The Rolling Stones have long been called the world’s “Greatest Rock & Roll Band” for a few decades now. It was on July 12, 1962 that the “Rollin’ Stones,” whose name was inspired by Muddy Waters’ 1950’s song of the same name, performed as a group for the first time at the Marquee Club in London.
The original group lineup was comprised of Mick Jagger on lead vocals, Brian Jones and Keith Richards on guitars, Bill Wyman on bass guitar, Charlie Watts on drums and Ian Stewart on keyboards. In 1963, after Andrew Loog Oldham became their manager, Ian Stewart became the group’s road manager and occasionally still played piano. After releasing ten successful record albums during the 1960s, Brian Jones was fired during the recording of Let It Bleed in 1969 and accidentally drowned a short time later while Mick Taylor replaced him. Taylor was with the band for five albums and then was replaced by former “Faces” guitarist Ron Wood who recorded nearly a dozen albums with them. Bill Wyman, the original bass player, quit in December 1992 and began working on his historical archive of Rolling Stones photos, films, tapes, and documents chronicling the band’s entire history.
Over their nearly 60 year career, they have produced dozens of landmark hit singles and record albums and won or have been nominated for every music and entertainment award available as well as being inducted into a number of music Halls of Fame. It would take a list of at least 100 songs to do justice to their catalogue, so this is a distillation reduced to the bare essence.
10. “Beast of Burden”
Beast of Burden is from the 1978 release of Some Girls during one of the darkest periods that the band went through. At the time Keith Richards was looking at the possibility of spending time in jail because of his drug busts and the “Rolling Stones” were considering breaking up when they decided to double down. Jagger provided the lyrics while Richards provided the groove and then worked it out in the recording studio by trading licks with his partner Ron Wood. Bette Midler did a version of the song in 1984 and Jagger appeared in the video with her.
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9. “It’s Only Rock and Roll”
“It’s only Rock and Roll” was the title song from the Rolling Stones’ 1974 release which was Mick Taylor’s last album with the band. Rolling Stone Magazine called the album “decadent because it invites us to dance in the face of its own despair.” The violent lyrics describe a joyous suicidal dance on stage to satisfy “your teenage lust.”
8. “The Last Time”
“The Last Time” from Aftermath was a re-worked version of “This May Be the Last Time,” a gospel song by the Staple Singers from 1955. Some complained that the Stones never paid any royalties to the Staple Singers but the song is “traditional” and was recorded by many artists and is still sung in churches today. The riff is the same but the lyrics are completely different in the Stones’ version. The Staple’s version is spiritual and uplifting while the Stones’ rendition is about a carnal relationship with a girl. Although this sounds blasphemous it falls right in line with the double standard that has existed since the field holler’s gave birth to both the Spirituals and the Blues after the Civil War in 1865.
7. “Paint It, Black”
“Paint It, Black” was the Rolling Stones’ third number one hit in the USA and definitely solidified their position as a musical force of the 1960s. At first they were seen as a scruffier version of the Beatles and when they added a sitar to the song it was seen as following the Beatles after Norwegian Wood in 1965. It came out in 1966 on the Aftermath album and even though the song is credited to Jagger/Richards, Bill Wyman “has long claimed he helped a great deal in writing the song.”
6. “2000 Light Years From Home”
“2000 Light Years From Home” came from the Rolling Stones’ album Their Satanic Majesties Request that followed the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band seven months earlier. The year 1967 had a double meaning as it was the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco but “burn baby burn” in Detroit and Newark with major riots. The Beatles represented the happy hippies with a circus atmosphere while the Rolling Stones created dark psychedlic imagery with the album title and using space travel at a time when inner space astronauts were flying on LSD and Syd Barrett was still a member of Pink Floyd.
5. “Ruby Tuesday”
“Ruby Tuesday” was the “Stone’s” fourth #1 hit in America and although the song is credited to Jagger/Richards it was Keith Richards’ composition. Music historians agree that it was an autobiographical song about his ex-girlfriend, Linda Keith, that left him for Jimi Hendrix. It came from the American version of Between the Buttons released in January 1967
4. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a song that was about Jack Dyer who was Keith Richards’ elderly gardener. He wore a pair of rubber boots which made a distinct sound that woke up Mick Jagger when he was crashing at Keith’s place one night. When he asked what the sound was , Keith said that it was his gardener “Jumping Jack.” That was the inspiration for them to sit down and write the song which ended up on 1968’s Beggers Banquet.
3. “Sympathy for the Devil”
“Sympathy for the Devil” was right in line with the Rolling Stones’ reputation at the time as the bad boys of rock who dabbled in the dark side. The song was developed in the studio as it was transformed from a low key folk song to a high energy rock anthem. The phrase “Please allow me to introduce myself” is indelibly imprinted on the memory of the collective consciousness of a generation.
2. “Gimme Shelter”
“Gimme Shelter” is the opening cut on Let It Bleed that the Rolling Stones recorded in 1969 when it became the last album that Brian Jones was on. The turmoil of that broken relationship can be felt in the tone and direction of the song which is apocalyptic in nature. Martin Scorsese liked it enough to use it in three of his films.
1. (I Can’t Get No) “Satisfaction”
Keith Richards was doodling on his guitar in bed with the tape on one night and the riff was on the recorder the next morning leaving Jagger to write the lyrics. “Satisfaction” is the saga of disenfranchised youth back in the mid 1960s who were fed up with the phony empty rhetoric of their elders and its consumer mentality. “Don’t tell me how white my shirt can be” and what brand of cigarettes I should smoke.” “Devo” did an interesting version of “Satisfaction” in 1978.