Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs
Your own list of the Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs would most likely look quite different from the one you're about to read – and if we were to start all over again, ours would probably change a lot as well.
That's primarily a testimony to the range, consistency and power of this groundbreaking and enduring rock band. (Of course, some of our more vocal Facebook commenters will attribute it to our idiocy; please ignore them.)
With over 50 years and 24 studio albums under their belts since their first concert on July 12, 1962, the Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, (for most years) Bill Wyman, and their three lead guitarists (Brian Jones, Mick Taylor and Ron Wood) – have covered more territory and endured the trends and changing tastes of more eras than any classic rock band in history. That certainly gave us plenty of choices with which to create this sure-to-be-debated countdown of the top Rolling Stones songs.
You'll find tracks from the band's earliest days of performing rocked-up blues and R&B covers, and listen as their songwriting skills grow and expand to include folk, country and even jazz influences. There's big hits, beloved album tracks, most likely a few surprises and even a handful of solo tracks. So, as Ed Sullivan would force us to say, let's spend some time together with the Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs ...
No. 100: 'Emotional Rescue'
If the Rolling Stones flirted with disco on their 1978 smash "Miss You," they got to third base – at least! – with the genre two years later via the controversial "Emotional Rescue."
The title track to the band's first album of the '80s was a smash hit worldwide, but left many of the their hardcore fans, as well as Stones guitarist Keith Richards, wondering if Mick Jagger was spending too much time at the clubs.
Regardless of how well it fits into the Stones' typical mode of operation, it's hard to line up on the side of the haters while its playing. Jagger's impossibly high falsetto and that irresistibly rubbery bass line easily earn the song its place in the band's history.
No. 99: 'Heaven'
This dreamy, borderline psychedelic song is one of many highlights from the "ballad" side of Tattoo You. The Rolling Stones' 1981 album was primarily constructed out of songs rejected from previous albums, as they were reportedly in a big hurry to make a record to support on an upcoming world tour.
There's nothing tossed off or rushed, however, about this song. Over a lush bed of echoing guitars, Mick Jagger promises to protect the object of his affections with a repeated, whispered refrain: "Nothing will harm you / No one will stand in your way."
No. 98: 'Mixed Emotions'
After years of sniping at each other both in the press and on the lyric sheets of their respective solo albums, Rolling Stones main men Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ended a three-year break in 1989 with the kiss-and-make-up single "Mixed Emotions."
The song, the lead single from 1989's unofficial reunion album Steel Wheels, is a straight-ahead but slightly more textured rocker that's allegedly about trying to revive a romantic relationship that's on the rocks. However, it's hard not to read lyrics like "Button your lip, baby" and "You're not the only one with mixed emotions" as a direct addressing of the famous duo's contentious but ultimately beneficial relationship.
No. 97: 'Thru and Thru'
Just like Michael Jordan switching to his mid-range jump shot when he couldn't drive to the hoop quite as fast, Keith Richards turns his hard-lived years into an asset on the stunningly dramatic and largely unaccompanied ballad "Thru and Thru."
Taking lead vocals on one of the best songs from 1994's Voodoo Lounge, the Rolling Stones guitarist seems to share the pain of every heartbreak in his life. Although focused primarily on his voice and guitar, the track displays a masterful command of dramatics and atmosphere, a fact picked up on by Sopranos mastermind David Chase, who employed the song as the post-credit music on one of that show's more memorable episodes.
No. 96: 'Rock and a Hard Place'
Reminding us of the rock 'n' roll-like feel of hits such as "Start Me Up" – one of the many tunes that made us fall in love with the Rolling Stones – "Rock and a Hard Place" shows up on the album that's most famous for reviving the relationship of bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. We're speaking, of course, of 1989's Steel Wheels.
The track, credited to both Mick and Keith, remains the most recent Billboard Top 40 hit by the Stones. It's hard to believe, we agree. Although some fans prefer the more rough-edged sound of the group's earlier work, this chrome-polished number delivers the riffs and rhythms that made the Rolling Stones the world's biggest band.
No. 95: 'Don't Tear Me Up'
After his first two solo albums failed to fully set the world on fire, and after "reuniting" with the Rolling Stones for the ultra-successful Steel Wheels album and tour, Mick Jagger took another shot with his 1993 album Wandering Spirit.
Teaming with super-producer Rick Rubin, Jagger delivered his strongest solo collection yet – managing the delicate double-trick of being diverse and cohesive on tracks like this muscular ballad, "Don't Tear Me Up." Although we find it a hard to muster much sympathy for Jagger as he claims that even the biggest rock stars can get their hearts broken, he delivers the vocals with a conviction missing in recent years.
No. 94: 'Take it So Hard'
After a decade that found the Rolling Stones mostly chasing rather than setting trends, then splintering in an nasty public war of words, Keith Richards re-connected with the group's original spirit all by himself with the 1988 solo single "Take It So Hard."
Three years after Jagger raised the guitarist's ire by issuing his first solo album, and then forgoing a Stones tour in favor of recording yet another one, Richards issued the aptly-named Talk is Cheap, an album full of spare, charmingly ramshackle guitar-driven songs. This particular track offered hope to fans wishing for a reunion in its lyrics, which seem to advise a lover (or lead singer) not to let some fighting end a good thing.
No. 93: 'Slipping Away'
There's a joke that says the only things that could withstand a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Keith Richards. However, even the Rolling Stones' guitarist has acknowledged his own mortality in "Slipping Away," the moving closing track from 1989's Steel Wheels.
Even though it's written as an ode to a departed love, there's no doubt that Richards, who was 45 when he wrote "Slipping Away," was referring to the passage of time. Uncharacteristically for Richards, who had casually dismissed death 11 years earlier on "Before They Make Me Run," he seems almost remorseful at having used up so many of his nine lives just as he's starting to realize the beauty of life.
No. 92: 'You Got Me Rocking'
Sometimes, simple is better. Although it breaks no new ground, the Rolling Stones' "You Got Me Rocking" provides stripped-down and hard-to-resist kicks. The second single from 1994's Voodoo Lounge, one of the band's better-reviewed albums of the past couple of decades, combines veteran wiles and impressively youthful energy to turn a meat-and-potatoes riff and structure into something memorable.
There's no need to search for any deep, hidden lyrical meanings when the Stones uncork this one in concert – which they've done quite regularly since its release. Just watch Keith Richards do his riff magic, and get ready to trade cries of hey, hey with Mick Jagger when that indelible chorus hits.
No. 91: 'She Smiled Sweetly'
Between the Buttons is not one of the Rolling Stones' most celebrated early albums. While the American release at least contains the hit singles "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday," the U.K. version has a handful of good songs and a whole lot of filler ("Cool, Calm & Collected," anyone?). Thankfully, however, one of the few highlights is "She Smiled Sweetly."
Bob Dylan's influence doesn't factor into the Stones' work much (a fine payback for the namecheck in one of his most famous songs), but it's evident here. The waltz tempo and Mick Jagger's phrasing, whispered and clipped, evoke "Just Like A Woman," which was released a few months before the bulk of the sessions for Between the Buttons began.
No. 90: 'I Just Want to See His Face'
Ever feel like there's magic in the world that you're just somehow not privileged enough to witness? Well, "I Just Want to See His Face" by the Rolling Stones is your three-minute window into that mystical world.
There's nothing more deliciously torturous than a fade-in or fade-out on a great song; it makes you feel as those some selfish bouncer is prematurely closing the door on your view into some special club. "I Just Want to See His Face" features both devices, and we've spent a good amount of time wondering what wonderful music took place on either side of those edits during the tribal, lo-fi, gospel-inspired jam session that reportedly birthed this bit of wonder.
No. 89: 'Rough Justice'
The opening track on 2005's A Bigger Bang, "Rough Justice" is one of the most genuine Rolling Stones songs in ages. It's raw and meaty guitar riff kicks things loudly into gear before some suitably naughty Mick Jagger lyrics enter the festivities. The band is on fire here like they hadn't been for some time. A stomping, pure Stones-style chorus ups the ante.
This hard driving rocker's not-so-secret weapon lies in Ron Wood, who truly shines with some tough as nails slide guitar work. And of course, there's rock solid Charlie Watts, driving the whole thing home. Without a doubt the highlight of the album, and it should have been a bigger hit.
No. 88: 'Make No Mistake'
Keith Richards proved he could be an extremely convincing and soulful frontman on the stirring mid-tempo ballad "Make No Mistake," one of the highlights of his 1988 solo debut Talk is Cheap.
As the album's title indicates, Richards had grown weary of the public war of words between him and temporarily estranged Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, and assembled a tight band of "musician's musicians" to help prove he too, could make it on his own.
Jagger's solo work may have sold better, but Richards gets the nod in terms of overall quality and pleasant surprises, none more spectacular then how well he gets his (admittedly and charmingly ragged) Al Green moves on during this sultry romantic duet with Sarah Dash.
No. 87: 'Just Another Night'
The last of the four solo songs on our Top 100 Rolling Stones songs countdown is the first single from Mick Jagger's solo debut, 1985's She's the Boss. Both "Just Another Night" and the album were good-sized hits, but the move kicked off a years-long public feud between Jagger and his battery mate Keith Richards, who would have preferred that the singer focus on their work together.
Now, we're not saying any song is worth risking the mighty Rolling Stones empire, but this tune is pretty darn catchy, with Jagger enlisting one time almost-Stone Jeff Beck to play guitar on an infectious, Latin-tinged plea for just a little more time with his romantic partner.
No. 86: 'Let It Loose'
When we think of Exile on Main Street, we think of the stoned-out, decadent, late-night vibe at Nellcote, the villa in the south of France where primary work on the famous Rolling Stones album was recorded. No song on Exile captures that better than this one.
Built around a restless guitar part, "Let It Loose" captures everything the Stones had learned from the soul and gospel records they loved, with horns and a six-piece choir providing background vocals. But the real star is Mick Jagger, who delivers one of his all-time greatest vocal performances, not just in the emotional coda but also the way he holds back when necessary.
No. 85: 'I'm Free'
Originally snuck onto the second side of a pair of albums – and then relegated to B-side status for the "Get Off of My Cloud" single – "I'm Free" has grown into an enduring, popular member of the Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs club.
The song's proudly defiant lyrics originally made it a natural choice for the band's young fans, but the instantly hummable melody and strutting arrangement have made it a perennial live favorite – "I'm Free" made the cut for 1995's Stripped live album as well as Shine a Light, Martin Scorsese's 2008 Stones documentary – as well as a natural choice for commercial use, as demonstrated by its appearance in ad campaigns for Renault and Chase Bank.
No. 84: 'Monkey Man'
Arriving in the midst of a creative peak for the Rolling Stones, 1969's Let It Bleed also found the band in flux – and dealing with the hangover of the peace, love, and controlled substances of the '60s. Lurking deep in the album's second side, "Monkey Man" highlights both sides of the band during this fertile yet uncertain era.
Bleed marked the end of Brian Jones' tenure with the Stones and the first appearance of replacement Mick Taylor, but neither are credited on "Monkey Man," which finds core members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts playing alongside keyboard player Nicky Hopkins. It all adds up to sort of a hazy rock 'n' roll nightmare.
No. 83: 'Shake Your Hips'
Just because this one is a cover doesn't mean we can't love it tenderly. Even the Rolling Stones had idols, mentors and rock star heroes that they were in awe of. And such a scenario can be be noticed in their rambunctious, rhythmic cover of American bluesman Slim Harpo's song "Shake Your Hips."
The track was originally written in 1966 but appeared on side one of the band's 1972 smash album Exile on Main St. The song is a tribute through and through, and sounds similar to the original, but with that added touch of rock 'n roll that only Mick, Keith, Charlie and the boys can offer.
No. 82: 'Hang Fire'
In another attempt to show just how versatile their music can be, the Rolling Stones decided to put together the surfer-styled, yet never-fleeting rock 'n roll tune of "Hang Fire." The track is off of the bands 1981 album Tattoo You.
"Hang Fire" is one of the very few times that the Stones wrote a readily apparent political song, taking a a look at English society at the time with lyrics mocking the economy. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Keith Richards was very honest about the track being about the ugly politics of England at the time.
Along the way, they risked possible scrutiny from British politicians, but the Rolling Stones also earned themselves another big radio hit in America.
No. 81: 'Dance (Pt. 1)'
If you think there was something wrong – as some fans contend – with the Rolling Stones dabbling in dance and disco rhythms as powerfully and capably as they do on "Dance (Pt. 1)," the opening track to their 1980 album Emotional Rescue, we'd like to invite you to explain it to us.
So yeah, come on in, let's have it out. Oh, what's that? You're too busy shaking your ass and waving your arms around like a lunatic while Mick Jagger hoots, hollers and whistles his bandmates into action over that absolutely irresistible opening groove? Well, try and collect yourself, and remember your argument quickly – because once that horn section hits, you're a convert, for sure.
No. 80: 'Far Away Eyes'
Country music can be flat-out-rocking when the Rolling Stones are at the wheel. On this 1978 track from the album Some Girls, the Stones create an interesting Gram Parsons-like song, complete with tremendous tongue-in-cheek lyrics that follow a lonesome man who meets a girl – yes, with far away eyes – while traveling through Bakersfield on a Sunday.
While the album version is fronted by Mick Jagger, there is supposedly a bootleg version floating around that features Keith Richards singing, reportedly because the two couldn't agree on the correct vocal approach. Hmm, we wonder what that sounds like? (We wouldn't know because we don't think bootlegging is correct, no officer, not us, no way ...)
No. 79: 'Hot Stuff'
Allow us to introduce you to another great tune from the 1976 record Black and Blue, specifically "Hot Stuff," which shows yet again just how far the Rolling Stones are able to stretch their musical palette.
From one listen it's obvious the band was highly entranced by, and fully able to capture, the disco and funk sounds so prominent in the clubs and on the radio back in the '70s. One special bonus: Drummer Charlie Watts was able to show his strengths, laying down an intricate drum track.
Watching a live performance of "Hot Stuff" is like watching a group of friends messing around and having a good time as if no one's watching – exactly what rock and roll should be.
No. 78: 'Till the Next Goodbye'
Hidden on side one of the Rolling Stones' 1974 LP It's Only Rock & Roll, "Til The Next Goodbye" is one of the album's highlights. Mick Jagger delivers a moving, seemingly sincere, ballad, woven from the same country-influenced cloth that had served them so well since the dawn of the decade.
Mick Taylor, making his last appearance on a Stones LP, dishes up some sweet slide guitar on this often-forgotten track. With the loss of Taylor, the band's sound would irrevocably change as they moved into the later half of the '70s and beyond. Many believe the Rolling Stones never again hit such a perfect balance of rock and roll raunch and blues sway.
No. 77: 'Dancing With Mr. D'
This brooding track opens up the Rolling Stones' 1973 album Goats Head Soup on a rather ominous note. As guitarist Keith Richards was slipping further and further into drug addiction, vocalist Mick Jagger was living the celebrity lifestyle.
Coming on the heels of the Stones generally accepted masterpiece, Exile On Main Street, the track has a decidedly dark tone. Over a swampy, repetitive guitar lick, Jagger contemplates mortality and perhaps the group's increasingly dangerous lifestyle – knowing that perhaps their days of good fortune (at that moment in time) could be numbered.
No. 76: 'Cherry Oh Baby'
It appears that the boys of the Rolling Stones can do no wrong. They're rock and roll; they're gospel-like; they're soulful; and with "Cherry Oh Baby" – a tune off of 1976's Black and Blue – they demonstrate their comfort and skill in the world of reggae.
It's very rare for a band to be able to such wide-ranging creative ground, and that is why we must bow to the Stones. Nothing proves their versatility more than this cover of Eric Donaldson's classic 1971 song. Mick Jagger's vocals reveal his love and knowledge of the genre, as he darts in and out alongside Ronnie Wood's sharp guitar jabs. "Cherry Oh Baby" is a total win for the Stones.
No. 75: 'Slave'
As with most of the 1981 Rolling Stones album Tattoo You, "Slave" was a leftover track from various '70s sessions. In this case, it was an unused track from the Black And Blue sessions. This funk groove would have made a perfect fit on that 1976 album, too, but we're just glad this lost song found a good home.
The Rolling Stones dish up a solid groove with the right amount of sleaze and grind. Essentially, it's an instrumental as the only real lyrics are "Do it, do it, do it, don't wanna be your slave" repeated, well, repeatedly. Some terrific sax from Bobby Keys and piano courtesy of the legend Nicky Hopkins saves the song from any potential monotony.
No. 74: 'Stray Cat Blues'
If you want swagger, sway and attitude, here it is. One of many gems on the classic Beggar's Banquet album, "Stray Cat Blues" is pure raunch to the hilt, with one of the greatest grooves ever. It's pure blues dressed up Rolling Stones style with one of Mick Jagger's nastiest lyrical and vocal performances.
Many bands would try and replicate the feel and sound here over the years, but none would come close. This is pure blues sleaze the way it was meant to be. Just listen to Keith Richards' guitar merge with Charlie and Bill's groove. It's simply irresistible, and a highlight of an album that is an absolute classic from start to finish.
No. 73: 'Just My Imagination'
This song is so rock and roll we almost forget it was originally done by the Temptations. "Just My Imagination" has actually been covered by a myriad of groups, but among the most notable is the version by the Rolling Stones.
Not that we're surprised: The track appeared on 1978's Some Girls, and featured a rough rock and roll feel that was completely nonexistent in the original Temptations tune. The electric guitars added swag and the faster tone caused a spring in our step we never saw coming, even considering how important rhythm and blues were and remain to the Stones throughout their long career.
No. 72: 'Back Street Girl'
"Back Street Girl" is another tender Rolling Stones ballad, featuring a waltz tempo and, like most of their other ballads, minimal instrumentation. One new touch here is the addition of accordion. As was the case with most all the atypical instrumentation used by the band, the accordion was played by Brian Jones; he was adept at picking up most any piece of musical gear and finding his way around it.
"Back Street Girl" was recorded in late 1966 and was first found on the U.K. version of Between the Buttons. A great example of this particular side of the Stones, it would later show up in the America on Flowers. The song was covered, to great effect actually, by Bobby Darin on his 1967 album Inside Out.
No. 71: 'Short and Curlies'
Buried near the end of side two of 1974's It's Only Rock and Roll, "Short And Curlies" is a playful country blues stomper that has gotten lost in the shuffle over the years. Produced by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the Glimmer Twins, the song captures the same ramshackle looseness of some of the band's finest Exile On Main Street moments.
Lyrically, it's not one of Jagger's most mature moments – short and curlies being a common slang for pubic hairs – but in the context of its playful spirit, fit the song just fine. This territory would be abandoned by the boys with the departure of Mick Taylor, as the later half of the decade would see the Rolling Stones try to keep with changing times instead of just being themselves.
No. 70: '2000 Man'
The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper's, the Beach Boys had Smile and the Rolling Stones had Their Satanic Majesties Request, a psychedelic-leaning album that is probably one of the most divisive projects of their career.
"2000 Man," ably covered by Kiss on their 1979 record Dynasty, was a meld of what might have very well been two separate songs. Starting with an acoustic guitar accompanied by a simplistic drum beat in the first portion of the song, the Rolling Stones awkwardly enters a more 'rock n' roll' phase of the song, complimented by organ before returning the track to its acoustic beginnings. Of course, the Stones made it all work somehow, with a snotty, questioning vocal performance from Mick Jagger sealing the deal.
No. 69: 'Salt of the Earth'
The final track on the Rolling Stones' 1968 opus Beggars Banquet, "Salt of the Earth" is a celebratory end to a perfect album. The lyric could be taken as either sincere or sarcastic, depending on which side of the bed you wake up on.
Keith Richards sings the opening lines before Mick Jagger steps in to claim his rightful territory. The Stones eventually join in as the song builds to an anthem of sorts. Like much of Beggars Banquet, the track revolves around the acoustic guitar, bass and drums. There is some ace slide work this time around from Richards – since Brian Jones was, shall we say, not in the best frame of mind at the time of the sessions.
No. 68: 'Love in Vain'
The mark of a great cover version is when the artist makes the song their own. The Rolling Stones did just that with their take on this classic, originally recorded in 1937 by Robert Johnson. They give it more of a Southern drawl, turning the original slow blues into something brand new, with intricate acoustic guitar and moving vocal interplay.
As much as bands like Cream or the original Fleetwood Mac appropriated the blues, we'll go out on a short limb here and say no one did it as well as the Rolling Stones on this track. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards truly shine the light on their blues roots, and paint themselves as real offspring of that music.
No. 67: 'Undercover of the Night'
Employing an odd mix of early '80s electronic textures including keyboards, electronic drums and more, Mick Jagger and company strutted confidently into the future (although now, of course, it's the somewhat-regrettable past) with a compelling mix of disco and funk. Luckily, at the end of the day, the song sounded very much like the Stones.
Jagger's vocals are especially urgent throughout the song, as if his very survival hinged on a good vocal take. Of course, like the rest of their catalog, it is the sum of the Rolling Stones parts that makes the jagged "Undercover of the Night" something special.
No. 66: 'Play with Fire'
One of the Rolling Stones' earliest and most haunting ballads, "Play With Fire" delivers a slightly ominous mood with minimal instrumentation. Mick Jagger's intriguing lyric paints the mood even darker. Originally popping up as the flip side of "The Last Time," "Play With Fire" is a headliner in its own right.
Acoustic guitar, tambourine and harpsichord serve as the instrumentation, and it is the sparseness that makes it work perfectly. The songwriting credit goes to Nanker Phelge, an inside joke of sorts. The band would frequently use this name as the author of a song when all members contributed to its creation.
No. 65: 'Around and Around'
In June 1964 during their first American tour, the Rolling Stones made a pilgrimage to 2120 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago – aka Chess Studios, the home of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf and so many of the electric bluesmen they idolized. While there, they recorded five songs, one of which was a cover of Berry's "Around and Around.'
As if taking on one of Chess' biggest stars on their turf wasn't audacious enough for the young ruffians, the Stones did the impossible and improved on the original. Listen to Charlie Watts' turnarounds and Keith Richards' sly guitar fills and you can hear how excited they are to be in the very spot where so many of their heroes recorded.
No. 64: 'One Hit to the Body'
The '80s were not kind to many of the old guard. Most '60s holdovers were found floundering in search of themselves. Accordingly, Dirty Work is not exactly the Rolling Stones' finest hour.
Aside from their cover of "Harlem Shuffle," "One Hit to the Body" is perhaps all the record is remembered for. Even then, it's a classic case of a good song getting trapped under the era's high-gloss production style. Still, you can hear the Stones trying to make it happen. Had this song been recorded five years earlier, it would be a very different animal, but it still earns a respectable spot on our list.
No. 63: '2000 Light Years From Home'
Welcome to psychedelia, Stones style. As the raunchy R&B of their early years gave way to changing times, the Rolling Stones moved into their new lysergic loft a tad awkwardly. Dismissed as a Sgt. Pepper's rip off, Their Satanic Majesties Request was universally panned. Of all the LP's tracks, only "2000 Light Years From Home" managed to escape the ridicule.
Built around a simple riff, the song has an otherworldly quality to it. A haunting Mick Jagger vocal and wiry Keith Richards guitar send this ship on sail perfectly. Add in Brian Jones on mellotron and you have a perfect slice of acid drenched pop. Against popular opinion, we think Majesties is an unsung masterpiece.
No. 62: 'Sister Morphine'
Unlike "As Tears Go By," which is found elsewhere on our list, the Rolling Stones actually had a bigger hit in the U.K. with this 1971 single when compared to Mick's long-time romantic partner Marianne Faithfull. Seen as one of the more controversial tracks of the Rolling Stones' career, the song served as a vivid depiction of a junkie's anticipation of when he can score his next fix.
The electric guitar heard on the track creates an especially haunting atmosphere, with Jagger's virtually breathless vocals only lending more drama to the sense of desperation for the song's subject.
No. 61: 'I Am Waiting'
God bless Wes Anderson. Throughout his career, the filmmaker has used great music – familiar and obscure, old and new – in his movies in ways that enhance the characters' emotions. Without him, "I Am Waiting" might have been forgotten by all but the most fanatical Rolling Stones fans. Buried deep on 1966's Aftermath, the folk-tinged "I Am Waiting" gained new life in Anderson's 1998 breakthrough film Rushmore.
As with most of Aftermath, "I Am Waiting" shows the Stones beginning to experiment musically, with Brian Jones' Appalachian dulcimer creating an insistent drone in the verse. In the B-section, introduced by two snare shots, Mick Jagger's vocal takes the lyric from mere yearning into pure agony.
No. 60: 'Sweet Virginia'
Tucked away on the sprawling yet undeniably amazing 1972 album Exile On Main Street is "Sweet Virginia," a Rolling Stones track that owed more to country-rock than any other style of music. Some believe that the Stones, despite all their previous accomplishments, truly started to come into their own with their exploration of country – and no track perhaps better illustrates that idea than "Sweet Virginia."
There is an overall looseness to the song that threatens to completely unravel at any given time. But with the addition of of horns and some infectious gang vocals, the song ranks as not only one of Exile's finest moments, but one of the Stones' very best.
No. 59: 'Shattered'
As the '70s moved forward, the Rolling Stones adapted with the times. Recorded in 1977, "Shattered" pulled strongly from the punk influence that was starting to emerge in New York City. Mick Jagger got into the spirit, reportedly penning the lyrics for the track in the back of a taxicab.
The Stones performed the song live on Saturday Night Live in a memorable appearance, with Mick Jagger licking Ronnie Wood's lips and tearing his shirt off perhaps to prove he wasn't ready for the old age home just yet. Of course, he's liable to do the same thing today, decades later.
No. 58: 'You Gotta Move'
For a band that was so heavily influenced by the blues, it was little surprise that the Rolling Stones would include a cover of this acoustic-blues song on Sticky Fingers. Representing the genre was never a task that the Stones' truly took lightly, and nowhere is this more evident than on "You Gotta Move."
Mick Jagger's vocals sound especially mournful – if not somewhat exaggerated – however, they help capture the essence and heart of the song. The spare arrangement and instrumentation, featuring Charlie Watts' minimalist kick drum and clenched cymbal crashes, as well as some incredible slide guitar work, show that sometimes less is indeed more.
No. 57: 'Not Fade Away'
Although the blues, R&B and rock and roll are often cited as key influences, the Rolling Stones' taste for rockabilly shone through on this 1964 single. The Stones chose to inject a stronger Bo Diddley influence into their cover than Buddy Holly did in his own version. With an infectious mix of harmonica and maracas (reportedly played by Phil Spector), this third single of the Stones' homeland career became their biggest hit to date. "Not Fade Away" reached the No. 3 position on the U.K. charts, then return as a frequent show opener during their 1994-95 Voodoo Lounge tour.
No. 56: 'When The Whip Comes Down'
If there was any questions as to the continued relevance or authenticity to the Rolling Stones in the late '70s, they were most likely erased with this scorching track from Some Girls. "When The Whip Comes Down" illustrates the very essence of the Stones: a catchy chorus and a simple guitar riff, backed by Charlie Watts' solid backbeat and a simple refrain featuring only the song's title in the chorus. Mick Jagger's vocals sound as though they are somewhat buried in the mix at times, however this does nothing to impede the overall impact of the song.
No. 55: 'Sweet Black Angel'
The Rolling Stones didn't often engage in political subject matter in their songs, however this track from Exile on Main Street' covered just such territory. Inspired by University of California professor and civil rights activist Angela Davis, "Sweet Black Angel" is a compelling mix of the Stones' brand of rock and roll and calypso music – not necessarily two things you would associate with each other. Focused largely on Jagger's adopted, Caribbean-influenced dialect and vocals alongside Keith Richards' guitar, it is actually the percussion that helps give the song its swagger.
No. 54: 'Star Star'
Considering the influence that early R&B and blues had upon the band, it should be little surprise that the Rolling Stones' "Star Star" begins with an homage to Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." From there however, "Star Star" evolves into a raunchy rant against an unknown female party who, we are left to assume, enjoyed the company of rock and movie stars back in the day.
The song was originally called "Starf---er," but label head Ahmet Ertegun insisted the band change the title to something more palatable for the masses. That title was ultimately the only thing that was toned down. As the song progresses, "Star Star" seemingly picks up in tempo while also getting increasingly crude.
No. 53: 'Out of Time'
What was going on in the Rolling Stones' personal lives in early 1966? Admittedly they had never displayed a particularly enlightened attitude toward women, but Aftermath contains three songs of outright contempt: "Stupid Girl," "Under My Thumb" and "Out of Time."
Opening with some bass, finger snaps and Brian Jones' marimba, "Out of Time" is a kiss-off to a woman who wants back in after having dumped someone for another guy. Maybe it's a bit of macho bravado for Mick Jagger to get the upper hand, but calling her "obsolete" and his "poor, discarded baby" is deliciously nasty.
No. 52: 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)'
"Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" proved to be one of the more topical songs of the Rolling Stones' career. Mick Jagger told two stories within the track: one about a boy that was shot because police believed he was a bank robber, and the other about a girl who dies in an alley of a drug overdose.
Although both stories rang then and still do now, neither incident has been revealed to be based on an actual event. The song, released in 1973 off the Goats Head Soup disc, features a guest appearance by Billy Preston on the clavinet.
No. 51: 'Tell Me'
"Tell Me" was the first Jagger/Richards composition to be issued as the A-side of a Rolling Stones single. The song is only one of three originals hidden among the rocking blues covers that make up most of their debut LP. Because of that, "Tell Me" stands out, unlike the record's raw blues, and it's a near-perfect pop song.
The song is driven by acoustic guitar riding atop a "Be My Baby"-inspired rhythm. Toss in a melancholy melody for the verse and one very catchy chorus and you have the band's first single to chart in the U.S., making it to No. 24. Somewhat forgotten over the years, the Dead Boys rescued "Tell Me" by recording their own cover version in 1978.
No. 50: 'You Got the Silver'
Released in December 1969, "You Got the Silver" became the first Stones track to solely feature Keith Richards on vocals. Richards penned the song about his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. The group actually recorded a version with Mick Jagger on vocals, but opted to keep Keith as the frontman on the released song. Later, Mick's version became a highly sought-after bootleg. The track, which appeared on the Let It Bleed album, is also notable for being one of Brian Jones' final appearances with the group, as he contributed autoharp on this number.
No. 49: 'Start Me Up'
Of all the half-finished, reclaimed songs that made up the Rolling Stones' hastily assembled and yet surprisingly cohesive 1981 collection Tattoo You, "Start Me Up" clearly had the biggest impact.
The spare, swinging riff-based track – considered by some purists to be the band's last great song – famously began life as a reggae number, and was reportedly attempted, then discarded during the sessions for no less than three albums before producer Chris Kimsey helped convince Keith Richards that the song was more than merely a retread of their past work. He was obviously onto something; "Start Me Up" later became a frequent opener for the band's concerts.
No. 48: 'Rip This Joint'
The Rolling Stones have said that 1978's "Respectable" was their response to the rise of punk. "Rip This Joint," released on Exile on Main Street six years earlier, borrows heavily from rockabilly and jump blues, but is played at an amped-up, frenetic pace that shows they were raising a ruckus long before Johnny Rotten had figured it all out.
In only 2:23 – and that includes two saxophone solos by Bobby Keys – the Rolling Stones take the listener on a breathless travelogue through America as outsiders looking in with love and fascination. The Stones were still English enough to give a shout-out to Dixie Dean, the Everton striker who scored 60 goals in 1927-28, a record which still stands for English football and will likely never be broken.
No. 47: 'Sway'
The Rolling Stones have often glorified their decadence in their songs. But on "Sway," the second cut on Sticky Fingers, they recognize the toll their lifestyle has taken on them and their fellow rock stars while realizing they're caught in its trap.
By 1970, when "Sway" was recorded, the failure of Altamont had put a close to the '60s, Brian Jones had died and several of their friends would soon meet similar fates. Mick Jagger's response wasn't to mourn for them, but to fall deeper into the "demon life" that got him "in its sway," because it took away his pain. That said, Mick Taylor's extended outro solo, one of his finest Stones moments, ultimately sends "Sway" into the Top 50 of our list.
No. 46: 'Rocks Off'
A staccato guitar riff, a snare shot and a lascivious "Oh, yeahhhhh." Thus begins the opening track on the Stones' 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main Street, the greatest ode to sex, drugs and rock n' roll ever committed to tape. Thrilling, chilling and occasionally incoherent, "Rocks Off" doesn't so much tell a story as create a vibe that sets the tone for the rest of Exile.
Mick Jagger leers his way through raunchy electric guitars, horns and Keith Richards singing backup in a key only he knows. Nearly everything cool Aerosmith have ever done can be traced back to this one song. And if there's any song that comes out of a bridge better than Mick and Keith shouting, "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me," we haven't heard it.
No. 45: 'If You Can't Rock Me'
"If You Can't Rock Me" is the first song on the It's Only Rock 'n' Roll album, and an obvious member of our Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs list. It marked the exit of frequent collaborator Jimmy Miller, with Jagger and Richards handling the production under their pseudonym, the Glimmer Twins. The album itself was released in 1974.
In his typical bravado, Jagger sings to the women in the audience, "If you don't rock me, somebody will." It would also proved to be one of the final recordings for guitarist Mick Taylor before his exit from the band. "If You Can't Rock Me" also features an excellent and most welcome guest contribution from the Beatles' former running buddy Billy Preston, on piano and clavinet.
No. 44: 'No Expectations'
This Stones classic originally appeared as the B-side to the popular single "Street Fighting Man" – which, as you can imagine, we'll see later on in this countdown. A lonely, country-tinged ballad, "No Expectations" was released in December 1968 off of the Beggars Banquet album.
The songwriting is credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; the track features Brian Jones on slide guitar, while Richards performs acoustically. It's also notable due to the claves-kept beat of drummer Charlie Watts.
No. 43: 'Soul Survivor'
The final cut on the Rolling Stones classic 1972 Exile on Main Street was "Soul Survivor," a mid-tempo rocker featuring Mick Taylor's bendy guitar licks, and Keith Richards sliding over to play some bass guitar.
Though a deeper cut, it remains a favorite amongst Stones fans. In 2010, when the Stones reissued the Exile on Main St. album, an alternate take featuring Richards on vocals appeared as part of the bonus disc. It's hard not to consider the piano, guitar and gospel-tinged raveup at the song's conclusion a fitting end to a truly great album.
No. 42: 'Angie'
The simmering ballad "Angie" arrives midway through 1973's Goats Head Soup, perhaps the Rolling Stones' most critically polarizing effort. After a nearly unprecedented run of full-length glory (stretching from 1968's Beggars Banquet to their 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main St.), the Stones put out one of their moodiest and most difficult albums.
However, even the band's toughest critics got on-board with "Angie," a deeply moving track built on melancholy acoustics, the haunting piano lines of Nicky Hopkins, and – most importantly – Mick Jagger's anguished, passionate vocal performance. Surprisingly, the track was mostly written by Keith Richards as a metaphor for heroin, which he was attempting to quit.
No. 41: 'Loving Cup'
As a session musician, Nicky Hopkins played piano on countless records by such acts as the Who ("Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," "The Song is Over") and the Kinks ("Sunny Afternoon," "The Village Green Preservation Society"). But it's his work with the Rolling Stones that he's best known for, and "Loving Cup" is possibly his finest moment.
Hopkins' gospel-inspired piano elevates "Loving Cup" into the perfect closer for Exile on Main Street's first disc. His work on the brief key change in the bridge from G to Bb is masterful, creating the tension while giving the rest of the band room to create.
No. 40: 'Let It Bleed'
The Rolling Stones were a band that seemingly thrived upon keeping their songs loose while still delivering a coherent finished product. The title track from 1969's Let It Bleed is the perfect example of this: It's a swaying song that reeks of inebriation, starting with the drawl Mick Jagger adopts at the onset.
It all comes across as a something you'd expect the band to have thrown together at an informal gathering. In spite of – or maybe because of – this feeling, it is arguably one of the finest moments on Let It Bleed. Let's also acknowledge the immense talents of pianist Ian Stewart, whose tinkering on the keys adds an immeasurable amount of character to the song.
No. 39: 'Torn and Frayed'
The Rolling Stones have never been much for self-confessional lyrics. However, the times when they have chosen to open up, such as "Torn and Frayed" from Exile on Main Street, are among their most moving songs.
A mixture of country, rock and gospel, "Torn and Frayed" follows a guitarist through the "smelly bordellos and dressing rooms filled with parasites." His body and his band, like his coat, are in bad shape, but the music keeps him coming back. The song was recorded in Los Angeles after the ramshackle sessions at Nellcote, when Keith Richards' heroin addiction was in its beginning stages, so Mick Jagger's lyrics are believed to be about his bandmate.
No. 38: 'Memory Motel'
"Memory Motel," one of the highlights of the 1976 album Black and Blue, is unique among the band's catalog for two different reasons: It's one of the few Stones songs in which both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards share lead vocals. Also, the tune's length is over seven minutes, making it one of the longest songs ever written by the group.
"Memory Motel" has been regularly featured on Stones tour since 1994. It was highlighted on the '98 live project No Security, with Dave Matthews joining in on vocals. The lyrics speak of an ebbing love that was introduced by a one-night stand at the Memory Motel. It's been speculated that the band is speaking about singer/songwriter Carly Simon.
No. 37: 'Fool to Cry'
When the Stones released Black and Blue in 1976, lead guitarist Mick Taylor had just left the group. The band clearly handled the transition to the Ronnie Wood era very well, as this song was released as the album's lead single and rocketed up the charts in both the U.K. and America.
We know what you're thinking. "Is that the song where ...?" Yes! This is indeed the song in which Keith Richards famously fell asleep while playing it on stage in Germany, '76. But seriously, we all know the life he led. Can you blame the guy for being "tired"?
No. 36: 'Shine a Light'
Even on a classics-packed album like Exile on Main St., the song "Shine a Light" stands out. The tune originated as "Get a Line on You," and was mainly written about former bandmate Brian Jones' addiction to drugs, as well as his separation from the band.
After the Stones recorded a myriad of variations with slightly altered lyrics, "Shine a Light" found a home on Exile and exuded a rock and roll theme we all love today with an added dosage of gospel music. Mick Jagger's voice sounds partially angelic but retains all his trademark grit in this classic Rolling Stones song.
No. 35: 'It's Only Rock N' Roll'
It appears that not only do the Stones like rock 'n roll, so does everyone across the U.K. and the United States. Heck, the whole world! Released as the title single off of the band's 1974 album "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" with the added tagline "But I like it," this catchy song reached No. 16 on the Billboard charts and No. 10 in the UK.
It's been said that as soon as Mick Jagger wrote the tune, he knew it would be the album's single. To everyone who took what the band did to heart, the Stones remind us that it's just rock and roll. But hey, we like it!
No. 34: 'She's a Rainbow'
Although the 1967 psychedelic opus Their Satanic Majesties Request was a polarizing LP, the genius of "She's a Rainbow" is inarguable. Strings arranged by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, a chorus of raining horns and music-box-like piano pirouettes from long-time collaborator Nicky Hopkins give the song a fanciful bent.
Still, there's an underlying sadness to the song—namely, “ooh-la-la” backing harmonies and the blurting shards of strings near the end – all of which elevates it beyond mere psychedelic whimsy. That the song isn't all sunshine and flowers makes it endure.
No. 33: 'Waiting on a Friend'
It took the Stones nearly a decade to finish "Waiting on a Friend." Although released on 1981's Tattoo You, the song was started in Jamaica during the recording of 1973's Goats Head Soup. Appropriately, the mid-tempo song feels tropical, with lilting piano, loping grooves, understated guitar licks and breezy saxophone from jazz legend Sonny Rollins.
It's also full of feel-good sentiments centered around the importance of friendship, not hell-raising or lust: 'I'm not waiting on a lady / I'm just waiting on a friend.' The video for "Waiting on a Friend" was popular during MTV's early days; it featured reggae legend Peter Tosh and was filmed at the same building that's on the cover of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti.
No. 32: 'Heart of Stone'
The soulful "Heart of Stone" is notable for its low end, with Bill Wyman holding down his traditional instrument while Keith Richards and Brian Jones are knocking down the six-string bass line on their guitars. Mick Jagger sings about the life of a womanizer who is banking on the idea that there's one woman in particular that won't break his heart. "Heart of Stone," which appeared on The Rolling Stones, Now! in the U.S., was released in November 1964 and became the band's second Top 20 Billboard single.
No. 31: ‘Dead Flowers’
Sounding very much like a song that the Eagles might have loved to have had their hands on, ‘Dead Flowers’ is one of several brief but very welcome detours into country music which the Stones have taken through the years.
At the time that ‘Dead Flowers’ emerged in 1971, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards had gotten chummy with Gram Parsons, a friendship that slipped noticeable influences into the songwriting that he was doing at that point. The effect goes even further; witness the upright barroom piano-like tinklings from Ian Stewart and the twangy feel of Mick Jagger’s vocals – something which the singer reportedly was not comfortable with.
No. 30: 'Bitch'
The title of this song (along with the innuendo-laden cover art of 1971's Sticky Fingers) didn't help the Rolling Stones shake their women-unfriendly reputation. The song's lyrics aren't a misogynistic mess, however. In fact, the narrator is feeling “drunk, juiced-up and sloppy” either due to drugs or love, not a problematic or mean-spirited woman.
As if inspired by the time the band spent in Muscle Shoals, the song – which appeared on a 45 with "Brown Sugar" – boasts peppy horns and a boogie-friendly Bill Wyman bassline, as well as white-hot guitar leads courtesy of then-new guy Mick Taylor.
No. 29: 'Under My Thumb'
Sometimes it's a wonder the Rolling Stones have any female fans at all. While macho lyrics have long been a part of rock n' roll, the Stones have occasionally crossed the line into downright misogyny. "Under My Thumb," from 1966's Aftermath is one of their clearest such transgressions.
In the song, Mick Jagger sings of a woman who has been tamed thanks to his sexual prowess. The "squirming dog who's just had her day" is now the "sweetest pet in the world" who only speaks when she's spoken to. So, why do we keep coming back to it? Well, maybe it's the exotic marimba riff played by Brian Jones – or Jagger's cool and menacing vocal, which makes things even more dangerous.
No. 28: 'Mother's Little Helper'
"What a drag it is getting old." So begins this ode to bored, pilled-out housewives. "Mother's Little Helper" tells a tale not previously tacked in any pop song: The weariness of everyday life from the minds eye view of the unsung hero, the housewife, who gets a lift in her step via a doctor's scribbled notepad. It might be the only Top 10 hit to include the word "overdose."
Musically, the driving acoustic guitar pushes the song along with fervor. The way the electric guitar rushes in after the intro still sends chills. Released as a single in July 1966, "Mother's Little Helper" hit the U.S. Top 10. It's still prime Stones, and a highlight from one of their finest albums, Aftermath.
No. 27: 'Midnight Rambler'
Kicking off side two of Let It Bleed, the Stones do in fact let the blood run on this tale of murder and evil. "Midnight Rambler" is one of the band's best blues grooves ever. Its rhythm and swagger (a word that can never be over used in talking about the Rolling Stones) pull the listener in, wrestle them down and keep them to the bloody end.
Some ace harmonica from Jagger floats along atop the slinky guitars including some very tasty slide work from Richards. The song cooks along until a mid-song rave up changes the rhythm to a straight on rocker, then "Midnight Rambler" falls apart in dramatic fashion – leaving just enough room for Jagger to sneak back in to wrap it up in pure blues style.
No. 26: 'Live With Me'
Let It Bleed may be the definitive Stones album. It has all the elements that define the band's classic sound. "Live With Me" struts along with self-assured swagger - lyrically, musically, the track is pure unadulterated raunch and roll. 'I got nasty habits,' indeed!
An unassuming Bill Wyman bass riff starts things off before greasy guitars pile in, then give way to one of Mick Jagger's greatest vocal performances. Throw in some honky tonk piano and grimy sax, and you've got another all-bow-down Rolling Stones moment.
No. 25: 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby'
With snarling guitar feedback that opens the door for (of all things) a trumpet, "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby" cooks along like a steamroller. A Top 5 hit in the U.S., it has Swinging London written all over it. "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby" showed the band adding new colors to their ever-growing palate, in a precursor to the late-1966 classic Between the Buttons.
The single's pic sleeve caused a little controversy as it pictured the band in full on drag. Granted, they looked like old women – but, hey, controversy sells. This may be the moment where it all coalesced, as the sounds and styles of the '60s would soon change again.
No. 24: 'All Down the Line'
The bluesy rocker "All Down the Line" benefits from the slide guitar work of Mick Taylor, which truly drives the track. This was initially recorded acoustically in 1969 during the sessions for Sticky Fingers, but the Rolling Stones held onto it, finally releasing "All Down the Line" in May 1972 as part of the Exile on Main St. album. Though never a major radio hit, the track has remained a staple of the Stones' live show; it memorably appeared on their 2007 live album, Shine a Light.
No. 23: 'Miss You'
Jagger and Wood have said the lead single from 1978's Some Girls was originally conceived as a straight up disco song. Can you picture Keith Richards dancing around to this member of the Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs club? Showing that they can do more than kick the hell out of rock and roll, the Stones churn out a song that somehow keeps connected to both their roots and the sounds filling dance clubs at that time.
As their reward, "Miss You" peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. For those of you who are dying to hear an even more danceable rendition, a "Special Disco Version" of "Miss You" can be found on the album Rarities 1971-2003.
No. 22: 'It's All Over Now'
R&B favorite Bobby Womack co-wrote "It's All Over Now" with Shirley Womack for his project, the Valentinos featuring Bobby Womack. It barely registered in the Top 100, peaking at No. 94. But the Stones took a stab at it in 1964 and enjoyed their first No. 1 hit with the track.
The band heard the original after New York DJ Murray the K played it for them, and they liked "It's All Over Now" so much they jumped into a studio nine days later to record their own version. Womack initially denied them permission to record the track until his manager convinced him otherwise. After seeing the first royalty check roll in, he told his manager that Mick Jagger could have any song he wanted.
No. 21: 'Tumbling Dice'
As the first single from Exile on Main Street, "Tumbling Dice" introduced us to one of the best Rolling Stones albums of all time. This bluesy boogie-woogie tune was first recorded during sessions for the band's previous album, Sticky Fingers, under the title of "Good Time Woman."
But the initial recording lacked the opening riff that makes us all go wild for the Stones. Once that final piece was locked into place, it's hard not to see "Tumbling Dice" as anything but a classic piece of rock and roll music. It's one of the true standout songs on Exile, and remained a live favorite for decades.
No. 20: ‘Moonlight Mile’
The delicate soul swoon "Moonlight Mile" is a departure from the swagger and bravado permeating Sticky Fingers – and it's one of the Rolling Stones’ most underrated songs. Driven by weepy strings and pastoral acoustic guitar, the album-closing song is burdened with longing and exhaustion: “I am just living to be lying by your side/But I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road.”
An instrumental coda, which features sighing piano and shivering guitars, adds a sense of melancholic finality. The song’s deep sense of loss made it a natural to be used as the title (and soundtrack anchor) of the 2002 movie Moonlight Mile.
No. 19: '19th Nervous Breakdown'
Kicking off with a killer guitar riff, on loan from Bo Diddley, "19th Nervous Breakdown" features some of Jagger's most arresting lyrics riding atop a pile driving rhythm, making this one of the Stones' best early numbers.
The song charges along full throttle and makes its case in just three glorious minutes. From the hypnotic opening riff through to the fade out, which features some bass heroics from Bill Wyman, it's an early-era Rolling Stones gem and a half. Released as a single in early 1966, it fell just shy of topping the charts, hitting No. 2 in both the U.S. and U.K.
No. 18: 'Before They Make Me Run'
It's become commonplace in our culture for celebrities to come through a difficult period in their lives and tearfully confess about their past transgressions. But Keith Richards is no ordinary celebrity. "Before They Make Me Run," his standout number on the 1978 album Some Girls, is not only unapologetic, but it's practically celebratory.
Richards wrote "Before They Make Me Run" in response to his 1977 arrest in Toronto for heroin possession. His open-tuned guitar riff echoes "Brown Sugar" and Charlie Watts' snare cracks with authority. Richards delivers the second-best vocal performance of his career (right behind "Happy"), snarling and defiant, without a touch of regret.
No. 17: 'Beast of Burden'
When most rock fans think of classic Rolling Stones riffs, they likely conjure the dirty strut of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or the crunching, neck-breaking majesty of "Street Fighting Man." But the fluid, baby-making, slow-jam soul of "Beast of Burden" is quite possibly the band's most underrated guitar moment.
The standout late-album track from 1978's Some Girls is a classic example of the power the Rolling Stones were capable of creating as a tight-nit unit – without any outside overdubs. "After all the faster numbers of 'Some Girls,' everybody settled down and enjoyed the slow one," Richards reflected in the liner notes to the 1993 compilation Jump Back. He got that one right.
No. 16: 'Wild Horses'
Ian Stewart, longtime Stones session keyboardist (and one of the band's original co-founders) often refused to play songs set in minor keys. For that very reason, he sat out of the sessions for "Wild Horses," one of The Stones' most heartbreaking ballads – and the centerpiece of 1971's Sticky Fingers. It's his loss.
"Wild Horses" is another of the group's forays into country-rock, and it's also one of the finest examples of the genre during such a fertile period: Built on Nashville-tuned acoustic strums, heartbreaking harmonic pings, and Jim Dickinson's aching piano lines, "Wild Horses" soars gracefully into the Great Beyond (or possibly Nashville), carried all the way by a classic Jagger vocal.
No. 15: 'Happy'
Mick Jagger is typically the frontman for the Stones, but he took a backseat for the track "Happy," which was sung by Keith Richards. The song was released in 1972 on the Exile on Main Street album. Richards recalls that it was one of the easiest pieces to create: "We did it in an afternoon, four hours, cut and done. At noon, it had never existed." "Happy" remained a favorite in the Stones' live catalog, with the guitarist getting a chance to step up to the mic while Jagger takes a well-deserved break.
No. 14: 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking'
Oh, that opening guitar riff! Richards nails the gritty "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" right off the bat. This seven-plus-minute song came from the 1971 album Sticky Fingers, and features an instrumental jam in the middle with saxophonist Bobby Keys and conga player Rocky Dijon stepping in to add more flavor to Richards' and Mick Taylor's licks. Taylor has stated that "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" is one of his all-time favorites, and that the jam at the end of the song was just a happy accident that was captured in one take.
No. 13: 'Let's Spend the Night Together'
The Stones were on a roll in 1967, kicking off the year with their new single "Let's Spend the Night Together." The Jagger/Richards-penned classic, which featured both Keith Richards and Jack Nitzsche playing piano, was met with a bit of controversy upon its release. Some U.S. radio stations shied away from it due to the lyrical content about casual sex. They chose to play the b-side "Ruby Tuesday," instead, and the band's appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was threatened unless they chose a different track. Eventually, a compromise was reached where Jagger would sing "Let's spend some time together" instead of "Let's spend the night together."
No. 12: 'As Tears Go By'
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "As Tears Go By" was originally recorded by singer Marianne Faithfull, who took it to No. 22 on the U.S. charts in late 1964. The Stones recorded their own version, released it nearly a year later, and took it to No. 6.
A beautiful ballad, the Rolling Stones take is based around acoustic guitar, vocal and strings, and is at a slightly slower tempo than Marianne's more sprightly version. Notably, it was one of Mick and Keith's first attempts at writing their own material. Manager Andrew Loog Oldham knew the writing was not only on the wall, but in the bank, and told the duo to get their words and chords in gear.
No. 11: 'Get Off Of My Cloud'
This 1965 single had a contrary lyrical bent which appealed to their teenage fanbase. As Mick Jagger admitted to Rolling Stone in 1995, that was the whole point: "It's a stop-bugging-me, post-teenage-alienation song. The grown-up world was a very ordered society in the early '60s, and I was coming out of it. America was even more ordered than anywhere else. I found it was a very restrictive society in thought and behavior and dress."
Paradoxically, "Get Off Of My Cloud" had a very of-its-time sound, channeling the R&B-influenced early rock & roll the band loved so much with simplistic guitar chords and rollicking drums.
No. 10: 'Ruby Tuesday'
Released at the beginning of 1967, "Ruby Tuesday" is a classic slice of the Rolling Stones' gentler side. A beautiful melody and lyric is spiced up with brilliant piano and recorder parts from Brian Jones. The track hit No. 1 in the U.S. and the top three in the U.K. It was also featured on not one, but two different American Stones albums, Between the Buttons and the hodge-podge LP Flowers. The song carries itself in a very baroque style, as opposed to the soon-to-arrive psychedelia, and this simplistic beauty has made it a consistent favorite since its release.
No. 9: 'Jumpin' Jack Flash'
After the hazy psychedelic detour of 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones roared back with a vengeance on "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The strident song was recorded in spring 1968 at London's Olympic Studios. Mick Jagger's vocals ooze sexuality and attitude, even if the lyrics were reportedly inspired by Keith Richards' gardener.
While its arpeggiated riffs feel like remnants of the psych-garage craze of the time, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" incorporates tinges of swinging '60s London and bar-band hip-swivels. “It was recorded in the most peculiar way,” Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1988. “We recorded Keith and Charlie Watts on a cassette, then put the cassette on a multi-track to get the distortion.”
No. 8: 'Honky Tonk Women'
Originally recorded as "Country Honk" in early 1969 and released as an acoustic song on the album Let It Bleed, "Honky Tonk Women" morphed into the Top 100 Rolling Stones Song we all know today in time for the Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) compilation.
Most of the credit for the change seems to go to guitarist Mick Taylor. Keith Richards was quoted saying, "The song was originally written as a real Hank Williams / Jimmie Rodgers / 1930s country song. And it got turned around to this other thing by Mick." However, Taylor remembers his contributions much more modestly: "I definitely added something to 'Honky Tonk Women,' but it was more or less complete by the time I arrived and did my overdubs."
No. 7: 'Brown Sugar'
"Brown Sugar" is quite possibly the quintessential Rolling Stones song of the '70s. Kicking off the band's 1971 masterpiece Sticky Fingers, it has all the elements that make a great Stones record: A perfect-as-can-be guitar riff, smart and sassy Jagger lyrics and vocals, and a train-driving rhythm.
The song was actually recorded in 1969, though it would not be released for two years after that. Was it about a woman or a drug? You decide. The guitars of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor perfectly compliment each other here, and Bobby Keys' sax solo is a perfect icing on the cake. That rock solid groove never lets up for all its three and a half minutes of glory. This No. 1 hit was the blueprint for many future Stones tracks.
No. 6: 'Street Fighting Man'
One of the most visceral and dynamic records the Stones ever made, "Street Fighting Man" kicked the summer of '68 into gear with a driving Keith Richards acoustic guitar track salvaged from an early demo version of the song.
Originally titled "Did Everyone Pay Their Dues?," the song has a grit and simplicity that is contrasted by Brian Jones' subtle, yet effective, sitar. An insistent rhythm and bass line propel this to the skies. With a bite of sarcasm, Jagger sings "Summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street" as a take on the Martha & The Vandellas hit "Dancing in the Street." The controversial single art was banned, and is one of the most sought-after Rolling Stones items.
No. 5: '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'
It's the riff: three notes rising, then falling. So simple, so perfect, so quintessentially Stones. And Keith Richards, famously, wrote it while falling asleep in a hotel room with a tape recorder running. The riff alone would crack the Top 20 of this list. Fortunately, the rest of the song is rises to the occasion, from Charlie Watts' insistent drums to Mick Jagger learning how to create tension and release with his melody lines.
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" has been covered by Otis Redding (epic), Devo (weirdly effective) and Britney Spears (no thanks). The lyrics caused controversy for being both sexually suggestive and grammatically incorrect, but that overlooked the song's comment on consumerism. It also couldn't stop the song from becoming their first global smash hit. "Satisfaction" remains, decades later, the definitive rock n' roll single.
No. 4: 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'
The Rolling Stones wash off the grime and present themselves at their regal, melancholy best on the heartbreakingly gorgeous (and somehow not at all cliched) "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The song – one of many on this list from the band's 1969 album Let It Bleed – is one of the Stones' most sophisticated, from that famous french horn intro solo to the London Bach Choir-boosted finale. The verses (three main ones, with the fourth varying in themes) tackle topics that were quite profound in the '60s: love, politics and drugs. Weird, those seem to be pretty prominent today as well.
No. 3: 'Paint It, Black'
Coming in at No. 3 on our Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs list is a tune we all can't help but love, one set in chromatic-minor that was released as the first single off the U.S. version of the album Aftermath. "Paint It, Black" is a great song, blessed with a signature guitar riff, great bass, tremendous lyrics and a sitar which makes it stand out from other Stones tunes – to no complaint of ours. Being about a girl's funeral, this song's sound is heavily attributed to two things: the bass pedal, played by Bill Wyman – who decided to play it with his fists in order to fatten up the sound – as well as the sitar used by Brian Jones.
No. 2: ‘Sympathy for the Devil’
"Sympathy for the Devil," the lead-off anthem from 1968's Beggars Banquet, is the most adventurous and innovative track in the Rolling Stones' massive songbook. Originally written by Mick Jagger as a slice of straightforward, Dylan-esque folk, "Sympathy" was drastically revamped into a grand, densely layered opus, filled with samba-styled percussion, barroom piano lines, and relentless "whoo-whoo" backing vocals. "Sympathy for the Devil" also finds the Stones at their spookiest, constructed as a first-person history lesson from Lucifer himself. More than four decades later, it's difficult to pinpoint a more spine-tingling rock moment than Jagger's opening "Please allow me to introduce myself / I'm a man of wealth and taste."
No. 1: 'Gimme Shelter'
The Rolling Stones lost a lot of their youthful frivolity as their career progressed. Look no further than 1969's Let It Bleed and one of its most notable songs, "Gimme Shelter." “That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really,” Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. “It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that.” Keith Richards' coiled rhythm guitar and almost feral wordless vocals start the song – an uneasy atmosphere replicated later on by powerful guest vocalist Merry Clayton, who belts out bluesy vocal countermelodies alongside Jagger.