And the Beatles comparison doesn’t stop there, since these two rivaled each other for much of their career, as far as universal status was concerned. Besides both of their earlier years of cover songs, they also initially plagued mainstream audiences with their own brand of pop numbers; the Rolling Stones being more R&B and Blues influenced. It wasn’t until (I Can’t Get No)Satisfaction where they were granted authorization as an original band who would now be taken seriously. The rest was history in the making.
Comprised of one of the most well-known lineups in music, you have the electrifying frontman Mick Jagger, the incomparable rhythm guitarist Keith Richards, the unseen power of bassist Bill Wyman, the rock steady beat of drummer Charlie Watts, and the tasteful lead of guitarist Ronnie Wood. It doesn’t stop there, though. Who can forget the founder and original multi-instrumentalist of the band, Brian Jones? Or the lead guitarist who took over his slot when he died in the 1969 at the unlucky age of 27, Mick Taylor? Even when the Stones were going through various changes, they were still in top form; recruiting established musicians with unique styles all their own. Most bands couldn’t carry their instruments while the Stones were in their prime, and they still continue to put out music fifty years later, selling out stadium after stadium and still dropping albums.
We won’t focus on their worldwide hits, but mainly their album cuts that everybody should know about; here we will “shine a light” on the innards of their discography.
10.) Going Home
This eleven minute improvisational jam, which was released on their 1966 record, Aftermath, was pretty groundbreaking. It was the very first song that extended this far on an LP; songs up until this point were only three minutes to five minutes long at most. It keeps the rhythm pretty raw and to the point, with a nice effects-driven blues riff that keeps the same tempo throughout. There’s even some great harmonica-playing courtesy of Brian Jones. But what makes the song so memorable is not only the off-the-cuff grooves each member contributes, but Jagger’s sex-drenched innuendos and the way he emphasizes each proclamation, breath, and yowl, and the way he plays with his vocals like a separate instrument.
9.) Monkey Man
The Stones had a fine career ahead of them, putting out a collage of albums that each represented the sign of the times in which they were released, but once they recorded Let It Bleed in 1969, their legacy was already set in stone; this record painted an era of civil unrest and an a cultural upheaval. It was a mean and inexorably free-spirited record, and one glowing example would be the track, Monkey Man. It was a tribute to Italian artist Mario Schifano, and it really shows in the surrealist lyrics; I’m a cold italian pizza, I could use a lemon squeezer is such a great line. But it’s the vibraphone chimes at the beginning that give the song its espionage-esque vibes, and Richards’ awesome slide solo during the mid section that give it that extra punch. Director Martin Scorcese even liked it so much that he put it in his classic film, Goodfellas.
8.) No Expectations
After a bizarre period of musical experimentation, the Stones came back with an explosive bang in the form of their 1968 album, Beggars Banquet; a full-blown blues album comprised largely of acoustic numbers. No Expectations is one of their more kind-hearted and solemn-sounding; it bares a lovelorn tone in the same spirit as Love In Vain Blues by Robert Johnson. It also features Brian Jones on slide guitar. This is definitely the Rolling Stones at their most vulnerable.
7.) When The Whip Comes Down
Some saw their 1978 album, Some Girls, as their comeback album; a return to their vibrant essence that wasn’t present on their last few albums. If there’s one track on this record that demonstrates the squalid grandeur of their rock and roll appeal, it’s When The Whip Comes Down. The songs lyrical content tells the story of what seems to be about a gay prostitute living life on the streets of New York, but don’t let that detract from the killer groove.
6.) Salt of the Earth
This was the song that closed Beggars Banquet, and it’s a gem. It’s one of the few Stones songs where both Keith and Mick sing on. It starts out as a tinkling acoustic composition, before shifting into an almost gospel-like intensity. The song speaks of the common workers who are the salt of the earth, and how they continue to get taken advantage of by the elitism of those at the top. A very underrated song that doesn’t get talked about too often.
5.) Stop Breaking Down:
Exile on Main St. is often seen as the Rolling Stones’ seminal work, and that argument isn’t far off from the truth; the album is absolutely stunning in every aspect. They experimented with every style on this record, from Country, Gospel, Soul, and Rockabilly, all the way to their Rhythm and Blues influence. Stop Breaking Down, being an obvious Robert Johnson interpretation, is the Stones at the core of their roots; they bring down the house with this irresistibly body-mover. Jagger commands the tune with his mouth harp and Delta vocals, while Ian Stewarts piano and Taylor’s slide guitar work turns this into one of the very best Johnson covers.
4.) Sweet Virginia:
Speaking of Exile on Main St., here’s yet another illustrious example of the Stones at their most diverse. This is a pretty little Country-inspired work of genius that’s every bit of thought-provoking and inspiring as it is a real crowd-pleasing sing-along. The way that harmonica wades through the jingling mandolin, and the immense power in the choir-like backing vocals in the chorus; just wonderful. If you don’t find yourself belting out the lines, I want you come on, come on down, you got it in you. You to scrape that sh*t right off your shoe!, then you’re not feeling the music. Fun fact too: Bobby Keys and Gram Parsons are featured on the song as well.
3.) Sister Morphine:
I’m sure everybody knows about their 1971 record Sticky Fingers, you know, the record with that Andy Warhol cover of a mans tight jeans with the gimmicky zipper; no need to explain any further. Well, there’s this one song on the album that was written with singer and then-girlfriend of Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, and it’s of course, Sister Morphine. She put out her own version in 1969 with her singing, Jagger playing the acoustic progression, Ry Cooder playing the slide guitar and bass, Jack Nitzsche on piano, and Watts on the drums; the Stones released their version on Sticky Fingers with everybody maintaining their respective positions, save for Jagger who sang, while Richards played the acoustic, and Bill Wyman, who handled the bass. Definitely the Stones’ murkiest song, but it’s one of their greatest.
2.) Shine A Light:
Arguably the best song on Exile On Main St., Shine A Light brings out the vulnerability in the Stones. It’s doesn’t exhibit rock and roll instrumentation, but it surely makes up for it in its magnitude. It rings true like any traditional gospel composition, but with a creamy additive of the Stones’ attitude. It was written early on in 1968 about Brian Jones’ drug addiction and deteriorating state of mind, and plays out as a fitting tribute and farewell to him.
1.) Moonlight Mile
It was kind of tough decision trying to find the right song for the number one slot, but at the end of the day, it really has to be this one. It’s the last song off of Sticky Fingers, and it really does save the very best for last; this is a Rolling Stones epic in every way imaginable. Jagger plays the Asian-inspired acoustic melody in their signature open G tuning, and accompanies the soft and sweet first half with poetic lyrics about the downside of being alone on the road while missing that special loved one; the vibe gives off such a Winter atmosphere. And once the song accretes towards the climactic ending, it absolutely explodes into something so tearfully optimistic that literally sends the body into goosebumps. Moonlight Mile is, without exception, their greatest deep cut.
Updated Jan 7, 2021
Top 10 Top 10 Rolling Stones Songs: Deep Cuts article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2016
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