Few things in rock come close to hearing the opening chords of Start Me Up reverberating around a packed arena, or hearing the fevered groove of Gimme Shelter blasting through a speaker.
Since forming in the Sixties, The Rolling Stones have reached rock n’ roll legend status, and it now looks like there’s new material on the way. Fresh from Mick Jagger’s 80th birthday celebrations, and with the band having just wrapped up their summer concerts, it looks like there could well be another Stones’ album coming out soon.
Yesterday a mysterious advert popped up in the Hackney Gazette, a weekly local newspaper for Hackney and its surrounding areas. “Hackney Diamonds, specialists in glass repair,” said writing at the top of the ad’s red square.
But eagle-eyed readers immediately suspected it could be much more than an advert for a glass repair company. Firstly, the writing was in the same font used for the Stones’ 1978 album Some Girls. Then, instead of a dot on the ‘i’ in diamonds, there was a tiny version of the band’s Hot Lips logo.
“Opening September 2023. Our friendly team promises you satisfaction. When you say gimme shelter, we’ll fix your shattered windows,” the advert continued.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Gimme Shelter and Shattered Windows have been some of the band’s biggest hits. At the bottom of the advert there was one final wink: “est. 1962” said the ad – exactly the same year that the Stones formed.
To celebrate the legendary band – as we await official confirmation that new music is on the way – here we’ve picked 15 of the greatest Rolling Stones songs of all time – a tricky task indeed.
15. Tumbling Dice (1972)
Tumbling Dice is a standout for its bluesy rhythm, and its double drums – the late and great drummer Charlie Watts and producer Jimmy Miller play the drums at the same time, boosting the track’s signature groove. The laid-back song, which tells the story of an unfaithful gambler, is an instant earworm: the breezy guitar riff instantly drops into the beat and you’re hooked. When its protagonist sings “Baby, I can’t stay”, the song sounds so good, their sins are almost forgiven.
Much of the track was, tantalisingly, recorded in the basement of the Villa Nellcôte in the French Riviera town Villefranche-sur-Mer, where Richards lived for a time. While the villa has become known for being the birthplace of the band’s excellent 1972 album, Exile On Main St, it’s even better remembered for being the location of a long summer of the Stones’ decadent parties.
14. Fool To Cry (1976)
Reflective ballad Fool to Cry is the standout moment from 1976’s Black & Blue and one of the group’s finest ballads. The track is underpinned throughout by a graceful electric piano chord progression, played through a swirling Leslie speaker. It marks one of the group’s most unhurried and resplendent songs, contrasting nicely with the chest-beating blues rock we’ve come to know and love from the Stones. The band rarely play the track live and the group’s May 2018 show at London Stadium marked the song’s first outing since 1999 — fans were pleased to see Jagger could still hit the chorus’s high-notes four decades on from the original recording.
13. It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (1974)
Although Ronnie Wood didn’t officially join the Stones until the following year, he first played acoustic guitar on the group’s joyously exuberant 1974 track It’s Only Rock 'N' Roll and ended up recording an early version in his private studio in London. The original demo also featured David Bowie on backing vocals, which didn’t survive onto the album version. Guitarist Mick Taylor left following rising tensions within the group a year later and the video for the single was one his last appearances with the group.
12. Beast Of Burden (1978)
Beast of Burden from 1978’s Some Girls sparked a comeback of sorts after a quieter few years for the group, reaching number eight in the US charts. The track is hooked around one of Richards’ slinkiest and most carefree riffs, taking down the tempo in exquisite style. Some Girls opens with the disco stomp of Miss You — if that was the party getting started, Beast of Burden is the sound of the dancefloor slowly emptying, with the revellers steadily pairing off and stumbling into the night. A magical moment.
11. Angie (1973)
Rarely has the end of a relationship sounded so attractive as it does on Angie, the heartbreaking ballad that brings a close to the first side of the band’s 13th studio album, Goat’s Head Soup. The song was written largely by Richards and the stunning piano accompaniment was provided by session musician Nicky Hopkins. The track draws the listener into the midst of a doomed couple’s fractured bond, clinging onto love despite having nothing left to give. While the tone of the song seems a little defeatist in its approach, the final two lines (“Angie ain’t it good to be alive, we can’t say we never tried”) offers an oddly life affirming take on human relationships.
10. Honky Tonk Women (1969)
This song opens with one of the greatest shuffles in rock – not quite Toto’s Roseanna, but not far off – before the delta-style drone starts. Jagger and Richards share vocal duties, making for a rousing bar room song that’s lifted by freewheeling New Orleans horns. It’s a Jack Daniels-soaked masterpiece, though not one that ever made it onto an album; the band kept it as a single. There is also an alternate take that’s on Let It Bleed worth exploring; the whole album is a gem, and the cover is quite something too. The grotesque cake on was put together by none other than Delia Smith.
9. Wild Horses (1971)
Forget the awful covers that came later; the original Wild Horses sees the Stones at their peak. What could have been a by-numbers ballad instead is a haunting record of loneliness, love and loss. Mick Taylor’s acoustic strumming shimmers underneath it all while the drums seem to stab and hurt. Over it all is Keith, taking the lead again, bluesy licks tumbling in between each of Jagger's wistful laments. The power of Wild Horses is difficult to explain: it sounds like the band are slowly drifting into nothingness.
8. Paint It Black (1966)
Paint It Black remains one of the group’s most popular songs, despite being one of the most incongruous when compared the majority of the band’s back catalogue. It’s the most-played Rolling Stones song on Spotify, for example, with 943m listens — 333m more than second most popular, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Brian Jones’ interest in Moroccan music heavily influenced the sound of the track. Meanwhile, Charlie Watts’ frenzied drumming adds irresistible urgency, which remains a highlight of Stones shows to this day.
7. Street Fighting Man (1968)
Jagger was allegedly inspired to write Street Fighting Man by an anti-war rally at London’s US embassy and the track certainly seems to embody angry injustice. The acoustic-guitar led track features an uncharacteristically raucous delivery from Jagger, a simple but devastating bassline from Bill Wyman and ingenious use of the Indian instrument Shehnai on the chorus to add brilliant splashes of texture. The separate elements come together to create a great, cacophonous mix, managing levels of heaviness that most metal bands would strive for.
6. Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968)
After some vague attempts at psychedelia, the Stones dug deep into their love of the blues and soul in ‘68. That year, they came out with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a song propelled so urgently forward by Charlie Watts that it sounds like his arms were powered by pneumatics. Every beat stings like a whip, snapping along with the riff over the top - the riff that Led Zeppelin would spend forever trying to get to. On tour, the song was as overpowering as using a blowtorch to light a cigarette: in the early Seventies, Mick Taylor could leave Eric Clapton for dead and you hear it on the live cuts. If it doesn’t get you moving, write a will.
5. Sympathy For The Devil (1968)
Jagger never sounded more stately than when he was pretending to be the devil. The premise is dark enough, but the song is too vibrant to ever really scare: it’s flamboyant, not fearsome. What sounds like Bill Wyman’s best moment is actually Keef on bass, while the crystalline piano seems ironic; a touch of gospel while Beelzebub holds court. Richards also kills it with his lead; the solo is as sharp as barbed wire, a jagged twist of searing guitar cutting the speakers in half. The song is also pleasingly surrounded by rumours: during recording, a fire is said to have swept through the studio, destroying almost everything but the tapes. It’s also rumoured to be the song that caused Slash to quit Guns N’ Roses, as Axl asked a new rhythm guitarist to play on their 1994 cover. Stranger still, though, is that the first ever cover of the song was by lightweight pop star Sandie Shaw. What was the nature of that game?
4. You Can't Always Get What You Want (1969)
You Can’t Always Get What You Want is sometimes described as the Rolling Stones’ take on Hey Jude, which the Beatles had released a year earlier. It’s certainly true that the classical choir and overall production made for one of the most expansive songs ever released by the band, while the big, bold sing-along chorus shares a similar approach to the classic. The song lyrics here contemplate Sixties drug culture in west London and find the band in a reflective and pragmatic mood, bringing an unforgettable close to classic 1969 album Let It Bleed.
3. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (1965)
Their first US number one, Satisfaction, is quite literally a dream come true: Richards says it came to him while asleep. Waking up, he grabbed an acoustic, played the riff over and over into his tape recorder, mumbled something about Satisfaction and then nodded back off. The now iconic riff, with its raggedy, fuzzed up edges, came about by luck. Richards plugged into a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone pedal, his one and only time using a fuzz, and laid down the line as a placeholder, meaning to replicate the sound of the horn section he wanted on the record. The rest of the band kicked back, insisting they keep it that way and the rest is history. Otis Redding’s cover gives an idea of what Keith may have had in mind. Jagger gives one of his best performances, too, his voice teasing, playful: we know he’s getting plenty of Satisfaction really.
2. Start Me Up (1981)
Plenty is weird about Start Me Up; the terrible, terrible video (Mick appears to be parodying himself, Charlie can’t stop laughing at the rest of them), the single’s cover (a single goat’s hoof in a stiletto) and Jagger’s decidedly odd tribute to his lover (“You made a dead man come”). Strangest of all, though, is that the 1981 hit started life in 1976 as a reggae track which never made it. Sheer luck meant an engineer found the old cut and gave the band a de facto opener for their concerts, with one of the most recognisable riffs in rock n’ roll history. Charlie Watts’ tripping cymbal at the start of the song is supposedly a mistake as he struggled to catch the chords, but the band kept it in anyway. After all, it sounded a bit off – perfect.
1. Gimme Shelter (1969)
There is something creeping and insidious that swells within the opening notes of Richards’ trembling arpeggios. You can almost hear the drugs disturbing his blood; he wrote the song while wrapped in the gloom of knowing his then-girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, was likely cheating on him with Mick Jagger. The song carries more in it than heartbreak, though: it is 1969 distilled – the death of the freewheeling Sixties, the violence of Vietnam. The chorus says it all: ‘War, children, it's just a shot away/Rape, murder/It's just a shot away.’
Though the song is all Richards, who plays every guitar part, including those swampy leads, it belongs to gospel singer Merry Clayton. The pregnant backing singer got the call to record at nearly midnight. At times, she screamed her way through it, her voice cracking with the strain of it all and her intensity makes the record. Tragically, when she got home afterwards, she reportedly suffered a miscarriage. Despite the awful history that goes with it, Gimme Shelter is possibly the perfect rock n' roll record.