10 Rolling Stones Songs That Are Fan Favorite Deep Cuts

Rolling Stones Songs

Photo: By Dina Regine [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Rolling Stones were, at the time, rightfully called “the greatest Rock and Roll band of all time,” for obvious reasons, of course. They are one of the coolest bands around and are listened to by 98 % of the human population. During their reign, they were the grittiest, nastiest, most taboo band of their time, composing some of their era’s most groundbreaking music: the Swingin’ Sixties. That was the epoch when radio was paved with flower-power pop and people like Bob Dylan. Much like their more clean-cut counterpart, The Beatles, who formed around the same time as the Rolling Stones, the Stones started as a cover band, performing their renditions of their influences. But as the Beatles churned out infectious skiffle versions of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones were not only covering their idol Chuck Berry but also doing their skiffle approach to acts such as Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Reed, among many others.

The Beatles comparison doesn’t stop there since they rivaled each other for much of their career regarding universal status. Besides their earlier years of cover songs, they also initially plagued mainstream audiences with their brand of pop numbers, the Rolling Stones being more R&B and Blues influenced. It wasn’t until (I Can’t Get No)Satisfaction that they were granted authorization as an original band that 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 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 1969 at the unlucky age of 27, Mick Taylor? Even when the Stones underwent various changes, they were still in top form, recruiting established musicians with unique styles. Most bands couldn’t carry their instruments while the Stones were in their prime, and they continued 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 on 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, released on their 1966 record, Aftermath, was pretty groundbreaking. It was one of the first songs that extended this far on an LP; songs up until now were only three to five minutes long at most. It keeps the rhythm raw and to the point, with a nice effects-driven blues riff that keeps the same tempo. There’s even some tremendous 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, how he emphasizes each proclamation, breath, and yowl, and how 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 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 shows in the surrealist lyrics; I’m a cold Italian pizza, I could use a lemon squeezer is such a great line. But the vibraphone chimes at the beginning give the song its espionage-esque vibes, and Richards’ awesome slide solo during the mid-section gives 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 returned 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 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 one track on this record demonstrates the squalid grandeur of their rock and roll appeal, it’s When The Whip Comes Down.

# 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 Keith and Mick sing. It starts 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. It’s a very underrated song that rarely gets talked about.

# 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 stunning in every aspect. They experimented with every style on this record, from Country, Gospel, Soul, and Rockabilly to their Rhythm and Blues influence. Stop Breaking Down, an obvious Robert Johnson interpretation is the Stones at the core of their roots; they bring down the house with this irresistible body-mover. Jagger commands the tune with his mouth harp and Delta vocals, while Ian Stewart’s piano and Taylor’s slide guitar work turn this into one of the best Johnson covers.

# 4 – Sweet Virginia

Speaking of Exile on Main St., here’s another illustrious example of the Stones at their most diverse. This is a pretty little Country-inspired work of genius that’s thought-provoking and inspiring as it is a real crowd-pleasing sing-along. The way that harmonica wades through the mandolin and the immense power in the choir-like backing vocals in the chorus are 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. Here’s a fun fact: Bobby Keys and Gram Parsons are also featured on the song.

# 3 – Sister Morphine

I’m sure everybody knows about their 1971 record Sticky Fingers, the record with that Andy Warhol cover of a man’s tight jeans with the gimmicky zipper; no need to explain any further. Well, there’s this one song on the album that was written by singer and then-girlfriend of Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, and it’s, of course, Sister Morphine. She put out her version in 1969 with 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 acoustic, and Bill Wyman, who handled the bass. 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 doesn’t exhibit rock and roll instrumentation, but it surely makes up for it in its magnitude. It rings properly 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

Finding the right song for the number one slot was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, it has to be this one. It’s the last song off of Sticky Fingers, and it 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 it sends the body into goosebumps. Moonlight Mile is, without exception, their greatest deep cut.

Top 10 Rolling Stones Songs: Deep Cuts article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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