"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Friday, October 07, 2005

Top 25 Rolling Stones songs

The cliche is that The Beatles represent the clean-cut, positive image of rock and roll, while The Rolling Stones are the seedy, dark underbelly.

If that is so, then give me the gritty swagger of the dark side, anytime.

The best Stones songs are no less memorable than the greatest Beatles classics. Even more awesome: while the Fab Four tore through every musical genre, the Stones stuck true to the basic, blues-based, country-tinged rock and roll. They are still churning out songs, by the way, 35 years after the Beatles split.

It was the privilege of my lifetime that I got to see the Stones live, two years ago. They were amazing, considering the energy exuded when all members are already 60 years old. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards define what it means to be the frontman and sidekick of a rock band. Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts are the bemused sidemen to the whole hoopla. It was an unforgettable gig.

So am I a Stones guy, or a Beatles guy? Dunno, depends on my mood. Lately, I would give the edge to the Fab Four. But, more often than not, it has been the Stones.

25 Shine A Light (Exile On Main Street)
Tagged as the penultimate track on their greatest album, the overlooked gem takes flight on Jagger's soulful, gospel voice. His vocal prowess is seldom noticed amid all his posturing, but for a white band to plunder black music as successfully as the Stones had, his voice has to stand up against all the bluesmen. This track shows how. Spine-tingling moment: Middle of first verse, after the line "With a smile on your face and a tear right in your eye", Jagger lets go a mournful "Oh......." that made the song.

24 I'm Free (Out Of Our Heads)
You've heard in the TV ads, you've heard Soup Dragons' updated version, you think it's a bouncy pop song written in the 1990s. Wrong, the Stones cut it in 1965. As ebullient as any Beatles track. Spine-tingling moment: "Love me, hold me, love me, hold me" The chorus release is wondrous.

23 Angie (Goats Head Soup)
Either you're fan of Jagger's slurry vocals, or you're not. Anyway, you can't hope to imitate him. The way he wraps his voice around "Angie, Angie, you can't say we never tried" is soul. Spine-tingling moment: Richards complements with inspiring acoustic guitars along the way.

22 Mixed Emotions (Steel Wheels)
After a bitter bicker, the Toxic Twins put aside their differences in the 1980s and come up with this instant classic. Just listening to that groove pounded out by the band, not many rock bands can outdo them, not even the Fab Four. Spine-tingling moment: The sinewy, driving riff that propels the song from word go.

21 Don't Stop (40 Licks)
Even at their advanced age, count the Stones to come up with such a kick-ass track effortlessly. It's all about the groove again, Watts picks up a steady beat to let Wood and Richards spin off duelling riffs with aplomb. Jagger has the easiest job here, telling another lascivous tale with another woman. Spine-tingling moment: The two guitar stabs that echo Jagger's confident yelp: "Don't stop!"

20 Under My Thumb (Aftermath)
Misogynism aside, the Stones sway through a confident swath of marimbas (courtesy of the late Brian Jones), swinging drums and gleeful bass. That Jagger came up with a list of how he has tamed his women, well, blame it on the boogie. Spine-tingling moment: It's a sexy stomp, full of innuendoes and sinister sexual intent. Not for kids.

19 Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street)
Richards is the only guitarist where you can recognise his riffs instantly. No other guitarist pounds out such exciting, invigorating licks with his regularity. This opener on the Exile album soars on word go, on the wings of a superb Richards riff. Spine-tingling moment: An appreciative Jagger swoons: "Awwwwww yeaaaaaah!" after the first riff.

18 Beast Of Burden (Some Girls)
Not only is Richards a riff-maker par excellence, but he has also perfected the art of "weaving" with Ronnie Wood, and this song shows how. The duo trade off guitar licks and fills while sticking to the main chord sequence, creating a rich, jazz-like vibe to the music. There're nuggets of tasteful guitar work littered throughout the song. Spine-tingling moment: Incredible, spontaneous sparring from Richards and Wood. Hands down, the best rhythm guitar duo.

17 Losing My Touch (40 Licks)
Awwww, the ragged voice of Richards singing about losing his touch with women. His is my ideal way of growing old - still clutching the guitar and singing in his raspy voice about women. Spine-tingling moment: On many moments in the song, it seems like his voice cannot reach the note. It's the straining of his vocals that makes this song so soulful.

16 Waiting On A Friend (Tattoo You)
Jagger has always postured himself as a swaggering, sneering playboy, so it's a departure to hear him on this song, where he is almost yearning to be among friends' company. As he sings: "Don't need no whore, don't need no booze." Spine-tingling moment: Then he declares: "I'm not looking for a lady, I'm just waiting on a friend." as Richards spins out a comforting lick.

15 Before They Make Me Run (Some Girls)
The outlaw in Keith Richards personified. During the Stones' Singapore gig, he introduced this song as about his most troubled time, when he was caught for drug possession. Which makes the line "I'm gonna walk before they make me run" all the more defiant and poignant. Spine-tingling moment: A superb, harmonised solo before Keith returns, all cocksure and sneers.

14 Ruby Tuesday (Flowers)
The Stones' best pop song, with an instantly catchy melody and chorus. Once again, it's about a woman whom Jagger and/or Richards cannot touch, but this time the imagery is less sexual than most of their other songs. Spine-tingling moment: A show-stopping chorus: "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday, who could hang a name on you?/When you change with every new day, still I'm gonna miss you."

13 Paint It, Black (Aftermath)
While the Beatles used the sitar to create a mystical side to their songs, the Stones stuck it into a pounding rocker. This is a vicious trip into the dark human soul, rejecting the sunny vibes of the mid-1960s and retreating into a lonely shell. Exactly what made the Stones so cynical, they wisely kept quiet on it. Spine-tingling moment: The spidery sitar riff. Brilliantly droning.

12 Moonlight Mile (Sticky Fingers)
Haunting, aching ballad, quite unlike any that the band has ever done. First, Richards sents up a strange guitar riff, more folksy than bluesy. Jagger then sings about the weariness of being on the road. Then comes a weird Japanese-tinged orchestration that somehow makes this song even sadder. Spine-tingling moment: A stunning chorus: "I am just living to be dying by your side, but I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road."

11 Ventilator Blues (Exile On Main Street)
A pretty obscure track, but it's a personal fave. A memorable riff is hooked onto chilling lyrics about the daily struggles in life. Jagger sounds as possessed as any bluesmen, spitting the lyrics with venom and desperation. No satisfaction, indeed. Spine-tingling moment: "Don't matter where you are, everybody's gonna need some kind of ventilator." Amen, Mick.

10 Honky Tonk Women (Hot Rocks)
From now onwards, all the top 10 songs are certifiable "School of Rock" classics: any respectable rock fan must listen to them. This one may be the usual Jagger lament on women who mess with him, but Richards sprinkles some of the finest rock licks, lining them one after another to spark up the song. A lascivious treat. Spine-tingling moment: The opening pulse of guitar notes, amid the unforgettable cowbell.

9 Street Fighting Man (Beggars Banquet)
Can outlaws turn to politics? Nah, that's why they sing in rock and roll bands. Jagger captures perfectly the desperation that London boys faced during the turbulent 1960s. Richards, meanwhile, strums his acoustic guitar extra hard for the forceful punch. Spine-tingling moment: "But what can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock and roll band?/Cuz in sleepy London town there's just no place for a street fighting man."

8 Start Me Up (Tattoo You)
One of the two greatest opening tracks to start off an album. First you hear Richards' indelible riff, then Charlie Watts crashes in with a pulsating beat, then Ronnie Wood adds flourishes to the brilliant riff, then Jagger screams with glee: "If you start me up, I'll never stop!" Glorious rock. Spine-tingling moment: Slam dunk! Richards' opening riff is masterful.

7 Brown Sugar (Sticky Fingers)
The other greatest opening track. Similar to the "Start Me Up" structure, only this song was written nine years earlier. This time, Richards' riff is even better, Watts' drum crash is even more dramatic, and Mick Taylor's flourishes are more memorable. Jagger is also far more leery here. Head rush, bro. Spine-tingling moment: If Richards' riff doesn't get rocking, you're kicked out of the School of Rock.

6 Sympathy For The Devil (Beggars Banquet)
Perhaps the song synonymous to the allure of the Stones. Either you are appalled by the lurid, unsavoury imagery, or you marvel at the lyrical depth and musical dexterity of the band. Jagger assumes the Lucifer character and mocks at every event that changed the world and, probably, our own psyche. It's a dark journey that remains Jagger's high point as lyricist. "Pleased to meet you, hoped you guessed my name." Spine-tingling moment: The band ably complements Jagger with samba drums and sinister piano. Richards almost steals the show with his best guitar solo - icy and sneery.

5 Wild Horses (Sticky Fingers)
Undoubtedly the best Stones ballad. It's difficult to explain the immaculate beauty of the song, since it runs through every gut-wrenching emotion in a difficult relationship. Yet the stirring 12-string and pedal-steel guitars simply coat the immense hurt with intense soothing. Utterly magnificent. Spine-tingling moment: Another incredible line for a chorus: "Wild horses couldn't drag me away."

4 (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Aftermath)
Ah, their great hit, the song that personifies the rebel in rock and roll. In fact, the song title sets the agenda for every Stones song to come. Trying to attain satisfaction remains the glorious theme of all Jagger/Richards compositions. Spine-tingling moment: You can't go wrong with the three shattering notes that make up Richards' greatest riff.

3 Jumpin' Jack Flash (Hot Rocks)
Quite possibly my favourite riff of all time (maybe a tie with "Sweet Child O' Mine.") DUH! DUH! Dum-duh-duh, Dum-duh-duh, Dum-duh-duh, DUH! DUH! Spine-tingling moment: Whenever Richards plays that riff.

2 Gimme Shelter (Let It Bleed)
A chilling masterpiece, as the Stones warn of impending apocalypse as the 1960s came to an end. Jagger's sinister intent is matched by the band, who come up with a stunning piece of music. Every member contributes masterfully - Richards with his scared intro, Taylor adding subtle guitar moans, Bill Wyman piling the dread with ominous bass thumps and Watts with his inimitable drum fills. Spine-tingling moment: The intro summons dread like nothing else the Stones have done.

1 Happy (Exile On Main Street)
Satisfaction and release - the Stones' greatest themes. This song typifies the profound joy that rock and roll brings. Sung appropriately by Keith Richards, the greatest rock outlaw, it spits out all the rebellious streaks and then asks: "I need a love to keep me happy, baby won't you keep me happy?" A simple but deathless riff, a driving beat and tons, tons, tons of attitude. No one touches the spirit of rock better than the Stones. Spine-tingling moment: A short but wondrous guitar solo to lift the song into stratosphere. Richards bends his strings with such bouyant glee, it's all about being happy. Peace.

29 Comments:

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1:36 AM

 
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Anonymous Haz said...

What, no 'Soul Survivor', 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking', 'Monkey Man', 'Midnight Rambler', 'Let it Bleed', 'Stray Cat Blues' or 'Jigsaw Puzzle'? Still, I suppose there's too many songs to choose from. Well done for getting 'Ventilator Blues' in there though, my favourite Stones song ever.

10:26 PM

 
Blogger mad_dog_macias said...

u say your a stones fan and u leave off As Tears Go By?????

12:08 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it Mick Taylor bending the strings so bouyantly?

12:43 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy these lists!

I believe Mick Taylor played all of the guitar parts on Moonlight Mile.

12:49 AM

 
Anonymous Kevin said...

Thanks for The Rolling Stones Top 25-excellent observations to go with the rankings

10:58 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I was a Dancer part 2 is missing, should be #1

2:40 AM

 
Anonymous Karl said...

no "miss you"? love that song. but very nice list overall.

11:01 PM

 
Anonymous Gaza said...

nice list helped me get introduced to the stones work! however now i am i think you've not included enough off my favourite LP Let it Bleed!

2:11 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about sympathy for the devil?

10:19 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TOP TEN STONES SONGS.:
Gimme Shelter
Tumbling Dice
Beast of Burden
Start Me Up
Paint it Black
Brown Sugar
Satisfaction
Sympathy for The Devil
Happy

Still its so hard to fairly place a song at No. 1. Instead of ranking the songs in order or greatness just enjoy them.

10:34 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though this is a great list, you did leave out a few greats. Plus not even you can say that the Stones had a greater social impact than the Beatles. I love the Stones and I love the Beatles and I have great respect for both. Good work though... not many people would call "Ventilator Blues" a top song, though it is one of my favorites

3:13 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richards played all the guitar parts on Gimme shelter. It was recorded after Jones died but before Taylor joined.

9:20 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice list. i would have added "miss you" and "lies" but it's not my top 25.

Also liked the info on the songs :o, gave a little more i didn't know about some.

8:56 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as tears go by should be nunber one, and cant you hear me knocking deffinately should be on there

9:59 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good list, but Happy should not be ahead of a lot of the other tracks on the list. Would have 'Sweet Virginia', 'Tumbling Dice' and 'Dead Flowers' in there myself, but all about opinions.

Just one point - Satisfaction was not on the album 'aftermath' which was released in 1966. It's on one of the versions of 'Out of Our Head's' which was released in 1965.

3:27 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good list. I would personally include Girl with the Faraway Eyes. After listening to too much classic rock, and generally not having thought much about the Stones (due to a few overplayed hits), I finally hear this song...after that, I never took the Stones for granted.

1:35 PM

 
Anonymous pittoffsky said...

You do not understand rock&roll. You understand the Rolling Stones. All in all, complete shite.

11:35 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess you can say I'm a newer stones fan, but I've really been getting obsessed with them lately. One song I'd put on my list is Laugh, I nearly Died, amazing vocals right? You all would be happy to know that a Beatles girl has drifted to the dark side...

2:12 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no you can't always get what you want?
i guess it's true then...

1:35 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with almost everything on the list but where is "You cant always get what you want'"? It deserves mentioning.

7:28 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man, you've got nice comments on stones songs there... i am new to the stones music and after i heard all of those songs listed i can say that i absolutely agree on your commentaries. especially when i head wild horses and what you said the "spine tingling part", man, i completely lose my shit.

5:02 PM

 
Anonymous Matt O'Boyle said...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that is the best part.

For me, it gets no better than Dead Flowers>Moonlight Mile, so my list would have them at the top. My favorite 1-2 punch to close an album until Drive By Truckers "The Dirty South" with Lookout Mountain>Goddamn Lonely Love.

7:36 PM

 
Anonymous GT said...

Great list! what's cool is you managed to take songs from the whole of their careeer rather than just focusing on late 60s/early 70ss glory years.
I've always felt that rock critics' opinion that the stones didn't produce much of worth after Exile on Main St to be a crock of shit that often stops people from discovering some grt tunes.
Here's my "Stones post Exile favourites"
10. Star Star
9. Keep Up Blues
8. She's So Cold
7. Thru and Thru
6. Champagne and Reefer
5. Little T and A
4. Fingerprint File
3. Rough Justice
2. Love is Strong
1. We HAd It All

12:30 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Brown Sugar
2) Let It Loose
3) Miss You
4) Can't You Hear Me Knocking
5) Happy
6) Gimme Shelter
7) Let It Bleed
8) Sweet Virginia
9) Let's Spend The Night Together
10) Emotional Rescue
11) Beast Of Burden
12) All Down The Line
13) Jumping Jack Flash
14) Shattered
15) Street Fighting Man
16) Rip This Joint
17) Dead Flowers
18) Tumbling Dice
19) Star Star
20) Wild Horses
21) Rocks Off
22) Honky Tonk Women
23) Start Me Up
24) Satisfaction
25) Paint It Black

4:11 AM

 
Blogger Mason Merritt said...

On #22 it should be "the glimmer twins". I wouldnt normally point that mistake out but "the toxic twins" are what Joe Perry and Steven Tyler refer to themselves as. I think we should seperate Aerosmith and the Stones as much as possible ;)

1:09 PM

 

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