Here it is folks. If you are as big of a Stones fan as us, then you should have been able to deduct most of the entries, if not the order, of our top ten Rolling Stones tracks. What amazes me is the enormity of the popularity of each of these songs. With many bands, the most popular tracks often seem to be simply the most accessible, but with the Stones we get the best of both worlds. This top ten list came so easily to us, with little rancor or argument. The Rolling Stones truly went from England’s newest hit-makers to England’s greatest hit-makers. Please check out #’s 50-31 here and #’s 30-11 here. Also, check out our top 5 Stones albums here.
10. “Under My Thumb”
The lyrics of “Under My Thumb” remind me much of a response I received from a friend when I asked him how his relationship with his girlfriend of about three years was going. His response: “You know, Austin, I think I have finally molded her into exactly the person I have wanted her to become”. This relationship ended much how what I assume Mick Jagger’s relationships in the 60’s and 70’s ended. Beyond the lyrics, “Under My Thumb” is the perfect amount of psychadelic and funky for a well-earned spot in the top 10.
9. “Street Fighting Man”
“Hell Yeah, Rolling Stones, Street Fightin’ Man, G Se-e-e-v-un”. This is probably the most anthemic of any Rolling Stones song, and if it doesn’t move you to do something, whether it be march, shout, revolt, or kill, then you have lost the inability to feel. It’s hard to imagine that a band could pack this much substance into around three minutes.
8. “Paint it Black”
The most popular song featuring the sitar in history? I bet so. The contrast between the upbeat sitar riff and the dark lyrics make for a song disarmingly catchy. You may be able to say this about a lot of songs, but it is a little dark when a song about a funeral manages to embed itself in your brain for days on end.
7. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
More than anything, I think it must be said “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” has one of the most kick-ass guitar riffs of all time. The way the track breaks down into the middle saxophone bit and then builds back into Mick Taylor’s guitar solo is extraordinary, and well before its time. And who can forget Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro’s duel narration over this track in Casino.
6. “Rocks Off”
The opening track on our favorite double-LP of all-time is a masterpiece in its own right. “Rocks Off” maybe has most upbeat tone of any song on this entire list and is filled with entertaining lyrics throughout. I mean who can resist a line like “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me”?
5. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
From the ethereal choral intro to Jagger’s pitch-perfect delivery full of desperation, there is no point where the 7+ minutes turns overbearing or dull. The only down side of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is that it has supplied “hip” dads everywhere with a line to say to their kids who don’t like their dinner (“…if you try sometime you might just find you get what you need”).
4. “Loving Cup”
I’m not exactly sure why, but I feel that if there is one classic rock song that has inspired Jack White’s “country” side, it is “Loving Cup”. It is just the best sing-a-long The Rolling Stones have to offer and features some of the most beautiful piano work in popular music. Not much more fun that a group can have than throwing their glasses in the air and shouting, “Yes, I am nitty gritty and my shirt’s all torn”.
3. “Ruby Tuesday”
I was told during our meeting discussing this monster list that I needed to admit in a public forum that “Ruby Tuesday” was my favorite Beatles song for quite awhile. In my defense, this track was released during an era during which the Stones were competing with the Beatles for pop supremacy and toned things down a bit. That being said, “Ruby Tuesday” is among the Stones most beautiful songs, and is made morememorable from its use in Children of Men.
2. “Gimme Shelter”
“Gimme Shelter” has kind of a humble, low-key opening before getting into a groove and becoming wave after powerful wave of Stones goodness. The pairing a female vocalist with Jagger was pure genius, and adds one more layer to a band that always excelled in layering differing sounds. A personal tidbit that make this song special to me is hearing Phil Lesh & Friends cover it in impressive fashion at Bonnaroo with Joan Osborne just destroying the female vocals. Also note that Martin Scorsese finds “Gimme Shelter” so powerful that he has featured it in three of his films.
1. “Sympathy for the Devil”
Does anything scream rock n’ roll more than Mick Jagger singing a song from the point of view of Beelzebub himself? I think not. Can any other band pull off such a hard-hitting song backed by mostly maracas, congas and piano (before Keith’s nuanced guitar riffs come in)? No. There are so many directions when discussing what this song really means, but one thing is certain of everyone who hears it: they feel something. More than anything, I think it is a satirical slap in the face of Rolling Stones critics and rock n’ roll critics alike. Kind of saying, “If we are so evil, then evil has an extremely broad spectrum, and The Rolling Stones pale in comparison to other evils inflicted on the world”. That’s just one man’s take, but the ever-intensifying arrangement needs no perfect explanation to know that it is in that upper-echelon of all-time rock songs.