It’s hard to imagine classic rock – the music genre that defined the seventies and birthed punk and metal – even existing without the significant contributions of the Rolling Stones. Thus, it’s appropriate to look at the best Rolling Stones songs of all time!
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the Rolling Stones epitomised rock ’n’ roll in every conceivable way. What the Stones achieved successfully was to meld the diverse strands of sixties pop (i.e. beat music, country-folk, the blues and R&B) into one coherent sound and vision.
Naturally, this list of the best Rolling Stones songs of all time tends to favour that particular Stones era viz. roughly from Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main St., sometimes referred to by critics as its ‘decadent splendour’ years. (In alphabetical order, as always)
Gimme Shelter (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Marked by its distinctive opening guitar chords and ethereal vocals, there is an airy, surreal sensation when we first hear the song. Of course, that uncertain feeling becomes full-blown disturbance when the chorus kicks in – “it’s just a shot away” – reflects the darkness of the times the song was written in.
Honky Tonk Women (single, 1969)
The original cowbell song (played in the introduction by producer Jimmy Miller), “Honky Tonk Women” showcased the Stones’ burgeoning interest in country music, inspired perhaps by Gram Parsons. A tasty teaser for the numerous country-folk gems to come in the Stones repertoire.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (single, 1968)
Next to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, perhaps the best known Stones single. One of Brian Jones’ last contributions to the band, the riff was alleged to have been written by Bill Wyman (by the man himself though uncredited). Over 50 years later, the propulsive rocker still sounds fresh.
Let’s Spend the Night Together (single, 1967)
Notorious for its ‘suggestive’ lyric at the time of release, the song has established itself as one of the Stones’ enduring classics. Jack Nitzsche guests on the piano, which dominates the melody line throughout.
No Expectations (Beggars Banquet, 1968)
A stripped down acoustic blues number that is memorable for Brian Jones’ slide work and its plaintive lyricism. The song works mainly because of its visceral broken down feel.
Paint It, Black (single, 1966)
Apart from its darker motif, “Paint It, Black” is notable for Brian Jones’ sitar ringing in the primary riff. The song set Mick Jagger and Keith Richards up as a songwriting partnership to be reckoned with.
Rocks Off (Exile on Main St., 1972)
The opening track of the Stones sublime Exile on Main St. double album, this is a striking statement of intent from the bad boys of rock ’n’ roll. The song goes to a different level when the horn section kicks in. Brilliant.
Sympathy for the Devil (Beggars Banquet, 1968)
Another song to disrupt the mainstream with but detractors often miss the incisive social commentary underneath the ‘satanic’ veneer. Arrangement-wise, the congas embellish the irresistible rhythm of the piece, providing a delicious variation.
Wild Horses (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
A Gram Parsons-inspired country-blues number that Parsons actually recorded before the Stones did, with the Flying Burrito Brothers. A wistful rumination about the loneliness of the road, according to Keith Richards.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed, 1969)
According to Jagger, the extended album version (7:28) of this was influenced by “Hey Jude”. The added vocal choir was an excellent touch – yet another arranging masterstroke.
Once more, this list of the best Rolling Stones song of all time is only a starting point as there is so much Stones music out there to investigate and savour. Comments please at the Power of Pop Facebook page.
Check out our other “best of” lists.
… still there’s more …