100 Greatest Rolling Stones Songs - Rolling Stone
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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

The Rolling Stones

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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)

RB/Redferns

1

“Gimme Shelter” (1969)

“That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that,” Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995, describing “Gimme Shelter.” Like nothing else in rock & roll, the song embodies the physical experience of living through a tumultuous historical moment. It’s the Stones‘ perfect storm: the ultimate Sixties eulogy and rock’s greatest bad-trip anthem, with the gathering power of soul music and a chaotic drive to beat any punk rock. The song was born during a pounding English rainstorm. “It was just a terrible fucking day,” Richards recalled. He was killing time in the apartment of English art-scene guru Robert Fraser while girlfriend Anita Pallenberg was on set making Performance, a film in which she beds down with Jagger. With chords ghosted by a droning E-note, the music radiated dread – clearly inspired by a mix of Jimmy Reed’s trance-inducing blues, Richards‘ own romantic anxiety, and ­heroin, which he’d just begun using. It took him about 20 minutes or so to get down the basics, which were fleshed out over several sessions in London and Los Angeles during 1969. The finished version is something entirely new for the Stones, with a slithering Watts-Wyman groove and full gospel-style backing vocals; New Orleans-born Merry Clayton was asked to sing on the track because the band’s first choice, Bonnie Bramlett, was unavailable, and she seized the opportunity, wailing, “Rape, murder! It’s just a shot away!” like the end times were nigh. When the band played the song at Altamont, minutes before concertgoer Meredith Hunter was stabbed, the lines seemed like grim prophecy. Richards later said that his guitar fell apart during the recording, “as if by design.”

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