoo Lounge
Voodoo Lounge is an hour-long album that would’ve killed at 45 minutes. If you make it all the way to the end, you’ll hear this, a rockabilly-derived song that huffs and puffs and closes the album on a meh note.
339. “Fortune Teller,” Got Live If You Want It!
A cover of an Allen Toussaint composition, the Stones’ totally serviceable “Fortune Teller” suffers from the existence of the Who’s way, way more forceful version of the same song.
338. “Rock and a Hard Place,” Steel Wheels
Keith’s riff library isn’t the most wide-ranging, but he was obviously stripping his own playing for parts here.
337. “Don’t Lie to Me,” Metamorphosis
Even Jagger sounds bored on this Chuck Berry-fied cover of a Tampa Red tune.
336. “All About You,” Emotional Rescue
According to public lore, Keith Richards is the Rolling Stones’ beating rock-and-roll heart, the one who balances out Mick’s mercenary chart-hungry instincts. Sure. Fine. Fair enough. It’s just too bad that Keith’s “authenticity” sometimes manifests itself as a badly sung and deadly dull ballad like “All About You.”
335. “Blinded by Love,” Steel Wheels
The Stones usually put some kind of spin on their country songs. Usually.
334. “Try a Little Harder,” Metamorphosis
The tambourine and horns here are Motown-derived, and also the best thing about this 1964 song, kept in the vaults till 1975’s odds and ends compilation, Metamorphosis.
333. “Suck on the Jugular,” Voodoo Lounge
A slight dance tune beefed up with wheel-spinning instrumental breaks.
332. “Down the Road a Piece,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
Ian Stewart cranks up some good boogie-woogie piano, but this is another early Stones rocker that could be lost in the dustbin of history with no harm to our collective cultural understanding.
331. “The Nearness of You,” Live Licks
American songwriting great Hoagy Carmichael wrote this torchy ballad (with lyrics by Ned Washington) in 1938. Keith Richards croaked his way through it on 2004’s in-concert Live Licks. If you walked into a bar and randomly found Keith singing this alone at the piano, you’d have a story to tell. Outside of that fantasy scenario, Keith’s rendition is gloopy.
330. “Money,” The Rolling Stones EP
Barrett Strong’s 1959 original is priceless; the Beatles’$2 1963 cover nearly as valuable. The Stones attempt, from the same year as their Liverpudlian rivals, is a good effort.
329. “Honest I Do,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
A slow, feckless blues done originally — and best — by Jimmy Reed.
328. “Terrifying,” Steel Wheels
For the most part, 1989’s Steel Wheels found the band avoiding the then-contemporary sounds they’d been chasing for most of the ’80s in favor of more conventionally Stones-y sonics. “Terrifying,” though, is sunk by a surplus of chintzy processed guitar and keyboard.
327. “This Place Is Empty,” A Bigger Bang
Got a big presentation to give tomorrow and can’t sleep? You’re out of Ambien? Try this Keith bore.
326. “Fancy Man Blues,” After the Hurricane
An instance where the song’s title is better than the song. “Fancy Man Blues” was originally included on After the Hurricane, a 1989 compilation album released to benefit the victims of Hurricane Hugo. It’s a loose 12-bar blues, and if you’re keen to know, Mick Jagger’s harmonica solos cut the guitar leads.
325. “I Go Wild,” Voodoo Lounge
For a later-career Stones effort, Voodoo Lounge — the first album the band recorded without longtime bassist Bill Wyman — had a few galvanizing stylistic detours. “I Go Wild,” an overbearing riff tune, isn’t one of them.
324. “Can I Get a Witness,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
Despite Jagger’s game vocals, adding something fresh to a Holland-Dozier-Holland classic, one originally sung by Marvin Gaye, was too tall a task for the fresh-faced Stones.
323. “Moon Is Up,” Voodoo Lounge
Apparently Charlie Watts smacked a garbage can for percussion on this track. Other unusual tidbits in the mix: harmonium, a whining harmonica, castanets. Those sonic curiosities are more interesting than the song to which they belong. (There’s a great scene in Luca Guadagnino’s 2016 film A Bigger Splash where Ralph Fiennes’s producer character talks about coming up with the garbage can idea.)
322. “Rain Fall Down,” A Bigger Bang
Can rain fall up? Titular redundancy aside, “Rain Fall Down” is harmless funk, which probably wasn’t the point.
321. “Poison Ivy,” The Rolling Stones EP
A lightweight cover of a Lieber & Stoller song made famous by the Coasters. In a few years, the Stones wouldn’t feel the need, as Lieber & Stoller did with this composition, to come up with polite euphemisms for STDs.
320. “Slipping Away,” Steel Wheels
This creeping, creaking Keith ballad gets a boost when Mick comes in on the bridge.
319. “I Wanna Be Your Man,” The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years
The Stones’ third single was a Beatles cover (the Fabs recorded their own version), offered to the former by the latter in 1963. The differences between the two bands are already apparent: The Beatles’ eventual take is tightly exuberant; The Stones’ wilder and harsher. At this point in their respective careers, though, the Beatles sound was both more developed and more exciting.
318. “Good Times,” Out of Our Heads
Pleasant enough, and you can hear the Stones’ honest enthusiasm for the music of their idols, but the band was setting itself up to fail by covering a Sam Cooke tune.
317. “Good Time Woman,” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
All the good parts of this Exile outtake were pilfered and later used as the basis for “Tumbling Dice.”
316. “Some Girls,” Some Girls
Jeez Louise, this one. The music is so rakish and alluring — all that darting guitar and wailing harmonica. And the lyrics … I get that you’re rarely supposed to take Jagger’s words or delivery at face value, but “black girls just wanna get fucked all night,” to pick one of the song’s many examples, is hard to get past. Maybe this song is from the perspective of a boor rather than by one? That doesn’t make it easier to listen to.
315. “Hold on to Your Hat,” Steel Wheels
Another high-energy, low-inspiration Steel Wheels song. Jagger’s strained guttural singing makes me think of a belligerent blowhard trying to intimidate you at a bar by bumping you with his big ol’ belly.
314. “I’m Not Signifying,” Exile on Main Street (Deluxe Edition)
A pedestrian piano-led blues Exile outtake. Hard to know for sure, but “I’m Not Signifying” sounds like it has Mick’s ’70s vocal on it, unlike the other 2010-released Exile exiles, which featured vocal takes rerecorded years later.
313. “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” It’s Only Rock ’n Roll
This Motown cover, like most of the band’s Motown covers, never quite justifies its existence.
312. “Low Down,” Bridges to Babylon
All the rockers on Bridges to Babylon are smartly constructed and expertly played but lacking the ineffable mojo that makes for a great Stones song. So your enjoyment of “Low Down” depends on how much you get off on yeoman-like rock music and/or production and instrumental detail, like the way Joe Sublett’s saxophone subtly bolsters the bottom end.
311. “We’re Wastin’ Time,” Metamorphosis
Jagger, who was likely the only member of the band to perform on this overstuffed country waltz (which was recorded during the mid-’60s), sounds timid, as if he hasn’t figured out what he should be doing on the song. There probably wasn’t a good answer to be found.
310. “You Don’t Have to Mean It,” Bridges to Babylon
It’s a relief anytime Keith sings a Stones song that isn’t one of his trademark deathly ballads, so this reggae track on Bridges to Babylon is a step up from his usual spotlight moments. Still, it’s Stones reggae, so its appeal is mostly lost on me.
309. “Brand New Car,” Voodoo Lounge
Thanks mostly to a snazzy horn arrangement, “Brand New Car,” at the risk of belaboring the song’s central metaphor, is the equivalent of a zippy midsize sedan.
308. “Keep Up Blues,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
A well-played braggart’s blues. It sat on the shelves forever before being released in 2011.
307. “Citadel,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
Despite a couple juicy guitar riffs, “Citadel” doesn’t avoid the fate that dooms much of the tracks on Satanic Majesties — it now sounds like a parody of psychedelic pop-rock.
306. “Losing My Touch,” Forty Licks
After pointless Chuck Berry covers, my least favorite Stones subgenre is morose Keith Richards ballads. “Losing My Touch” isn’t the worst of those. That’s the best I can say about it.
305. “She Was Hot,” Undercover
As far as Rolling Stones songs about the emotional temperature of women go, “She Was Hot” is good, but not in the league of “She’s So Cold.”
304. “Oh, Baby (We Got a Good Thing Going),” The Rolling Stones, Now!
The Stones’ take on Barbara Lynn’s R&B chestnut rumbles.
303. “Come On,” More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)
This was the Rolling Stones’ very first release, in June 1963, and a sign of things to come — boy, oh, boy were there more spirited but thin Chuck Berry covers on the way.
302. “You Can’t Catch Me,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
Speaking of Chuck Berry covers …
301. “Talkin’ About You,” Out of Our Heads
I’m sure Mr. Berry enjoyed the respect and the royalties, but he would’ve been well served to have paid the young Rolling Stones to stop recording snoozy covers of his songs.
300. “Sparks Will Fly,” Voodoo Lounge
On the one hand, hearing Mick sing the line “I want to fuck your sweet ass” is cringeworthy. On the other, it’s a relief to hear him tackle a non-rote lyric, since that’s mostly what he was pumping out in the ’90s.
299. “So Divine (Aladdin Story),” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
The opening curvy guitar lines have a vague “Paint It Black” vibe, and the serpentine saxophone (if that’s what it is) sounds lifted from Dr. John’s classic psych-swamp album Gris-Gris. And yet the song and performance still sound like the band casting about for a stronger idea.
298. “Hide Your Love,” Goats Head Soup
Mick Jagger’s piano is the best thing about this blues romp. But, man, you hear enough of these undistinguished jammy blues tunes from the Stones’ post-classic, pre–Some Girls period and you start to feel like Beavis and Butt-Head yelling at a Pavement video: “Try harder!”
297. “Confessin’ the Blues,” Five by Five EP
The Stones took a methodical approach to this cover of a Jay McShann blues song, which they probably first heard performed by Little Walter. Both those artists’ versions are more authoritative than the Stones’.
296. “Surprise, Surprise,” The Rolling Stones, Now!
A meaty uptempo rocker from the period when the Stones were still figuring out what made them them. Actually, you know what other band did this song super well and rarely gets talked about? Them. That band was vicious.
295. “Down Home Girl,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
Mick does his best — which is pretty good — with lyrics like “Lord I swear / the perfume you wear / was made out of turnip greens,” on this Jerry Leiber–Arthur Butler song.
294. “Goin’ to a Go-Go,” Still Life
A classic Smokey Robinson Motown hit and a semi-corny Rolling Stones cover. Given the voluminous number of dud covers the Stones recorded, you’d think the guys would’ve taken a minute and considered their batting average with these things. Alas.
293. “Too Tight,” A Bigger Bang
The Platonic ideal of track-11-on-a-13-track-rock-album filler.
292. “Dangerous Beauty,” A Bigger Bang
Given that Mick is singing about Abu Ghraib, shouldn’t he sound a bit angrier? At least he was going for something lyrically.
291. “Ride ’Em on Down,” Blue & Lonesome
In late 2016, the Stones came full circle and, just like they did more than 50 years ago, released an album consisting entirely of covers of songs by the band’s formative touchstones. It’s a strong, lively effort and also a tad too classicist; a staid deference to Eddie Taylor’s original keeps the Stones’ version of “Ride ’Em on Down” from taking off. (Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant snuck lyrics from this song, originally done by Bukka White as “Shake ’Em on Down” and then revised by Taylor as “Ride ’Em on Down,” on to Led Zeppelin’s eerie “Hat’s Off to (Roy) Harper.” That’s a much cooler, weirder recording than the Stones’ attempt.)
290. “Natural Magic,” Singles 1968–1971
The B-side to Jagger’s “Memo From Turner” is, as far as I can tell, the only song to appear on a Rolling Stones album that doesn’t feature a single member of the band playing on it. So what is it? A short and groovy instrumental that leans heavily on Ry Cooder’s swampy slide guitar.
289. “Already Over Me,” Bridges to Babylon
Charlie Watts is a miracle. Once the Stones started to fade, there were plenty of songs where Jagger or Richards lollygagged. Not Charlie. He plays with wit and subtle flair, even on this Bridges to Babylon filler.
288. “If You Can’t Rock Me,” It’s Only Rock ’n Roll
Goats Head Soup was the inevitable letdown after the high of Exile on Main Street. It’s Only Rock ’n Roll continued the downward trend. The album’s opening track, “If You Can’t Rock Me,” illustrates the problem. It’s well-constructed rock music, and wholly devoid of any lyrical or instrumental spark.
287. “Hoo Doo Blues,” Blue & Lonesome
One of a few Blue & Lonesome tracks where the juice comes from Keith and Ronnie’s expert guitar interplay rather than Mick’s singing or blues harp. But “Hoo Doo Blues” is the only track on that album where Jagger’s vocal mannerisms don’t signify, not even as skill. It’s interesting to hear how the wizened edition of the Stones leans so much more on musicianship — solos, band dynamics — than it did in its baby days, when the songs were shorter and its energy wilder.
286. “Cherry Oh Baby,” Black and Blue
A lighthearted cover of a song by reggae singer Eric Donaldson held back by Charlie and Bill’s rhythmic tentativeness. Mick’s fake patois is irritating.
285. “Biggest Mistake,” A Bigger Bang
Like every song on A Bigger Bang, “Biggest Mistake” offers the audible pleasure of the Stones making music together in relatively stripped-down fashion, working all the songwriting and arranging tricks the bandmembers have learned over the years. So this is a mild countryish tune that goes down easy. That’s all, and that’s good.
284. “Little Rain,” Blue & Lonesome
Sometimes an excess of tasteful restraint only results in something that would’ve been a lot better with even just a little flair, as on this slow blues.
283. “She Saw Me Coming,” A Bigger Bang
Charlie is the reason this mid-tempo rocker has some shake in its heinie.
282. “Jump on Top of Me” (B-side)
The flip to 1994’s “You Got Me Rocking” single is a slick and randy rocker and better than most of the similar tunes found on that same year’s Voodoo Lounge. Keith and Ronnie Wood work small wonders with their guitar interplay here.
281. “Coming Down Again,” Goats Head Soup
Keith and Mick share the vocals on this gloopy, somehow still affecting Goats Head Soup ballad. Neither of them can save it from lyrics like “slip my tongue inside someone else’s pie / tasting better every time.”
280. “Mona (I Need You Baby),” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
Bo Diddley’s original is an echoed, jangling, hypnotic masterpiece of early rock and roll. It’s a song and performance that remain as weird, exciting, and distinctive today as I assume it did in 1957. The Rolling Stones’ version is decent.
279. “Carol,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
One of the band’s better Chuck Berry outings from its early days. And the run-through on 1969’s live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out has a sexiness rarely found in their Berry covers.
278. “Petrol Blues,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
A brief and briefly diverting voice-and-piano blues, in which Mick laments having to sell his Cadillac because gas has gotten too expensive.
277. “Too Tough,” Undercover
During the ’80s, no other superstar band — none dammit! — could cook up empty-calorie riff-rockers like the Rolling Stones. “Too Tough” benefits from an almost memorable chorus and a clever key-change modulation.
276. “Stupid Girl,” Aftermath
Whoever the target of this clunky put-down is, her lack of smarts is probably on par with this song’s shallow lyrics. The music is strong though, as befitting a track found on Aftermath, the band’s first classic album.
275. “I’m Going Down,” Metamorphosis
A chugging late-’60s outtake featuring Bobby Keys’s impressive sax-blowing. The overall vibe is that of a Sticky Fingers sketch. So, pretty good.
274. “I Want to Be Loved” The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years
Hearing the Rolling Stones’ 1963 recordings, including this peppy Muddy Waters–Willie Dixon cover, the B-side to the band’s debut recording, “Come On,” is akin to seeing a famous painter’s first daubings. The point now is to hear the promise of what came later.
273. “Each and Every Day of the Year,” Metamorphosis
A goofy puppy-eyed ballad from the mid-’60s set to a modified bolero beat. “Each and Every Day of the Year” has kitsch appeal.
272. “Little Queenie,” Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
Here’s a cover of a song by — guess who? — Chuck Berry from the Stones’ great 1970 live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The band sounds strong, but Mick, for whatever reason, sings with a distracted air.
271. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” Got Live If You Want It!
The endearing thing about this 1966 soul-ballad B-for-effort cover is how cute Jagger sounds compared to the immortal Otis Redding, who co-wrote the song and recorded a far superior version.
270. “Little by Little,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
A rambunctious and bluesy 1964 original credited to Nanker Phelge. That’s a pseudonym the band used for group compositions. It’s also fun to say out loud. (Phil Spector has a writing co-credit on this one, too.)
269. “Look What You’ve Done,” December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
The ill-fated Brian Jones’s harmonica shines on this easy-rolling Muddy Waters cover.
268. “Stealing My Heart,” Forty Licks
The guitars on this 2002 compilation extra have a near pop-grunge feel. The rest of the track could use more of that modest grit.
267. “Flip the Switch,” Bridges to Babylon
On this, the album’s lead track, the band mistakes — as many bands do but the Rolling Stones typically don’t — motion for progress.
266. “One More Shot,” GRRR!
One of two new songs recorded for a 2012 compilation (“Doom and Gloom” was the other), “One More Shot” is a mid-tempo rocker executed, I guess, with laudable energy for a band then in its 50th year.
265. “Pretty Beat Up,” Undercover
You listen to a song like “Pretty Beat Up,” which generates hip-shimmy action, and it sounds tight till it gets to the cornball sax solo and you realize this song’s ideal context is to be heard briefly during a nonessential scene in a Jim Belushi movie.
264. “Luxury,” It’s Only Rock ’n Roll
If Keith flatlined with a guitar in his hands and then was brought back to life by the shock of a defibrillator, he’d pop up and play a catchy, stock rhythm-guitar part like the one that underpins “Luxury.”
263. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” Out of Our Heads
A sneering joke at the expense of record-company dimwits, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” was easily the Stones’ longest title to date and also delectably snide. It’s based on the blues song “Fannie Mae” by Buster Brown.
262. “The Lantern,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
If you found out that your favorite uncle was in a band in 1967 called, I dunno, Purple Tinge, and they put out a single and this misty psych-rock song was it, you’d think, not bad, Uncle Stewart, not bad at all. Alas, expectations are higher for the Rolling Stones.
261. “The Family,” Metamorphosis
Oooh psychosexual mind games. Oooh accidental incest. This Beggars Banquet outtake, held on the shelves till 1975, has a decadent vibe going for it, even if Mick’s lyrics are trying way too hard to shock.
260. “Pain in My Heart,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
New Orleans R&B genius Allen Toussaint wrote this song, which was beautifully recorded by Otis Redding in 1964. The Stones cut their cutely callow version later the same year.
259. “Twenty-Flight Rock,” Still Life
An Eddie Cochran cover found on 1982’s Still Life live album, the Stones’ run-through stirs up decent sock-hop bop.
258. “Sweet Neo Con,” A Bigger Bang
Ah, to long for the halcyon days of 2005, when cretins like Dick Cheney — he and his cronies are the lyrical target on “Sweet Neo Con” — were our most morally debilitating political problem.
257. “Sad Sad Sad,” Steel Wheels
At the time of its 1989 release, Steel Wheels was considered a comeback for the Stones, arriving at the end of a decade of increased animosity between Mick and Keith. (The subsequent concert tour was also a massive success.) Almost as if the band wanted to reward fans for sticking with them, the Stones recorded an album, Steel Wheels, consciously intended as a return to the band’s ’70s sound after a decade of dance and pop-oriented material. The album’s first track, “Sad Sad Sad,” set the tone. It’s got an upbeat, guitar-based vitality that was mostly missing from 1986’s darker, more cynical predecessor Dirty Work. So it’s energetic, but pale. Jagger’s lyrics are, for one of rock’s most talented lyricists, bland, and the musicianship never conjures the dark alchemy that marks the band’s A-grade material.
256. “Look What the Cat Dragged In” A Bigger Bang
The best I can offer here: The scratchy opening guitar sure sounds like the intro to INXS’s “Need You Tonight.” That song is a jam.
255. “Mixed Emotions,” Steel Wheels
“You’re not the only one / with mixed emotions / you’re not the only ship / adrift on this ocean.” Is Mick singing about his and Keith’s relationship circa 1989? That would ultimately be a more interesting question if the lyrics were wittier or more insightful — and lack of lyrical wit or insight plagued all of Steel Wheels. Also a problem: Keith and the guys’ functional but uninspired hard rock, which is what’s being delivered on this song, albeit with an okay chorus.
254. “Hate to See You Go,” Blue & Lonesome
Keith and Ronnie’s guitars wriggle and writhe seductively on one of Blue & Lonesome’s two Little Walter covers. Neither Charlie nor Mick find much interesting to do in response.
253. “Continental Drift,” Steel Wheels
Steel Wheels’ most experimental track features a contribution from Morocco’s hallowed Master Musicians of Jajouka ensemble as well as “Eastern” melodic and percussion accents. It’s entertaining in a sub–Page and Plant way. (Brian Jones produced a not-bad album by the Moroccan ensemble that was released in 1971.)
252. “Sex Drive,” Flashpoint
Of the two new studio songs recorded for 1991’s Flashpoint live album, “Sex Drive” is the funkier — though the funk is of the ’80s James Brown variety. It’s also a bit more on the nose than Stones songs about parts of Mick Jagger’s anatomy typically are.
251. “Gunface,” Bridges to Babylon
Mick’s verse melody on this tale of murderous revenge is appropriately anxious, and Ron Wood’s guitar tone has a cool, laser-like sonority. (Lasers are cool, right?) But at five-minutes long, the track’s edge goes dull long before it ends.
250. “Black Limousine,” Tattoo You
A too-straightforward and too-workmanlike original blues.
249. “Like a Rolling Stone,” Stripped
Yes, it’s a kick to hear the Rolling Stones record Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” and no, the performance, recorded for a 1995 live album, doesn’t deliver much beyond that self-reflexive kick. You know who did an indisputably amazing cover of this song? Hendrix.
248. “Grown Up Wrong,” 12 X 5
As the rowdy “Grown Up Wrong” shows, Mick and Keith were penning rebellious blues-rockers as early as 1964. They’d get better at it.
247. “Driving Too Fast,” A Bigger Bang
Sometimes a steady hand — the appeal of which constitutes the late-career Stones’ appeal, at least the part that isn’t pure nostalgia — holds a band back, as is the case on this rocker. It’s begging for some abandon.
246. “Susie Q,” 12 X 5
The Stones’ ornery version of Dale Hawkins’s 1957 rock-and-roll standard is highlighted by a stinging Keith Richards guitar solo. Their effort was deservedly overtaken in the classic-rock canon by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s.
245. “Empty Heart,” Five by Five EP
The best thing about the handful of songs the band credited to the collective pseudonym Nanker Phelge is the continued existence of the name “Nanker Phelge.” “Empty Heart,” a Nanker Phelge credit recorded at Chicago’s legendary Chess studios, is a garage-rocker in a deep-cut Nuggets vein.
244. “Downtown Suzie,” Metamorphosis
Thanks to guest musician Ry Cooder’s acoustic slide-guitar lines, “Downtown Suzie” earns the title of being the best Rolling Stones song credited to Bill Wyman.
243. “Walking the Dog,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
This cover of a Rufus Thomas tune reminds me of a joke I heard once: Why did the Rolling Stones cross the road to record an energetic if unimaginative cover of a blues or R&B tune? To get to the other side, and also because they didn’t know how to do much else till about 1965.
242. “Commit a Crime,” Blue & Lonesome
On this swaggering track, the Rolling Stones, and Mick in particular, adopt the role of credible Howlin’ Wolf imitators.
241. “Highwire,” Flashpoint
A studio recording appended to the live Flashpoint, “Highwire” finds Mick singing antiwar lyrics over convincing Springsteen-Mellencamp–style heartland rock.
240. “Infamy,” A Bigger Bang
Maybe this is damning with faint praise, but the synthesizer loop wong-wong-wonging throughout the Keith-sung “Infamy” represents one of the Stones’ most successful latter-day attempts at sonic experimentation.
239. “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing,” Blue & Lonesome
Old Stones’ pal Eric Clapton lays down a sleek slide-guitar solo on this yeoman blues.
238. “Streets of Love,” A Bigger Bang
This ballad tippy-toes toward schmaltz (the guitar solo and violins — blech), but Mick Jagger’s falsetto puts an arrow through my heart every time.
237. “Break the Spell,” Steel Wheels
Steel Wheels’ least dated song. Jagger gets in some tough harmonica blowing on this effortless blues.
236. “All the Way Down,” Undercover
A ton of Stones songs from the ’80s sound casual, usually overly so. This mid-tempo rocker, though, has a winning lightness, with a weird digression into echoed vocal effects.
235. “Little Baby,” Stripped
This Willie Dixon blues — from the band’s stripped-down, live-album response to the ’90s MTV Unplugged phenomenon — is, again, the good kind of casual.
234. “Please Go Home,” Between the Buttons
The meat on this ‘67 rocker is thin — a Bo Diddley beat and a monotonous melody — but the random psychedelic effects and what sounds like a Theremin whirring around in the background add compelling weirdness, as if the song was recorded while the band was high. As if.
233. “Down in the Hole,” Emotional Rescue
This dirgelike blues is nasty and bitter and means it. Not a fun performance, but a committed one.
232. “Out of Control,” Bridges to Babylon
Given that this moody track was recorded by the 1997 version of the Rolling Stones — not exactly the band’s hungriest days — it does a strong job of conjuring the vibe suggested by its title.
231. “One More Try,” Out of Our Heads
Brian Jones aficionados rejoice! His harmonica playing gives this cocky number its giddyup.
230. “Almost Hear You Sigh,” Steel Wheels
One of the better Steel Wheels tracks, mostly by dint of a warmly sympathetic Jagger vocal. That album’s slow songs, like this one, are more affecting than its overwrought fast ones.
229. “Bye Bye Johnny,” The Rolling Stones EP
Jesus Christ, another Chuck Berry cover. I thank the lord (who Mick and Keith might’ve called “Chuck” back in 1963), that “Bye Bye Johnny” has some spit and vinegar to it.
228. “Doom and Gloom,” GRRR!
A 2012 single that, at the time of its release, was the band’s first studio recording in seven years. “Doom and Gloom” has a nasty Keith riff to match Mick’s bad-dream lyrics — he’s pissed off about fracking!
227. “Hold Back,” Dirty Work
It’s kind of missing the point to criticize Mick’s vocal mannerisms — his mannerisms are what make him so good — but he goes pretty far over the top with the gargled melismatics on this otherwise pithy track.
226. “Let It Rock”
A careening, charismatic mess, this live Chuck Berry cover was the flip side to the “Brown Sugar” single in the U.K.
225. “Just Your Fool,” Blue & Lonesome
In late 2016, the Stones came full circle and, just like they did more than 50 years ago, released an album consisting entirely of covers of songs by the band’s touchstones. “Just Your Fool” (written by Buddy Johnson) demonstrates all of Blue & Lonesome’s strengths: casually expert blues musicianship; strong, detailed singing from Mick; and a warm, organic sound. It’s also got the album’s fatal flaw: For all the skill on display, it’s bloodless.
224. “Little Red Rooster,” The Rolling Stones, Now!
It was hard for young English people to get ahold of blues records in 1964, when the Rolling Stones recorded their version of this Willie Dixon song (made famous by Howlin’ Wolf). So as a public service, if nothing else, the Stones’ cover was a useful gesture. As was Brian Jones’s slide-guitar playing.
223. “All of Your Love,” Blue & Lonesome
Magic Sam did the original version of this 2016 Stones track. More people should know Magic Sam, who died at just 32 years old, in 1969. (West Side Soul is the album to get.) Anyway, the Stones take the tune for a (too) leisurely stroll.
222. “You Better Move On,” The Rolling Stones EP
It’s aw-shucks sweet to hear the baby 1963 version of the band do a puppy-love ballad — a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “My Girl”-ish tune.
221. “Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren)” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
An Exile outtake rerecorded with new parts — including Mick’s vocals — in 2009. The groove is reminiscent of the old Eric Burdon and War hit “Spill the Wine,” which I suppose the title basically admits. The Burdon song is better.
220. “Might As Well Get Juiced,” Bridges to Babylon
A high-tech blues clearly derived from Beck’s Odelay period, which makes sense given that the Beckster’s pals the Dust Brothers produced both that album and this Stones track. It’s fun to hear Mick and the band’s blues-playing outfitted with electronic whirls and whooshes.
219. “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” The Rolling Stones EP
Willie Dixon’s blues standard was famously recorded by Muddy Waters as a tough, slow growl. They couldn’t match Muddy’s mythic gravitas, so the Stones sped it way up, adding a punchy harmonica-and-guitar breakdown.
218. “I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys,” Metamorphosis
Co-credited, along with Richards, to Andrew Loog Oldham, the band’s manager and producer during its early years, “I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys” is a downy Phil Spector–styled production featuring woodblocks, maracas, and flutes.
217. “Complicated,” Between the Buttons
One of a handful of mid-to-late-’60s Stones songs about shifty high-society women. Charlie tries his best to add some jolt to this slightly stodgy pop tune.
216. “Just Like I Treat You,” Blue & Lonesome
The band bashes through this Willie Dixon cover with audible esprit de corps, which very well might’ve been the name of a model Mick used to date.
215. “You Can Make It If You Try,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
A pleading cover of Gene Allison’s 1957 R&B ballad (later recorded by Stones hero Solomon Burke), “You Can Make It If You Try” showed that the band had arrows in its quiver beyond up-tempo blues and rock. Was this song’s title bouncing around Jagger’s head when he wrote the lyrics to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want?”
214. “Love Is Strong,” Voodoo Lounge
The band moves with a sexy, serpentine élan. Mick’s whispered vocals are, unlike his usual whispering attempts, non-ridiculous, and Keith and Ronnie’s guitars ripple. Jagger’s lyrics — “Your love is strong / and you’re so sweet” etc., etc. — do not.
213. “Dance Little Sister,” It’s Only Rock ’n Roll
Alas, “Dance Little Sister” has a hard funky rhythm and tricky arrangement that remind me of a less hot version of what Aerosmith was doing in the mid-’70s.
212. “Congratulations,” 12 X 5
The B-side to the “Time Is on My Side” single, “Congratulations” has a distracting amount of reverb, which is too bad, since the song itself is an affectingly moody ballad, with some cool 12-string-acoustic-guitar-playing by Keith. (And an audible clam by Brian Jones at 2:07.)
211. “Through the Lonely Nights” (B-side)
The ballad B-side to “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.” There’s an attractive scuffed-shoes ambience here, as if the band pressed “record” after a hangover. Mick Taylor’s guitar lines gleam; I’m a Ron Wood fan — his guitar playing with the Faces was something else — but the band missed Taylor’s melodic touch after he was gone.
210. “Send It to Me,” Emotional Rescue
One of the Stones’ better — maybe “least embarrassing” is more accurate — attempts at reggae. The opening guitar spirals and the verse melody are pretty.
209. “Little T&A,” Tattoo You
It’s Tattoo You’s Keith showcase, and like all up-tempo Keith tracks from the era it’s catchy, well-constructed, swinging, and sung terribly. There’s a subset of Stones fans that are really into Keith tunes. I’m not one of them, but I like “Little T&A,” embarrassing lyrics aside.
208. “Laugh, I Nearly Died,” A Bigger Bang
Keith, frequent post-Wyman bassist Darryl Jones, and Charlie Watts pull off the rub-your-head-and-pat-your-belly trick of sounding simultaneously coiled and propulsive. Mick finds an interesting incantatory melody for the bridge and outro.
207. “Saint of Me,” Bridges to Babylon
Co-produced by Beck and Beastie Boys collaborators the Dust Brothers, “Saint of Me” has a gospel feel and an addictive “oh yeah” chorus. Charlie Watts and guest bassist Meshell Ndegeocello are a good team.
206. “Dancing in the Light,” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
Another rerecorded Exile outtake, and it’s good country funk. Mick’s newly recorded vocal doesn’t have as many shades as I suspect his early-’70s treatment would’ve, but that doesn’t detract too much.
205. “Where the Boys Go,” Emotional Rescue
A bristling, kicky number. I’m into the Stones songs — like this one — that were clearly a response to punk. Mostly because the result sounds like good rockabilly. Mick’s cockney accent is a hoot.
204. “Long Long While,” More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)
A B-side from 1966 written in the style of a Stax soul ballad, “Long Long While” has a Jagger vocal that builds in intensity. The fact that Keith’s guitar is slightly out of tune? Cute.
203. “The Worst,” Voodoo Lounge
An acoustic country ballad from Keith with some earthy fiddle from Frankie Gavin.
202. “I Don’t Know Why,” Metamorphosis
A Stevie Wonder cover recorded by the Stones during the Let It Bleed sessions. Guitarist Mick Taylor’s slide cuts cleanly through a bold horn arrangement, and Bill Wyman does nifty stuff down low.
201. “Oh No, Not You Again,” A Bigger Bang
Terser than most of the up-tempo tracks on A Bigger Bang and better for it.
200. “Following the River,” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
Like all the Exile outtakes that saw official release as part of a 2010 deluxe box-set edition of the album, the soul ballad “Following the River” is a notch below the songs that did make the final cut back in 1972. This track was just too close to better songs like “Shine a Light.” And Mick, who rerecorded some of his vocals for the box set, isn’t as interesting a singer as he was all those years ago and yet it’s an engaging performance of a sturdy song written during a magical time for the band.
199. “Too Rude,” Dirty Work
A cover of a song originally titled “Winsome” by the Jamaican musician Half Pint, “Too Rude,” sung by Keith, is a mostly successful reggae effort. The clanging dub touches work, and Richards, thankfully, doesn’t attempt a corny fake patois like reggae-Mick. Poor Charlie still can’t quite play reggae with any organic sense, though, which explains why the band couldn’t assimilate the genre like it did blues or R&B or disco.
198. “Something Happened to Me Yesterday,” Between the Buttons
Between the Buttons’ closing track has a goofy charm. Mick and Keith trade sarcastic vocals about trying “something.” They don’t know what it is but it sure makes them feel groovy. (Psst: It’s drugs.) Oompah-loompah trombone completes the farcical feel.
197. “Blue and Lonesome,” Blue & Lonesome
Moody minor-key blues, originally by Little Walter. Ronnie and Keith stir up a tense fuss. I wonder why the album’s title has an ampersand but this song’s title does not. A question best left to the philosophers.
196. “Let Me Down Slow,” A Bigger Bang
Mick adds a playful country twang to his singing on the verses of this A-grade country-rock tune, and the choruses are made of catchy plastic.
195. “Sweethearts Together,” Voodoo Lounge
Here’s a nice surprise: The Stones successfully manage lilting Texican balladry. That they do is almost entirely thanks to the great Flaco Jiménez’s stardust accordion.
194. “You Got Me Rocking,” Voodoo Lounge
A strong rocker in a “Start Me Up” style, with Mick making metaphors about his revitalized boner over top of driving guitar and quirky percussion. It’s one of the many latter-day Stones songs that was obviously written with an eye toward being played live in Enormodomes.
193. “Think,” Aftermath
1966’s Aftermath, from which this steady rocker hails, is often held up as the first great Stones album, and it is: The songwriting, arranging, and attitude are all a step up and more singular than anything the Stones had done before. As with “Think,” the material was also often less blues-indebted, to rewarding effect.
192. “Anybody Seen My Baby?” Bridges to Babylon
The noirish chorus is among the Stones’ best of the ’90s, almost as good as when k.d. lang did it.
191. “Keys to Your Love,” Forty Licks
A swooning ballad lightly covered in Stilton. I’m not sure I’d ever play it among company. Instead I’ll enjoy it on headphones, walking around in the early evening and feeling blue. Mick Jagger’s falsetto is heavenly.
190. “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” Blue & Lonesome
Eric Clapton guests on lead guitar on Blue & Lonesome’s longest track (it runs 5:13), a Willie Dixon cover. Mick’s blues singing is a marvel — there’s grease and nuance on almost every note. Even if the 2016 Rolling Stones weren’t roaring defiantly like, say, Dixon’s pal Muddy Waters was on 1977’s Hard Again — the greatest-ever blues-lion-in-winter album — the band sounds committed. That counts for a lot.
189. “Till the Next Goodbye,” It
’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
A fine attempt to repeat the country-ballad magic of “Wild Horses.”
188. “Everything is Turning to Gold,” (B-side)
Originally the flip side to “Shattered,” this groove workout shares some of that song’s tough, funky vibe. The musicianship and instrumental spirit are almost enough to make you overlook the song’s lack of a real hook.
187. “Summer Romance,” Emotional Rescue
The short, punkish tracks on Emotional Rescue were mostly hot, the band still burning off its Some Girls energy. This song would be higher if Jagger came up with a less hackneyed lyrical premise than an affair between an adult and a high-school student.
186. “Silver Train,” Goats Head Soup
There’s nothing groundbreaking going on, just vigorous slide guitar and harmonica-driven roots rock. “Vigor” was a word that could be tough to apply to the Stones’ post-1972 output.
185. “I Love You Too Much,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
With its twangy guitar riffs, perky rhythm, and herky-jerk chorus, this outtake has a real New Wave feel, in a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ’70s-album-cut way.
184. “We Had It All,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
Now and then Keith could handle a country vocal just as well as Mick (and, as the decades went by, with more sincerity). This cover of a Waylon Jennings tearjerker is one of Richards’s best ballad performances.
183. “It Must Be Hell,” Undercover
Keith’s riff is a stepchild to the one that motorvates “Start Me Up,” and the shouted chorus kicks. AC/DC lite, in a good way.
182. “I Gotta Go,” Blue & Lonesome
Mick’s harmonica playing represents the most surprising and noteworthy musicianship on Blue & Lonesome, which is a funny thing to say about a Rolling Stones album. He’s really good, and his darting, train-whistle makes “I Gotta Go,” well, go. Does Mick Jagger practice playing the harmonica? For whatever reason it’s funny to think of Mick Jagger practicing anything. (Keith was unusually effusive about his partner’s harmonica skills in the lead-up to the album’s release. Which is both almost a cliche from him at this point and maybe also a backhanded compliment.)
181. “Rough Justice,” A Bigger Bang
A brawny rocker and the opening track to 2005’s A Bigger Bang. That album saw the band ditching the conspicuous and half-hearted “contemporary” sonics of 1997’s Bridges to Babylon in favor of more streamlined performances. It was a good call. “Rough Justice” is unfussy fun.
180. “If I Was a Dancer (Dance Pt. 2),” Sucking in the Seventies
A longer, remixed version of Emotional Rescue’s funky disco “Dance (Pt. 1).”
179. “Dance (Pt. 1),” Emotional Rescue
See above. The conga breakdown is rad.
178. “So Young,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
Another persuasive late-’70s outtake. This one’s a lascivious bluesy tune about a girl with “spots on her face” and the sleazebag who lusts after her. I do not miss the days when rock bands took jailbait as standard lyrical subject matter.
177. “Dancing With Mr. D,” Goats Head Soup
The opening track to the band’s 1973 album has a seductive swampy vibe that covers up for the forced lyrics (Voodoo! Black cats! The Devil!).
176. “Let Me Go,” Emotional Rescue
Sleek rockabilly. Jagger’s enunciation on the “let meee go” chorus is a treasure, and the lyrics have polysexual swerve.
175. “High and Dry,” Aftermath
One of the Stones’ first attempts at country is a harbinger of what the band would get up to later. It’s both playfully sardonic and possesses a firm handle on the genre’s sonic hallmarks (chirpy harmonica and Appalachian-derived guitar picking). Later, the band would find a way to do what they don’t here, and synthesize the influences into something more than a lark.
174. “Winning Ugly,” Dirty Work
A shiny and upbeat song about avarice, “Winning Ugly” would’ve been absolutely ideal for soundtracking a scene in an ’80s comedy starring Dan Aykroyd as a greedy narcissist who ultimately learns tough lessons about what winning at life really means.
173. “Blue Turns to Grey,” December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
A folk-rock ballad from 1965, “Blue Turns to Grey” has quicksilver grace courtesy of Brian Jones’s 12-string guitar and Mick and Keith’s vocal harmonizing.
172. “The Storm,” (B-side)
Spooky and spare, “The Storm” was included on 1994’s “Love Is Strong” CD single. (Remember CD singles?) The track has a deft rustic blues vibe, with Mick — on vocals and harmonica — and Ron Wood, on slide guitar, playing with easy authority.
171. “Sad Day,” The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years
Does anybody remember this song? It’s a quirky pop tune, and the B-side to “19th Nervous Breakdown.” It’s also totally goofball, with an off-kilter blues melody and curlicue strings and electric piano.
170. “What a Shame,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
Man, Brian Jones. He shines here; His slide-guitar playing is sly, he tootles impressively on the harmonica. I suspect that nowadays Jones is thought of mostly as the band’s tragic angel, insofar as he’s thought of at all. Too bad, since his feel for the blues and instrumental wit added so much to the band’s 1963–1967 material. He was more than just a pretty face and a sad ending.
169. “Mercy Mercy,” Out of Our Heads
Out of Our Heads, from 1965, is probably the first truly cohesive — if not quite fully great — Stones album. There weren’t any radical shifts in sound or style, just a richness and sharpness to all the elements. “Mercy Mercy,” from that album, is an example of what I mean. Jagger’s vocal has a relaxed and confident feel, as does Keith’s guitar intro.
168. “When You’re Gone,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
A lean, wiry blues with a slightly distorted Mick vocal. The rhythm section handles lightly swinging grooves like this so comfortably, and Jagger shows off how expert he is at harmonica with nicely chattering runs. You could imagine this Some Girls–era outtake nicely tucked into the back half of Exile on Main St.
167. “Had It With You,” Dirty Work
More fast-bopping rockabilly Stones, a style the band regularly worked to solid effect during the ’80s.
166. “Don’t Stop,” Forty Licks
A catchy pop-rock compilation add-on, with a honeyed flow and glowing Ronnie Wood guitar lines.
165. “Don’t Be a Stranger,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
This light 1978 outtake skips along sweetly. Stones songs about friendship are charmers.
164. “Out of Tears,” Voodoo Lounge
Jagger’s sweetly regretful lyrics about a failed relationship are moving, and the song’s different sections blend elegantly into each other; voice-and-piano verses, slide-guitar solo, a curling, climbing chorus. This is a lovely, semi-epic ballad.
163. “Always Suffering,” Bridges to Babylon
I can’t pretend to know what private pain Mick Jagger has endured in his life, but he sure doesn’t seem interested in putting any of those feelings into songs anymore, and hasn’t for a long time. Whatever emotional authenticity he may lack, his and the band’s firm sense of craft rarely wavers, and is put to moving use on this attempt at a wistful, broken ballad.
162. “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind,” Metamorphosis
“Why do the skies turn gray every night?” “Why do you think of the first girl you had?” Recorded in 1964, this is the earliest example of Jagger and Richards writing in the lightly existential manner that they’d pick up again a few years later.
161. “Corrina,” No Security
American roots music standard-bearer Taj Mahal was a welcome guest on 1998’s No Security, lending warmhearted authority to the band’s steady-rolling cover of his “Corinna.” When the Stones invite someone to sing or play with them, and when that person, like Mr. Mahal, doesn’t kowtow, the results are usually solid.
160. “Flight 505,” Aftermath
Jagger, as he often did in the mid-’60s, is going for disaffection with his vocals and maybe gets too close to disinterested. The band does solid British Invasion motorvating behind him.
159. “New Faces,” Voodoo Lounge
This song’s harpsichord lines and stately vocal melody effectively harken back to mostly forgotten ’60s Stones’ songs like “Lady Jane” and “Backstreet Girl,” one of a couple Voodoo Lounge curios. It’s as if the band members were poking around in the neglected corners of their own catalog and decided to dust off styles they’d forgotten they could do.
158. “Around And Around,” Five by Five EP
Finally, a Rolling Stones Chuck Berry cover I can enjoy. Don’t ask me why.
157. “The Spider and the Fly,” Out of Our Heads
The band pulls off Jimmy Reed–style 12-bar blues with relaxed aplomb as Jagger sings about a bigger, more dangerous bug entrapping a smaller one. As you’d expect, he plays the part well.
156. “The Singer Not the Song,” December’s Children (and Everybody’s)
I’ve heard people refer to this 1965 performance as overly sappy. I get it. I just think the band’s gentle folk-rock is sweet in a naïve beginner way.
155. “Cry to Me,” Out of Our Heads
The band does nice tension-and-release on this soul ballad, written by early rock mover-and-shaker Bert Berns. Keith’s wriggling guitar solo is cool.
154. “Blinded by Rainbows,” Voodoo Lounge
Jagger’s opening lyric is ballsy: “Did you ever the feel pain / that he felt upon the cross?” The rest of this mournful, harpsichord-laced ballad isn’t quite as attention-getting, but the lilting melody and graceful backing make it a Voodoo Lounge standout.
153. “(Walkin’ Thru the) Sleepy City,” Metamorphosis
Winsome and sweet, “(Walkin’ Thru The) Sleepy City” is a lovely outlier in the early Stones’ catalogue. This 1964 song, highlighted by a doe-eyed Jagger vocal and rippling piano, isn’t that far removed musically from the Beach Boys.
152. “Plundered My Soul,” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
The best of the officially released Exile outtakes is this mid-tempo lament. The arrangement spotlights Jagger’s latter-day rerecorded vocals — during the nifty chorus, instruments drop out in favor of his multitracked harmonies.
151. “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” Out of Our Heads
O.V. Wright and Otis Redding both recorded titanic versions of this pleading soul ballad. The latter’s is definitive, but the Stones, who recorded their version at Chess in 1965, puffed up their chests and played it admirably.
150. “If You Need Me,” Five by Five EP
The Stones’ cover of this 1963 Solomon Burke hit stands up valiantly to the latter’s gargantuan version. Ian Stewart’s Hammond B-3 organ sets a ripe gospel mood.
149. “Tops,” Tattoo You
Mick is natural singing from the perspective of a Svengali, and the band moves through the sweet chord changes and slinky melody with intelligence and momentum. The “don’t let the world pass you by” bridge is a killer, too. The second half of Tattoo You is all slow songs and all great.
148. “I’m Alright,” Got Live If You Want It!
The rowdy garage-rock energy that the Stones generate on this Bo Diddley cover, from 1965, can still jurgle your nurgles.
147. “Heaven,” Tattoo You
What a cool, weird song. Hidden toward the end of Tattoo You, “Heaven” is all wisp and suggestion. It almost sounds — impressively, improbably — like something off of Roxy Music’s Avalon.
146. “Gotta Get Away,” Out of Our Heads
Lolling and lovely. Nothing more, nothing less.
145. “Thru and Thru,” Voodoo Lounge
Voodoo Lounge’s Keith-ballad showcase is one of his best in that often lugubrious category. That’s mostly because “Thru and Thru” ends in a different place than it begins, moving from a chiming telecaster hello to a stomping full-band goodbye.
144. “I Just Want to See His Face,” Exile on Main St.
In the context of Exile, “I Just Want to See His Face” makes perfect sense — an atmospheric break after the menacing “Ventilator Blues.” Apart from that, it’s more an addictive mood than a proper song: Mick murmuring about Jesus over percussion and a cycling keyboard riff.
143. “Doncha Bother Me,” Aftermath
This Aftermath track has a nagging slide lick and an even more nagging chorus, despite being sort of melodically rote.
142. “Hang Fire,” Tattoo You
A short (2:21), sardonic song about English unemployment. The music is an effervescent mix of galloping rock and doo-wop backing vocals.
141. “Cool, Calm and Collected,” Between the Buttons
Mick puts a vaudevillian spin on his vocals on this doofy 1967 song about a disingenuous lady. The music is funny — jaunty piano, kazoo, and electric dulcimer, the latter two instruments played by the crafty Brian Jones.
140. “Worried About You,” Tattoo You
I know, I know, Mick’s falsetto. I’m sorry, it’s one of rock’s true vocal treasures. Here he applies it to a lovely, yearning melody. Listen to the way the music on this ballad builds momentum, the way the tempo picks up when the guitar solo kicks in, the way Mick shifts to a growl once the song finds its new tempo. Not many bands can play such a soft tune with so much rhythmic and arranging intelligence.
139. “All Sold Out,” Between the Buttons
Between the Buttons’ hardest, heaviest rock. Charlie plays more fills than usual, lending the track a brawnier punch than was typical for the band during this period. And listening today, there’s something poignant about hearing Brian Jones stuck deep in the mix, tooting on his recorder.
138. “Neighbours,” Tattoo You
The idea that someone as seemingly above-the-fray as Mick is singing here about the all-too-common problem of having annoying neighbors is so outlandish that it’s hard to resist, as is Sonny Rollins’s honking sax solo and the band’s new-wave fizz.
137. “Fight,” Dirty Work
A hepped up, invigorating rocker, later mentioned by Keith as being explicitly about the fact that, circa the mid-’80s, he and Mick wanted to beat the crap out of each other.
136. “Connection,” Between the Buttons
Poppy, pleasant, and like so much of the band’s 1966–67 repertoire, adorably non-bluesy.
135. “Dear Doctor,” Beggars Banquet
A comedic country story-song in which a wedding-day Jagger fesses up to feeling nerves about getting engaged to a “bow-legged sow,” only to find that she’s left him for his cousin. (Oy.) The intentionally clichéd country-picking, honky-tonk piano, and high lonesome harmonica smartly underscore the parody lyrics.
134. “Jigsaw Puzzle,” Beggars Banquet
Jagger was trying a touch too hard with his lyrics here. Mentholated sandwiches? Tramps and bishop’s daughters? Sounds like a case of Dylanitis. Praise be that the music is entrancing, winding blues rock.
133. “Angie,” Goats Head Soup
The corn-syrup content on this hit ballad is a health hazard — whispered vocals, strings, romance novel lyrics — but the crystalline melody and dramatic chord progression keep “Angie” afloat. This is the best bad Rolling Stones song.
132. “Slave,” Tattoo You
A long, vibing track with music that sounds like a downtempo reworking of the first few minutes of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Saxophone legend Sonny Rollins adds soaring lines throughout.
131. “Bitch,” Sticky Fingers
B-level Sticky Fingers, so still awfully good. The horn arrangement on this rocker is pulse quickening. Too bad Mick Taylor’s guitar solos are uncharacteristically aimless. (An alternative version, released in 2015 is also pretty great.)
130. “Can You Hear the Music,” Goats Head Soup
This trippy 1973 paean to the — whoa — mysteries of music and love is the closest the Stones came to cracking the prog-rock egg. Fluttering flutes, spacey harmonized guitars, distorted backing vocals, magickal sentiment — “Can You Hear the Music” could be a catchy snippet that fell off the back of a Yes opus.
129. “Sister Morphine,” Sticky Fingers
Some people think this is a classic. I think it’s druggy schlock, with the exception of Ry Cooder’s masterfully chilling slide guitar.
128. “Parachute Woman,” Beggars Banquet
Lesser Beggars Banquet material — though Keith’s riff is fairly mighty — “Parachute Woman” is a blues with a stark, slide-driven arrangement. It doesn’t sound as forward-thinking as similar Beggars material.
127. “Far Away Eyes,” Some Girls
A galumphing oater, spoke-sung by Mick in a cartoonish drawl. The atmosphere is fun and the chorus lingers, but it’s the otherwise amazing Some Girls’ least startling track.
126. “As Tears Go By,” December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
This autumnal ballad, first recorded by Jagger muse Marianne Faithfull in 1964, has twee Wes Anderson appeal and an undeniably beautiful melody.
125. “Play With Fire,” Out of Our Heads
Mick warns a rich girl that he’s bad news as a hypnotic acoustic-guitar figure and harpsichord sway back and forth like a hypnotist’s pendulum. “Play With Fire” is a sinister and tense version of the delicate ballads the Stones occasionally aired in the mid-’60s.
124. “Ride On, Baby,” Flowers
Written in 1965 and first released by Chris Farlowe, the Stones put their version of “Ride On, Baby” on 1967’s gorgeous Flowers compilation. There, they turned it into bubbly pop, a bouquet of bongos, autoharp, harpsichord, and marimba.
123. “If You Let Me,” Metamorphosis
A 1966 folk-pop tune that stayed unreleased till 1975, “If You Let Me” is very much in the style of Between the Buttons’ lighter material and is just as good as some of the similar songs on that album. Brian Jones plays a wry dulcimer part.
122. “Champagne & Reefer,” Shine a Light
An old Muddy Waters song recorded by the band for 2008’s Shine a Light live album (and the accompanying Martin Scorsese–directed concert film), “Champagne & Reefer” wins solely due to guesting blues icon Buddy Guy, whose swaggering, wholly non-deferential singing and guitar soloing are the best thing about this song and Shine a Light.
121. “Miss Amanda Jones,” Between the Buttons
Keith’s almost-glammy guitar riffing plays now like a sneak peek at the band’s soon-to-come classic period.
120. “Sittin’ on a Fence,” Flowers
A funny and sparse little ditty from 1966, consisting of fluttering acoustic-guitar picking and Mick cooing coyly about ambivalence.
119. “Good Times, Bad Times,” 12 X 5
This rustic blues from 1964 was written by Jagger and Richards, has no stamp of originality, and radiates anyway.
118. “Thief in the Night,” Bridges to Babylon
The song begins and Keith Richards starts to sing and I reach for my pep pills. Then something amazing happens, as if the song were shaking off its own cobwebs, and it starts to breathe. An acoustic guitar wriggle here; a groovy Fender Rhodes there. Richards coaxes some wry mojo from his thin vocals, and it all floats on a bed of bluesy backing vocals and saxophone.
117. “Dirty Work,” Dirty Work
The title track to the band’s excellent 1986 album, “Dirty Work” is a nasty-sounding song about exploitation (“let somebody do the dirty work,” yowls Mick). I suspect the glossy production on this song (and the album) has led to people overlooking it. Too bad, because unlike so much of the band’s post-’72 material, “Dirty Work” is intelligent, hungry, and alive.
116. “Hot Stuff,” Black and Blue
The first song on 1976’s Black and Blue is lacy funk (filigreed with snaking solos played by hired-gun guitarist Harvey Mandel) and as such logically follows from “Fingerprint File,” the similarly funky closing track from 1974’s It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. Mick Taylor left the band after that album, though; hence the appearance on Black and Blue of ringers like Mandel, Wayne Perkins, and ex-Faces guitarist Ron Wood, who’d end up winning the full-time gig.
115. “Memo From Turner,” Metamorphosis
Originally released as a malevolently funky Mick Jagger solo single in 1970, a different, baggier version credited to the Stones showed up on 1975’s odds-and-ends collection Metamorphosis.
114. “I’m Moving On,” Got Live If You Want It!
The Stones recorded Hank Snow’s country-music clip-clopper for a 1965 live album, and the band’s version burns. Brian Jones’s slide guitar, Charlie’s cymbal bashing, and Bill Wyman’s pile-driving bass are particularly flammable.
113. “Who’s Driving Your Plane?” The Complete Singles Collection: The London Years
An undeservedly neglected slow blues shuffle from 1966, with raw, reverby Jagger vocals and cool, layered sound.
112. “Tell Me,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
A booming near-Spector-esque original — produced by early-Stones Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham —”Tell Me” is a sterling pop ballad from the band’s beginnings.
111. “How Can I Stop,” Bridges to Babylon
The closing track on Bridges to Babylon is a simmering and quite lovely soul ballad sung by Keith. Both this and “Thief in the Night,” from the same album, have a lightness and fluidity that Richards’s torchy numbers typically lack. Jazz legend Wayne Shorter drops in to play some beautiful swirling saxophone during the song’s denouement.
110. “You Gotta Move,” Sticky Fingers
This is a stealth classic, a cover of a song by Mississippi Fred McDowell. Jagger’s cartoonishly “bluesy” vocals set off sparks against the gritty slide guitars and thumping kick drum. The atmosphere is perfect junkyard.
109. “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (But I Like It),” It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll
The chorus slays, and the title line is one of the genre’s lasting mottos — an encapsulation of both rock’s disposability and appeal — but I can’t help feeling that those two attributes have led to this song being somewhat overrated since its release in 1974. The lead guitar is clunky, the breakdowns keep halting the momentum, and it’s at least a minute too long. But hard to say it’s not a Stones classic anyway.
108. “Jiving Sister Fanny,” Metamorphosis
There are a handful of Stones songs where the sum ends up sounding lesser than its parts. “Jiving Sister Fanny” is the opposite. The band’s groove is so deep, Mick’s “ah ah ah ahs” are earworms (even if the lyrics involve a girl with the “brain of a dinosaur”), and Mick Taylor’s leads are so sharp. I know this song scans as a throwaway to some folks, but I can’t help moving multiple parts of my body whenever I hear it.
107. “Hand of Fate,” Black and Blue
Keith’s riff is massive, the choruses stick, Mick sings the murder-story lyrics with resigned desperation. And Charlie puts a bow on it.
106. “Too Much Blood,” Undercover
The garish music — popping funk guitar, booming bass, a disco beat — is just about irresistible. You wouldn’t be wrong for finding Jagger’s intentionally over-the-top lyrics of murder and mutilation off-putting, but they make me laugh. “Don’t saw off me legs! / Don’t saw off me arm!”
105. “Claudine,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
A pumping rockabilly tune with giddy Jagger vocals, inspired by the story of French actress Claudine Longet, who shot and killed her boyfriend in 1976.
104. “You Got the Silver,” Let It Bleed
A lot of Let It Bleed songs start out sparse and folky before kicking into rock-and-roll gear, and same goes for the Keith-sung “You Got the Silver,” which follows that formula with aplomb.
103. “Fingerprint File,” It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll
The closer to It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll is six minutes of paranoid funk rock. Fun, no, but Mick’s pinched delivery and the band’s tense interplay will have you looking over your shoulder.
102. “I Think I’m Going Mad,” The Singles: 1971–2006
A gorgeous and rarely heard B-side from 1984, “I Think I’m Going Mad” is a liquid ballad that’ll remind you of “Beast of Burden” and “Fool to Cry.” This one deserves wider rediscovery.
101. “Lady Jane,” Aftermath
I can sympathize with listeners who find fey the hushed pseudo-Elizabethan harpsichord balladry of “Lady Jane.” But to me, the recording is plainly pretty, and a good example of the kind of fragile drawing-room music the Stones basically gave up on once they decided blues rock was where it was at.
100. “My Obsession,” Between the Buttons
For a song that runs 3:16, “My Obsession” covers some ground, encompassing clever harmony singing, roiling bass and rhythm guitar, and slippery melodic shifts between the verses and choruses.
99. “Tallahassee Lassie,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
Pre-Beatles star Freddy Cannon owes the Stones for showing just how powerful his big beat could be. The Stones owe Freddy for writing a song they could have so much fun with.
98. “Prodigal Son,” Beggars Banquet
Beggars Banquet went a long way in showing how hard songs built on acoustic, rather than electric, guitars could rock. “Prodigal Son,” a cover of a blues song by Reverend Robert Wilkins, generates astonishing momentum on Keith’s strumming alone.
97. “Time Is On My Side,” 12 X 5
There’s a lovable sloppiness to the band’s performance of this forlorn ballad, which, in 1964, gave the Stones their first U.S. top-ten hit.
96. “Child of the Moon,” More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)
If 1968 was the year the Stones turned away from pop and psychedelia and toward their own version of blues rock, then the charming “Child of the Moon,” recorded in April of that momentous year, can be considered a bridge. The lyrics are still starry-eyed — “give me a misty day / pearly gray / silver, silky-faced / wide-awake, crescent shaped smile” — but the guitars and rhythm section have a crunch that’s in line with the music soon to come on Beggars Banquet. Meanwhile, Brian Jones plays gleaming soprano sax off in the background.
95. “Do You Think I Really Care,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
Around 1977, the Stones’ sardonic approach to country reached a summit, and “Do You Think I Really Care” — country in style, city in sentiment — charms with its drawled lyrical references to the Long Island Expressway and yellow cabs and Max’s Kansas City.
94. “Crazy Mama,” Black and Blue
There’s a subcategory of Stones songs that, for me, call to mind other, lesser bands (in ways that should be flattering to the latter). Like this scooting rocker, for instance, which provides the basis of the Black Crowes’ career.
93. “You Win Again,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
Hearing Mick Jagger sing Hank Williams — and do it with affection and smarts — is a real treat. The manner in which the Stones progressed with country music over the years, from playing it as a joke to playing it as a joke they were in on, is one of the minor artistic triumphs of the band’s career.
92. “Country Honk,” Let It Bleed
As the title suggests, this is a countrified Let It Bleed reworking of “Honky Tonk Women.” So it’s a gag, but the joie de vivre of the performance, especially Byron Berline’s fiddle, makes it a very good one.
91. “Heart of Stone,” The Rolling Stones, Now!
Jagger tries on his disaffected-roué hat — and likes how it fits. The band — especially Keith — savors the song’s dramatic soul-ballad dynamics.
90. “The Last Time,” Out of Our Heads
Keith and Brian’s siren guitars and Mick’s urgent shout give this 1965 single its kick. Though the song takes more than a little from the Staple Singers’ 1958 track “This May Be the Last Time,” there’s an energy that Mick and Keith had rarely attained with their original compositions up to this point. They knew it, too. “It gave us a level of confidence,” Richards said of this song years later.
89. “100 Years Ago,” Goats Head Soup
Jagger reminiscing about tender days gazing at ribbons in the sky, walking in the woods, and growing up, all set to wistful keyboard. Then the philosophical bucolica is shattered by wah-wah hard rock, half-time country funk, and a charging outro.
88. “Shake Your Hips,” Exile on Main St.
Originally a song by Slim Harpo, the Stones’ funky cover hops merrily along, goosed by clickety-clack percussion. (I bet that percussion was producer Jimmy Miller’s idea. Everything he did for the Stones, which means the band’s unparalleled 1968–1972 run, is full of subtle, organic rhythmic seasoning.) Unlike on the band’s early blues covers, this time Mick’s vocal affectations feel earned, neither ironic nor green.
87. “No Use in Crying,” Tattoo You
Absolutely beautiful formal elements: glinting soul guitars, Mick’s falsetto, the soft full-band too-and-fro.
86. “Star Star,” Goats Head Soup
There’s such a pleasurable ease to how the band — especially Keith — handles this song’s Chuck Berry–derived building blocks. Pleasurable in a very different way: Mick’s lyrics, which tackle a subject presumably near and dear to his heart — people who want to fuck celebrities.
85. “Casino Boogie,” Exile on Main St.
A Stones original from Exile that sounds, thrillingly, like a cover of some obscure blues boogie. Saxophonist Bobby Keys and guitarist Mick Taylor let their solos rip.
84. “Yesterday’s Papers,” Between the Buttons
A quirky kiss-off, “Yesterday’s Papers” has more in common with concurrent efforts from the Who and the Kinks than with English blues bands of the era he high “doo, doo, doo” backing vocals and skittering harpsichord and vibraphone licks are a lark, as are the fuzz-guitar interludes.
83. “Back to Zero,” Dirty Work
A lyrically nasty, musically spiky, Chic-esque bouncy ball about embracing nihilism.
82. “Sweet Black Angel,” Exile on Main St.
A simple, sneakily political folk-blues song inspired by activist Angela Davis
n the original Exile vinyl, “Sweet Black Angel” was part of that album’s acoustic-leaning second side, a four-song run that represents the cream of the Stones’ shadow career as a country-rock band.
81. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” Between the Buttons
There are clues to the impending psychedelic excess of Their Satanic Majesties Request hidden amid Between the Buttons’ otherwise more straightforward tracks. For example, “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” is in line with the folk-rock the Beatles and Dylan were doing in ’65 and ’66, but with a whooshing intro and jarring guitar solo.
80. “Happy,” Exile on Main St.
Keith’s big Exile showcase is blessedly buoyant and megacatchy. (Unlike most Keith-sung tunes.) I also love the role-reversal sound of Mick singing backup to Keith.
79. “2000 Light Years From Home,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
An unsettling space-travel epic from 1967. Brian Jones adds swirling, spooky mellotron to a song the interstellar travelers in Pink Floyd would’ve been proud to call their own.
78. “I Got the Blues,” Sticky Fingers
This Stax-derived soul ballad doesn’t quite transcend its form, but those formal qualities are deeply satisfying: from the bittersweet chime of the guitar arpeggios and sliding double-stops, to Billy Preston’s church-organ soloing, to the graceful horns.
77. “Out of Time,” Aftermath
The pre-’68 Rolling Stones made strong stuff out of songs that said “see ya” to obsolete lovers. “Out of Time” is an especially catchy, jaunty example of the type. The song first appeared on the U.K. version of Aftermath, but my favorite version is the string-adorned baroque-pop rendition cut in 1966, and released almost ten years later on Metamorphosis.
76. “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” The Rolling Stones No. 2
The volcanic Solomon Burke owns this soul rave-up. The Stones borrowed it in late 1964. At a shade over five minutes, it was the band’s longest track to date. As such, and given that the track is pretty much just Mick “testifying” over a repeating bass-and-drums motif, it impressively doesn’t wear out its welcome.
75. “It’s All Over Now,” 12 X 5
The Stones’ version of this Bobby and Shirley Womack R&B groover features one of the young Jagger’s most confident vocals, and some effervescent rhythm-section chug-a-lug. Brian Jones’s rhythm guitar playing is strong, too, as is Keith’s cutely clumsy lead.
74. “Live With Me,” Let It Bleed
Keith’s Motown-influenced bass (Bill Wyman’s not on the track) provides the fuel for this ripper, which also features one of Jagger’s wittier self-reflexive lyrical riffs on the Stones’ image. Longtime Stones associate Bobby Keys plays a gutsy sax solo.
73. “I’m Free,” Out of Our Heads
Here’s an airy, shimmering folk-rock declaration of independence from 1965. The song’s “so love me / hold me” chorus is liberating, as is the winningly terrible Keith guitar solo.
72. “Not Fade Away,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hit Makers)
The Stones did well by Buddy Holly.
71. “Stop Breaking Down,” Exile on Main St.
A Robert Johnson cover. Spectral in its original incarnation, the song is turned by the Stones into something full and rocking.
70. “Factory Girl,” Beggars Banquet
Appalachian-derived country with oddball twists: tabla, congas, and mellotron. These are instruments you’d never hear on “authentic” acoustic country records of the era, and their use is proof of the imaginative strides the Stones were taking in synthesizing American musical forms into something unique. Also, Jagger’s hammy vocals are pretty funny.
69. “She Smiled Sweetly,” Between the Buttons
A twilit romance that ambles along gently, with Mick cooing in his lower register as an organ glows in the background. “She Smiled Sweetly” is an exquisite song, and was used perfectly by Wes Anderson in a brief scene in The Royal Tenenbaums.
68. “If You Really Want to Be My Friend,” It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll
The lavish, gospel-influenced backing vocals from soul group Blue Magic add so much to this dignified It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll ballad. Mick Taylor’s solo is particularly graceful.
67. “Winter,” Goats Head Soup
I’ve always thought of this atmospheric ballad as a cousin to Sticky Fingers’ “Moonlight Mile,” and though it doesn’t quite attain the latter’s immortal beauty, it comes close enough.
66. “2000 Man,” Their Satanic Majesties Request
In 2017, the most insane thing about Their Satanic Majesties Request — an album that tried too hard to be insane — is that it contains a relatively unheralded song as good as “2000 Man.” It’s a sarcastic sci-fi number, sung by Mick with faux-naïve plaintiveness, that starts off as acoustic folk before morphing into slashing rock. KISS does a good cover.
65. “Stray Cat Blues,” Beggars Banquet
A scalding full-band performance. Charlie does amazing things on the hi-hat, Brian Jones adds eerie mellotron, and Keith and Mick sleaze it up with glee.
64. “Respectable,” Some Girls
Mick, singing: “We’re talking heroin with the president.” The band, playing: “Giddy up!”
63. “Turd on the Run,” Exile on Main St.
Keith’s rapid-fire riffing on this track kills. As do Mick’s feral whoops and wails. As do the other Mick’s twanging guitar fills. As does the fact that this is definitely the best song ever recorded with the word “Turd” in the title.
62. “Rip This Joint,” Exile on Main St.
Pure Hobbesian rock and roll: nasty, brutish, and short.
61. “One Hit (to the Body),” Dirty Work
It’s funny how good 1986’s Dirty Work is, considering it came at an all-time low in the Mick-Keith relationship. (The band members’ pastel suit jackets on the cover also weren’t promising.) Maybe the tension was helpful, or the guys felt really good in those suits — whatever the reason, Dirty Work is a strong, vital album, the band’s second-best effort of the decade after Tattoo You. “One Hit (to the Body),” the fierce and punchy opening track, has all the album’s strengths, and features a fine solo break from Led Zeppelin guitar wizard Jimmy Page.
60. “Time Waits for No One,” It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll
A colorful highlight on an otherwise murky album. Jagger returns, as he does now and then, to the subject of time’s passing, and sings with an intriguingly strange vocal inflection, as if he’s the spirit of something wiser than human. (Or he’s just doing a terrible patois.) The music is suitably flowing and grand, a tapestry of conga, synthesizer and Mick Taylor’s lyrical guitar soloing.
59. “Get Off of My Cloud,” December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
A rush effort to capitalize on the success of the “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” single, “Get Off of My Cloud” borrows from that earlier song’s lyrical alienation and terse, tough music. Even if it’s aggressively and intentionally derivative, aggression and intention make this song motor.
58. “Ventilator Blues,” Exile on Main St.
Evil blues, the nastiest sounding song on Exile. Mick sings with weary grit and wild desperation, and Taylor clamps down hard on the grinding slide riff that cycles throughout the song.
57. “Back Street Girl,” Between the Buttons
The way Jagger comes across so matter-of-factly in his crushing hauteur lifts his singing on “Back Street Girl” to a place among his best-ever vocal-acting performances. And the lyrics are so mean: “Please don’t you ring on the phone / Your manners are never quite right.” But he still expects this girl to sleep with him? Of course he does. The band’s courtly accompaniment is just as magnetic — the accordion lines lend a dashing European flair.
56. “No Expectations,” Beggars Banquet
A golden bluesy ballad, dappled with a sighing slide by Brian Jones. 1968’s “No Expectations” was the multi-instrumentalist and band co-founder’s last Stones hurrah. The following year, after a long period of being iced out by Mick and Keith, he was asked to leave the band. That same year, he was found dead at the bottom of a pool.
55. “Undercover of the Night,” Undercover
One of the Stones’ most ambitious songs of the ’80s, with a set of noirish lyrics that Jagger delivers with paranoid thrust. The music is hot and funky: booming echoed guitars, layers of percussion, vocal and instrumental hooks that sparkle and fade. From 1976 to 1983, the Stones tried again and again to be a dance band, with mixed results — they often couldn’t shake an arena-rock bombast that was clunky on the dance floor. Not here, though. It all works. (There’s also a fantastic dub version out there; itself a classic of the ’80s style of pop dub remixes.)
54. “Lies,” Some Girls
It’s hard to overstate how much joy and jolt there is in the Stones’ playing on Some Girls. The music is so sprung, the singing so committed, and the production so sleek. “Lies” is all of that, and fast, too.
53. “Soul Survivor,” Exile on Main St.
An appropriate capper to Exile, “Soul Survivor” pivots between despairing verses and lifesaving choruses. Keith’s guitar slashes through the ups and downs.
52. “Under My Thumb,” Aftermath
Brian Jones’s plinking marimba slides slyly up against Jagger’s imperious and icy lyrics and vocal delivery. Bill Wyman’s bass is fuzzed up in a cool way, too.
51. “Rocks Off,” Exile on Main St.
The opening cut on Exile on Main St. is murderously effective; the band’s performance dynamic and detailed. Mick’s singing toggles between ennui and aggression, and the accompaniment adjusts with ESP-level sensitivity. The swirling psychedelic bridge feels natural, too, which is especially impressive, given the feet-on-the-ground immediacy of the rest of the track.
50. “She’s So Cold,” Emotional Rescue
The lyrics are more one-note than Jagger at his best, but the music’s lean, New Wave bounce makes for one of the band’s best ’80s singles.
49. “Sweet Virginia,” Exile on Main St.
Keep on keepin’ on is the message of this sassy country loper, a Stones song that deftly pulls off a classic country trick: wrapping bittersweet lyrics around smiling music.
48. “I Am Waiting,” Aftermath
Brilliant folk-rock. I love how the reserved verses give way to tumbling choruses, a mirror to the hurry-up-already lyrics. “I Am Waiting” is a truly undervalued Stones song, and was used to excellent effect in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.
47. “Memory Motel,” Black and Blue
A sighing seaside ballad, carried aloft by lush, vintage keyboard sounds. This is a Stones slow song where Keith’s ragged singing — he picks up from Mick during the bridge — enhances rather than detracts. The lyrics have a nice twist, too — it’s the memories that Mick misses, not the woman who helped make them.
46. “Dandelion,” Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)
Psychedelic pop whimsy from 1967, threaded through with a delicate Nicky Hopkins harpsichord part. There aren’t a ton of Stones songs you’d call “delightful”; “Dandelion” is one of them.
45. “Torn and Frayed,” Exile on Main St.
There must’ve been alchemy in the acoustic guitars Keith brought to Nellcôte, the French chateau where the band recorded Exile. How else could steel strings and wood produce a sound as full and warm as they do on this portrait of a struggling singer? Once Keith smacks out the ringing opening chords, the band falls in grinning, country-soul step behind him.
44. “Shine a Light,” Exile on Main St.
The Stones could do wonderful things with gospel ballads like “Shine a Light.” Mick sings like an angel with a habit, and Taylor’s two guitar solos hit celestial heights.
43. “Shattered,” Some Girls
The last song on 1978’s Some Girls, and a fittingly grimy, frantic finish to a fantastic album. It’s the Stones’ “New York State of Mind,” but for a city gone wild. Mick narrates with glee: “People dressed in plastic bags / Directing traffic”; “rats on the West Side / Bed bugs uptown.” “Bite the big apple / Don’t mind the maggots.” “Laughter, joy, and loneliness and sex and sex and sex.” The band pumping with gleeful disregard. Handclaps and sh-doobies. And “Shattered” is the Stones song where you get to hear Mick sing the word “shmatte.” What more do you want?
42. “Mother’s Little Helper,” Aftermath
1965 and 1966 are when Mick made his great lyrical leap, growing into the satire and irony that would become such an invaluable and distinctive part of his arsenal. The splendidly cheeky “Mother’s Little Helper,” from ’66, finds Jagger targeting moms and the little yellow pills they need to make it through the day. (I guess whatever pills he was taking were cooler somehow?) The zany, “semi-gypsy,” as Keith characterized it, electric-guitar riff that underscores the song completes the caricature.
41. “We Love You,” More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)
An underappreciated and ominous stomper from 1967. Nicky Hopkins, the session pianist who added flair to so many songs by the Stones (and other ’60s and ’70s bands), pounds out the opening piano riff, then Bill Wyman comes swooping in on bass. This Stones song is a destroyer before Mick or Keith are even audible, and when those two arrive, they’re snarling. Paul McCartney and John Lennon are on backing vocals, though you can’t really tell. (Itself a sign of the Stones’ overwhelming power here.)
40. “Love in Vain,” Let It Bleed
During its peach-fuzz days, the band recorded blues covers because Mick and Keith couldn’t write enough good songs. By the late ’60s, the Stones recorded covers because they could, and wanted to show where those songs came from. Case in point: Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” which, on Let It Bleed, the band turned into a rustic slide-guitar-driven comedown.
39. “Before They Make Me Run,” Some Girls
Both a statement of purpose from Keith and the best song he ever sang on a Stones album. The song’s got a suave riff and a clever slide-guitar interlude, and Keith’s creaky vocal is full of wry defiance. “Gonna find my way to heaven / Because I did my time in hell.”
38. “Fool to Cry,” Black and Blue
The best thing on 1976’s Black and Blue, “Fool to Cry” finds Jagger in a reflective, autumnal mood. Is there a more heartbreaking lyrical vignette in the Stones songbook than when Jagger sings, in that heavenly falsetto, about his own daughter telling him he’s too much of a softy? The music is sweetly sad, too, a warm wash of keyboard, synthesized strings and wah-wah guitar. The argument could be made that “Fool to Cry” is “Angie”-level schmaltz. Just not by me.
37. “Imagination,” Some Girls
“Imagination” is the Stones’ best Motown cover. Mick cleverly plays with different vocal timbres, Keith and Ronnie pass snap lead guitar back and forth, and the band has all sorts of audible fun doing push-pull in the space of a few bars.
36. “All Down the Line,” Exile on Main St.
One of Exile’s most unabashedly fun tracks, “All Down the Line” is literally and metaphorically a driving tune. Mick sings of diesel engines and lovers and children and doing naughty things (“open up and swallow / hoist another bottle”) all the way down the line as the horns swirl and Taylor’s slide guitar stings. Red Simpson would love it.
35. “When the Whip Comes Down,” Some Girls
Some Girls is often framed as the Stones’ response to disco and punk, the band’s renewed mojo the result of its desire to prove that the Rolling Stones weren’t ready to cede the spotlight just yet. That could explain the album’s magic. Could it also be that Keith Richards had a little more pep in his step after getting clean? Either way, “When the Whip Comes Down” is unstoppable, with funny lyrics (“when the shit hits the fan / I’ll be sitting on the can“), a surging arrangement full of guitar interplay between Richards and Ronnie Wood, and Charlie Watts kicking major ass, as is his wont.
34. “Emotional Rescue,” Emotional Rescue
Another Stones disco effort, and an excellent one. The band weaves at least four different melodic hooks through the burbling bass and drums. And the spoken-word section where a zonked-sounding Mick talks about being a knight in shining armor “riding across the desert on a fine Arab charger” is just loopy enough to be charming.
33. “Loving Cup,” Exile on Main St.
This is maybe the Stones’ most purely uplifting number, a sunbeam of ringing guitar and churchy piano, with Mick and Keith singing about wanting to down a great big glass of love. Buried in the mix you can even hear a life-affirming belch. Had to be Keith.
32. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” Goats Head Soup
Mick’s urban-decay lyrics — 10-year-old junkies, murder, cardiac trauma — are abetted by the roiling, funky music. Plus, this song has the best horn arrangement on any Stones song. (I wonder whose decision it was to not just call the song “Heartbreaker.”)
31. “No Spare Parts,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition)
It’s mind-blowing that this gleaming country gem stayed unreleased for 33 years, until it showed up unheralded on the Some Girls special-edition reissue. Every element shines: Ronnie’s dusty slide, Keith’s twinkling piano, Bill and Charlie’s mid-tempo rhythm mosey, and Mick’s determined vocal. In the right mood, “If I want something bad enough / I always find a way to get through” registers as a lyric to live by.
30. “Salt of the Earth,” Beggars Banquet
Lyrically complex and musically earthy. Jagger sings, perhaps with sympathy, about “the hard-working people” fated to choose between “cancer or polio.” Yet when he sees them, they “don’t look real to me.” Maybe he was admitting he’d left the normals behind? Maybe he was being sarcastic and I’m a sap? Either way, the band’s performance builds with power and poise, beginning as a simple acoustic-guitar-based track before cresting into gospel, with massed backing singers and soulful piano. (Given those ingredients, “Salt of the Earth” sounds like a test drive for the similarly structured “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)
29. “Midnight Rambler,” Let It Bleed
It’s a sadistic toss-up as to whether this or AC/DC’s “Night Prowler” is the best hard-rock song about a serial killer. The Stones’ effort is a masterpiece of band dynamics, the music creeping from a dreadful whisper to a bloodcurdling scream, over and over again.
28. “Let It Loose,” Exile on Main St.
A proud, dignified Exile ballad about letting go, with mournful chiming guitar and a majestic horn arrangement. It’ll put a tear in your eye.
27. “She Said Yeah,” December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
Loud, edgy, and aggressive, full of energy and abandon, this is the best of the Stones’ early R&B covers. “She Said Yeah” makes audible what all the fuss was about 50-plus years ago, and why the Beatles seemed safe by comparison.
26. “Waiting on a Friend,” Tattoo You
The all-ballad second half of Tattoo You is the Stones’ greatest on-record stretch of warmth and beauty, and “Waiting on a Friend” is its shining sun. Mick’s singing is a rare (for him) blend of humility and vulnerability. Rarer still, he’s singing about being platonic friends with a woman. (And it’s not a come-on — I don’t think.) Elsewhere in the song, Keith and Ronnie spin out guitar shimmer, then sit back as greatest-living-American musician Sonny Rollins sends saxophone fireworks up into the sky.
25. “19th Nervous Breakdown”
Jagger’s lyrics of a young snot under fire are smart and funny (“Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax / And your father’s still perfecting ways of making sealing wax”). Bill Wyman’s bass does dive bombs, and Keith’s and Brian Jones’s guitars juke and jitter. This song has all the addled intensity it needs. More even.
24. “Let It Bleed,” Let It Bleed
The title track to the Stones’ 1969 album is a decadent folk-rock stomp. Mick somehow makes bleeding, creaming, and leaning on someone sound friendly, inviting even, and Keith and Charlie trade fills that crack the song wide open.
23. “She’s a Rainbow ”
Certainly a landmark piano-pop song about polychromatic orgasms.
22. “Sway,” Sticky Fingers
“Sway” is a best-of contender in three Rolling Stones categories I’ll invent right now: Rolling Stones Songs about the Nature of Time, of which there are a surprisingly healthy number; Rolling Stones Songs on which Keith Richards Doesn’t Play Guitar, of which there aren’t many at all; and Rolling Stones Songs with Amazing Mick Taylor Solos.
21. “Dead Flowers,” Sticky Fingers
The pleasure of the Stones’ takes on country music comes from the tension between the commitment and accuracy of the band’s music and the irony and detachment of the singer’s vocals. “Dead Flowers” is a near perfect example of this. Charlie and Bill’s relaxed trot, Keith’s full acoustic-guitar strumming, and Mick Taylor’s faux-pedal-steel lead lines have real authenticity. And over there is that glittery bumpkin Jagger, twanging away about shooting up in the basement. (Townes Van Zandt has an incredible cover of this one.)
20. “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” Between the Buttons
Here’s a pop band in full flower — the Beach Boys’ — indebted bridge, Jack Nitzsche’s keyboard frills, the bubbly backing vocals, Charlie’s joyous bashing. The 1966-to-early-1967 period of the Stones’ career, between their breakthrough early years and before their golden era, is sometimes overlooked, and thus contains some of the band’s freshest material. But forget fresh: “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is joyous. (Though not for crusty old Ed Sullivan, who demanded the band substitute the words “some time” for “the night” when it appeared on his show.)
19. “Monkey Man,” Let It Bleed
Mick’s delivery is threatening and ugly in all the right ways. (Too bad he was either unwilling or unable to sound that way after about 1973.) The lyrics are all self-lacerating filth: the singer’s a flea-bit peanut monkey, a cold Italian pizza, and tossed around by the town’s she-rats. Keith’s guitars bite, session man Nicky Hopkins’s piano glints like light off a switchblade. The major-key instrumental section offers a brief glimmer of hope before Mick comes screaming back in to shut it all down.
18. “Start Me Up,” Tattoo You
Easily the Stones’ best riff of the ’80s, and deservedly the band’s biggest hit of that decade, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1981. The guys famously fiddled around with this song as reggae for a while and couldn’t make it stick … then Keith came up with that monolithic guitar riff and created the world.
17. “Tumbling Dice,” Exile on Main St.
Given how Exile has come to be considered the near-consensus best Stones’ album, it’s a bit curious in retrospect that the double-LP didn’t produce any big singles or even songs that regularly wind up on the band’s many greatest-hits compilations. That is, except for “Tumbling Dice,” which achieves choogle nirvana.
16. “Moonlight Mile,” Sticky Fingers
Robert Christgau perfectly described this, the closing track on Sticky Fingers, as “almost Yeatsian” — the song’s autumnal strings, Jagger’s keening vocal, and the Celtic guitar melody almost certainly come from somewhere ancient and mystical. This is the one Rolling Stones song that could accurately and honestly be called transcendent.
15. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” Sticky Fingers
The first two-and-a-half minutes of this song might be the Stones’ best two-and-a-half minutes of music. Keith’s riffing is so nasty, the rhythm section so locked in, Mick prowling and howling through the verses, and then everything zooms upward during the choruses. That it’s followed by four minutes of mesmerizingly minimal Latin jamming? Apparently improvised in the studio? Amazing.
14. “Ruby Tuesday,” Between the Buttons
Keith wrote this, the most purely pretty of all the Stones’ songs. Jagger’s vocal delivery is so tender, and Brian Jones wrings maximum pathos from a lonely recorder line. “Ruby Tuesday” is just a notch below the Kinks’ matchless “Waterloo Sunset” in terms of sheer pop loveliness.
13. “Street Fighting Man,” Beggars Banquet
Jagger’s line, “What can a poor boy do / except play in a rock ‘n’ roll band?” sums up so much of the promise and ultimately futile political power of rock music. And if that doesn’t do it for you, Keith’s rocking acoustic guitar and Charlie’s off-the-beat drum accents surely will.
12. “Wild Horses,” Sticky Fingers
A heartbroken ballad played by the band, in rare fashion, entirely straight
and the result is entirely stunning, a country moonbeam of soulful beauty
Keith has credited Gram Parsons as helping birth this one, and Parsons recorded his own version a year before the Stones included the song on Sticky Fingers.
11. “Miss You,” Some Girls
The opening track on 1978’s rejuvenated Some Girls dances along to a slinky, irresistible disco groove. Mick and Keith were showing they had new musical tricks left up what had become fairly moth-eaten sleeves. And man oh man, does that teasing wordless vocal hook get stuck in your head. Mick was not wrong to follow his commercial impulses. Not here anyway.
10. “Brown Sugar,” Sticky Fingers
Others have written eloquently about the moral problems raised by a song that delights in the intermingling of slavery and sex (“Hear him whip the women / just around midnight”). The ethical problems wouldn’t be so acute if the song, the first track on 1971’s Sticky Fingers, wasn’t so fiercely rocking. The Stones could be casually racist, misogynist jerks. They also made the best rock music of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Times have changed.
9. “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)
The energy on this 1966 single is nuclear. Loud brass jousting with raunchy guitars, Jagger sneering about a double life, piano pumping, Bill Wyman’s bass exploding. Then the music goes stripped-down and pretty, before bursting back into the chorus and ending on the same strange wah-wah guitar it all started with and which doesn’t seem to have much to do with what happened in between. (It’s as if the song were breaking through itself.) And it does all this in two minutes and thirty-six seconds. “Have You Seen Your Mother” was the culmination of the band’s splendid mid-to-late-‘60s run of punchy, powerful, and heavy pop singles.
8. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Out of Our Heads
The Stones’ first big American hit single and forever one of rock’s best songs. “Satisfaction” is the pinnacle of the first part of the band’s career, with Keith’s riff, originally conceived as a horn line, a key that unlocked so many doors for the band. And Mick’s lyrics are his smartest and most jaded up to that point. “Satisfaction” sent the Stones career into overdrive, and, 52 years later, you can still hear why.
7. “Honky Tonk Women,” Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)
As soon as producer Jimmy Miller’s opening cowbell beat kicks in, the band hooks onto an utterly perfect and irresistible groove. Listen to how they finish the song at a faster tempo than they started, like they, too, were as excited by what what they were playing as we still are today. Mick’s lyrics are hilarious (“She blew my nose and then she blew my mind” — very courteous!), and Keith’s Open-G guitar riffing oozes into the rhythm section’s stank to create the deepest-ever country-funk pocket.
6. “Paint It Black,” Aftermath
The Stones’ pre-1968 peak, “Paint It Black” is also the band’s best use of non-rock instrumentation (sitar), thanks to multi-instrumental wiz Brian Jones. Mick’s anguished singing, the occult rhythms, the proto-goth lyrics — this is a song big and dark enough to blot the sun out from the sky.
5. “Sympathy for the Devil,” Beggars Banquet
What other singer could so convincingly and seductively inhabit the voice of Satan? You can hear this song a million times and, still, lines like “I shouted out who killed the Kennedys / When after all it was you and me” can jolt you out of whatever it is you were doing. And what other rock band could’ve so seamlessly stitched together Latin jazz, gospel piano, and sizzling lead guitar — the latter played by Keith, his finest-ever soloing on a Stones tune. “Sympathy for the Devil” kicked off 1968’s Beggars Banquet, which in turn was the beginning of a run of classic albums — all produced by the underappreciated Jimmy Miller — that would last till 1972. It makes evil sound more attractive than ever it should.
4. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)
From the big elements like Keith’s push-pull guitar riff and Mick’s ferociously sung blues-mythologizing lyrics to the painterly touches like the droning bass and maracas, everything here is primordial in its power. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a gas all right, one of those songs that, without hyperbole, can lay claim to catching the spirit of rock and roll. Upon its release in the spring of 1968, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” kicked off the quintet’s golden era, which lasted till 1972, and marked the moment when the Stones synthesized their country, blues, R&B, and rock influences into their own brash, historical, world-conquering sound.
3. “Beast of Burden,” Some Girls
A beautiful, beautiful song. Mick’s singing is so warm and vulnerable that when he wonders if he’s hard enough, rich enough, rough enough for his lover, he sounds like he’s actually not sure of the eventual answer. The backing music is suitably gorgeous: Keith and Ronnie spinning silvery guitar lines across Charlie’s and Bill’s spacious bass and drums. Is this the Stones’ prettiest melody? I think so.
2. “Gimme Shelter,” Let It Bleed
As they were in 1969, as they are now, rape, war, and murder are just a shot away, and the band plays to that evil truth with savage intensity. Mick’s distorted blues harp and vengeful singing and Keith’s serrated lead guitar burn, eternally, with prophetic heat. And Merry Clayton’s astonishingly intense vocals represent backup singing at its height. Ominous and forever dead-on, “Gimme Shelter” isn’t just apex Stones (it could easily have topped this list), it’s as apocalyptic as rock music gets.
1. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Let It Bleed
The final track on Let It Bleed includes everything that made the Stones such a force during the band’s greatest period. There’s formal wit (the boys’ choir and French-horn lines), Mick’s keen and clear-eyed lyrics (he hits on envy, hope, spite, cynicism), Keith’s foundational riffing, and the rhythm section’s subtly powerful groove. And each of those elements takes a turn at the forefront of Jimmy Miller’s genius production — this is a seven-and-a-half-minute song with at least four ecstatic peaks. Also, how perfectly Stones-y is it that the best the band says you can hope for is the possibility of getting what you want? “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is more moving and deep than anything else from the band’s classic years, more ambitious than anything that came before, and more authentic and fluid than anything that would come after. When the tempo picks up, it’s sexy, too. Look, maybe “Gimme Shelter” was the band’s true peak, and that song lives in the darkness the Stones knew so well, knew better than any other band, but I’m putting this song at the top. It lets a little light in. Lord knows we need it.