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100 Greatest Rolling Stones Songs

From “Paint It Black” to “Shine a Light” – the hottest rocks from the Stones’ 50-year career, chosen by our expert panel of writers, critics and artists

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To make the list, we asked each of these Stones experts to rank their 50 favorite songs, then tabulated the results.

The Panel: Patrick Carney (the Black Keys), Jonathan Cott (contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Cameron Crowe (director), Anthony DeCurtis (contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Jon Dolan (contributing editor, Rolling Stone), David Fricke (Senior Writer, Rolling Stone), Robert Greenfield (journalist and author), Will Hermes (contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Robert Hilburn (journalist and author), Howard Kramer (Director of Curatorial Affairs, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), Chuck Leavell (musician), Jonathan Lethem (novelist), Martin Scorsese (director), Rob Sheffield (contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Lucinda Williams (singer-songwriter), Warren Zanes (the Del Fuegos)

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100

“Prodigal Son” (1968)

The Stones cut plenty of blues covers but rarely sounded this authentic: an unplugged, acoustic-slide-guitar-driven cover of the Rev. Robert Wilkins' country blues about a boy who returns home after venturing out into the world on his own. Considering that the Stones began as blues purists, they were making a kind of homecoming too.

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99

“How Can I Stop” (1997)

Richards showed rarely seen romantic maturity and musical subtlety on this haunting gospel hymn. It features a sax solo by Wayne Shorter, recorded at 5:30 a.m. during the last Bridges to Babylon session. "I wouldn't have been able to write songs like that 10, 15 years ago," he said. Don Was agreed: "It's the most radical thing on the album. Keith really wrote a sophisticated piece of music."

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98

“Let Me Go” (1980)

A simple power-chord rocker telling a clueless lover to get lost. But what "Let Me Go" lacks in depth, it makes up for in punk-rock attitude. Richards slashes away and Wood provides Creedence-y licks, while Jagger contemplates hanging out at gay bars and tells his soon-to-be ex-lover, "Can't you get it through your thick head this affair is dead as a doornail?"

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97

“Slave” (1981)

Like almost everything on Tattoo You, this grunting, growling stomp was recorded years earlier – in Rotterdam, during the Black and Blue sessions. It's a five-minute, cowbell-thwacking jam, with funky organ from Billy Preston and the great Sonny Rollins on sax. It's also a superb showcase for the range of Jagger's voice, which leaps from soul-man falsetto to bluesy moans.

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96

“Mother’s Little Helper” (1966)

A huge hit about a pill-popping mom, propelled by an electric guitar imitating a sitar. "Very strange number," Jagger observed "Like a music-hall number." Richards had no problem with his partner's lyrics: "A lot of the stuff Chuck Berry and early rock writers did was putting down that other generation. We used to laugh at those people."

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95

“Little T&A” (1981)

Who else could smuggle the word "tits" onto the radio in 1981? Right next to the word "ass"? Only one band, and only one man: Keith Richards, who snarls, chants and wheezes his way through a celebration of his callipygian muse. Of course, he's still married to the woman he was with when it came out – and their two daughters happen to have the initials T and A.

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94

“Fingerprint File” (1974)

The Stones delved into Watergate-era paranoia on this post-Sly Stone funk workout, in which Jagger sings about "some little jerk in the FBI" with a stack of papers on him "six feet high." It was cut during their last sessions with Taylor, who played bass while Wyman switched over to synthesizer; Taylor laid down what may be the only bass solo on a Stones song.

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93

“Monkey Man” (1969)

Written on the same early-1969 Italian vacation that "Midnight Rambler" was written, "Monkey Man" is nearly as menacing. Wyman's spine-crawling vibraphone and mordant bass line have an air of creepy mystery, and Richards plays a piercing riff as Jagger offers the sulfuric disclaimer: "I hope we're not too messianic or a trifle too satanic." Not at all, Your Majesties.

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92

“Heaven” (1981)

Few Stones tracks are as atmospheric as this gauzy, left-field gem; Jagger strums an electric guitar while woozily crooning lines like "Nothing will harm you/Nothing will stand in your way," over a restrained, bare-bones accompaniment. This fever dream set to music inspired multiple EDM remixes 30 years later.

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91

“Factory Girl” (1968)

The working girl in this song must be one of the Stones' toughest and most formidable female characters: She takes the bus to the factory by day, she parties hard and starts fights by night, she makes Jagger wait in the rain for her to get off work. It's an acoustic Beggars Banquet oddity that feels like a country song yet incorporates tablas, mandolins and a fiddle solo.

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90

“She Was Hot” (1983)

Did Jagger ever get the woman from "She's So Cold" together with the woman from "She Was Hot"? The possibilities are staggering. This hopped-up ode to a steamy babe came with a video in which redheaded actress Anita Morris gets the boys so revved-up the buttons of their trousers pop off. MTV couldn't take the heat and made them recut it.

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89

“Let It Loose” (1972)

The big soul ballad on Exile is also the album's longest song. Jagger sings about watching friends fall apart and lovers fade away, as he staggers through a long night of sex, booze and the bedroom blues. His whisper-to-a-scream vocals build over piano, horns and those dramatic drum fills in the final choruses. Somehow the Stones have never played it live – but Phish have.

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88

“Love in Vain” (1969)

The 1937 Robert Johnson recording is a pillar of blues history, and the aching version on Let It Bleed (reprised heavily on the live album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out) is no doubt its most famous cover. Recast with a honky-tonk feel, Jagger wrings pain from the lyrics, and Taylor sets his slide guitar on stun. "I was in awe sometimes listening to Mick Taylor, especially on that slide," writes Richards in his memoir, paying respect where it's due.

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87

“When the Whip Comes Down” (1978)

A lovingly sleazy picture of New York street life, with a raw two-chord riff and a Lou Reed-style tale of a gay hustler who arrives in the big city fresh from the West Coast; he's determined to get over, whether that means garbage collecting or turning tricks. "A straight gay song," Jagger called it in Rolling Stone at the time. "I'm not sure why I wrote it. Maybe I came out of the closet."

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86

“Ride on Baby” (1967)

Written in 1965 and originally a hit for Chris Farlowe, "Ride on Baby" is like a scorched-earth version of "Under My Thumb." Jagger drops breakup bombs ("By the time you're 30, you'll look 65/You won't look pretty and your friends will have kissed you goodbye") as Jones earns his pay, playing marimba, harpsichord, koto and rhythm guitar.

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85

“Backstreet Girl” (1967)

A Stones song in waltz tempo with accordion? This old-world-flavored folk ballad appeared on the British version of Between the Buttons and featured Jagger in the role of a manor-bred man keeping his mistress in check. It was his favorite Buttons track, and given how slyly it tweaks English class and sexual hypocrisy, it's not hard to see why.

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84

“Rough Justice” (2005)

Richards cranked out a vintage snarling-guitar punisher while Jagger sounded like a reborn blues warrior, belting lines like "Once upon a time I was your little rooster/Now am I just one of your cocks?" Richards said the riff came in his sleep, "almost like 'Satisfaction'"; 40 years later, his dreams were better than the reality of mid-'00s rock.

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83

“Little Red Rooster” (1965)

One of Jagger's most potent early sex-god moments was manifest on this Howlin' Wolf cover, which the band released as a U.K. single in November '64 against all advice. "We wanted to make a statement," said Richards, with a challenge to the label: "See if you can get that to the top of the charts, motherfucker." Sure enough, it hit Number One. Foreshadowing events to come, it was cut without inviting Jones, who laid down his slithering slide part after the fact.

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82

“Out of Time” (1966)

The Stones' greatest Motown-style rave-up is about turning down an ex-lover (or "poor discarded baby") who wants to get back together. The band didn't release it as a single until 1975, but Jagger produced a version by British blues singer Chris Farlowe (signed to Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label), which was a U.K. hit in July 1966.

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81

“Child of the Moon” (1967)

The delicious, droning flip of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is a fond farewell of sorts to the psychedelia of the Their Satanic Majesties Request era. The sax is Jones, and the subject is likely Jagger's girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. As love letters go, it's pretty impressive: "Child of the moon/Give me a wide-awake, crescent-shaped smile."

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80

“Fool to Cry” (1976)

One of the most grown-up moments of their career, "Fool to Cry" is a falsetto ballad about a child helping Jagger through heartbreak. It's highlighted by Nicky Hopkins' airy Fender Rhodes jazz keyboard and slide guitar from Wayne Perkins. Written almost entirely by Jagger, it was never a Richards favorite: He fell asleep when they played it live in 1976.

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79

“That’s How Strong My Love Is” (1965)

In 1965, as Otis Redding was covering "Satisfaction," the Stones cut a version of this Otis classic (originally recorded in 1964 by Memphis soul man O.V. Wright). But where Redding's version is plaintive, the Stones' is driving and overheated, with Jones' and Richards' frenzied strumming and Jack Nitzsche's ascending organ backing Jagger, who sounds more like a stalker than a dream date.

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78

“I’m Free” (1965)

A tambourine-spangled folk rocker with chime-y, Byrds-like guitar, this offhandedly libertarian tune wasn't a big hit, but it's one of the Sixties' most pliant anthems. That's probably why it has remained a concert favorite – the Stones' version in Shine a Light sounds like it was written yesterday.