Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
The Rolling Stones have been said to be, more than any other, the greatest rock’n’roll band ever. Starting as a through-and-through blues band (the group is named after the Muddy Waters staple “Rollin’ Stone”), the Stones cut their teeth around England for a couple years and finally signed a record deal with Decca via their producer Andrew Loog Oldham. They found initial success as a part of the British Invasion – and the rest is history. Here are the top five tracks (an impossible list to compile) from London’s original bad-boys: Mick, Keith, Brian (then Mick, then Ron), Bill, and Charlie.
- “Paint It Black” from Aftermath (1966)
After three albums in the US and three in the UK, the Stones finally scored their first mega-hit with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. With Beatlemania coming to a close and that group becoming decidedly more experimental, the Stones had only one option: become experimental. Of all the various instruments played by guitarist Brian Jones throughout his short career, no sound has become more recognizable than his sitar playing on the intro to this truly fascinating number. Starting to truly blossom as a songwriter, Mick Jagger delivers a shivering perspective of someone on the outside looking in: “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness goes”. It didn’t last for long, but with this song the group’s psychedelic period was soaring high into the sky
- “Sympathy For The Devil” from Beggars Banquet (1968)
Fast forward a couple years that were basically a blur for the Stones anyhow – by 1967 the entire group had become hooked on LSD, with their manager Oldham losing complete faith in the group and Mick and Keith being tried for drug charges. Did this cause them to get their act together? No. What it did cause, though, was new producer Jimmy Miller coming in and fixing up the band’s sound to pay tribute to their deepest influences as well as offering something raw and new. “Sympathy…” introduced the new and improved Rolling Stones to the world. With a samba rhythm over pulsing piano, Jagger gives arguably his best vocal performance and absolutely some of his best lyrics – chronicling the downfall of humanity as perceived by Lucifer himself. “Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name/But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game”. Keith Richards once compared Jagger to Shakespeare, and if there’s anywhere in the group’s catalog where that holds true, it’s here.
- “Gimme Shelter” from Let It Bleed (1969)
If you know only one Rolling Stones song, it’s this one. The amount of lore and myth surrounding the creation of this song and its recording is the stuff of legends. Did singer Merry Clayton really suffer a miscarriage after screaming “RAPE, MURDER” over and over again in the studio, or that she didn’t even know who the Rolling Stones were when she got the call to do the session? It doesn’t really matter, because what we’re left with is an absolutely triumphant and heart-wrenching account of one of humanities truest atrocities: the Vietnam War. Jagger’s description is a bit more apt, though: “That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.”
- “Beast Of Burden” from Some Girls (1978)
With their “classic” period under their belt, a new lineup, and continuous addiction (Keith and his heroin), the boys made somewhat of a comeback into the mainstream with the release of Some Girls. Not a full out ballad, yet not a full out rock song, “Beast Of Burden” is perhaps the best known anomaly of the Stones’ discography. Appearing as the second single on an album with which the group crossed over to the budding and new sound of disco, the song is a bit of a lyrical departure for Jagger as well. The singer sings of a relationship that is becoming difficult and unrewarding, but the song is ambiguous as to which person is the “beast of burden”. In 1978, Mick himself analyzed the songwriting: “Maybe Beast of Burden is integrated slightly: I don’t want a beast of burden, I don’t want the kind of woman who’s going to drudge for me. The song says: I don’t need a beast of burden, and I’m not going to be your beast of burden, either.”
5. “Start Me Up” from Tattoo You (1981)
Their career spanning nearly two decades at this point, the Stones needed to develop something to keep the younger demographics interested. It was the early 80’s and the come-up-come-down effect of the 60’s and 70’s was over. People were venturing away from classic rock to more “alternative” and “independent” options as new wave and post-punk were ruling much of the radio. Who still needed the Rolling Stones? With “Start Me Up”, the band proved that they were still near if not at the top of the heap of bands with guitars. Featuring one of Keith Richard’s most memorable guitar riffs and an especially sassy vocal from Jagger, it would be the last true larger-than-life hit the group would produce.