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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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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.

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77

“Ventilator Blues” (1972)

This Exile stomper takes its name from the basement in Nellcôte, where it was recorded. "It was divided into a series of bunkers," Richards said. "Not a great deal of ventilation." The only Stones song on which Taylor received a co-writing credit, it digs deep into their blues roots. But the Stones sound more like dirty scavengers than reverent revivalists.

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76

“Bitch” (1971)

Of all the seventies rock songs with "Bitch" in the title – from Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back" to David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" – none bitched harder or louder than this one. Despite its raw immediacy, it was recorded in an all-night session over many takes, with Richards arriving late in the process to work in his punishing riff on the fly.

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75

“Citadel” (1967)

Another dark moment in the Stones' unflowery psychedelic phase. Sounding like an imperiled lord of the manor, Jagger surveys a world in chaos and, ignoring it all, beckons for a few maidens to "please come see me in the citadel." Richards' bad-trip riff is made even trippier by Jones' Mellotron, saxophone and flute.

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74

“Some Girls” (1978)

Why did the Stones call this album Some Girls? "Because we couldn't remember their fucking names," as Richards put it at the time. The title song remains one of the Stones' funniest moments, as Jagger sings about the hard work of womanizing, pursued by groupies who take his money and take his clothes. The roué in the song dishes about his sexual tangles with women around the world (from gentle Chinese girls to prissy Brits to greedy Americans) over a leering blues-grind track that gave him plenty of room to be heard. Jagger's delivery is boozy and sly, and one line in particular raised hackles: He confesses he doesn't have the "jam" to satisfy "black girls," who "wanna get fucked all night." Predictably, this blew up into a major media controversy. Jagger protested that the song was intended as a joke. As he told Rolling Stone in 1978, "Most of the girls I played the song to like 'Some Girls.' They think it's funny; black girlfriends of mine just laughed. . . . I really like girls an awful lot, and I don't think I'd say anything really nasty about any of them."

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73

“Far Away Eyes” (1978)

Country music that doesn't get weighed down with reverence. Over that Bakersfield arrangement, with Wood on the pedal steel, Jagger sings about driving down the road, listening to gospel radio, hearing the preacher announce, "You always got the Lord by your side," and running 20 red lights in God's name. It's a loving outsiders' tribute to the essential weirdness of America.

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72

“Cry to Me” (1965)

This deep-blue cover of Solomon Burke's 1962 signature tune was recorded at the same May '65 RCA Studios sessions in Los Angeles that produced "Satisfaction." Per legend, that was also where the Stones were first introduced to cocaine. Maybe that comes through in Jagger's high-strung shouts, although the Stones' take on the R&B burner is even slower than Burke's.

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71

“Emotional Rescue” (1980)

In the studio one night, Jagger improvised an outrageous falsetto-disco goof at the electric piano, backed by Wood on bass and Watts on drums. The resulting track stretches out near the six-minute mark, with Jagger making up his arched-eyebrow sex monologue as he goes along. The Stones decided to release it as a single – whereupon it became a massive international dance hit.

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70

“Around and Around” (1964)

One of the first songs Jagger and Richards ever recorded – for a demo the "Blue Boys" gave to Alexis Korner in 1962 – their take on the churning Chuck Berry classic would spur fan frenzy in concert, and it introduced the Stones to America during their Ed Sullivan Show debut later that year. The band's wildness freaked out the variety-show host. The little girls, however, understood.

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69

“Jigsaw Puzzle” (1968)

Richards called hearing Bob Dylan a "punch in the face," and this is one of the Stones' most Dylanesque moments – a country-rock blast of Highway 61 Revisited surrealism. Jagger walks us through a gallery of holy freaks ("He really looks quite religious/He's been an outlaw all his life"). Per Richards: "Like Dylan says, 'To live outside the law, you must be honest.'"

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68

“Hand of Fate” (1976)

Recorded shortly after Taylor's departure in 1974, "Hand of Fate" is a growling, funked-up murder fantasy. Wayne Perkins, auditioning to be Taylor's replacement, played the sterling solo. "There was a spotlight in the middle of the room," he said of his first meeting with the band. "They wanted to see if I looked like a Rolling Stone, and I hadn't even played a note for 'em yet."

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67

“I Am Waiting” (1966)

This is the Stones in shimmering, stoned-baroque folk-rock mode á la "Lady Jane," recording in L.A., with Jack Nitzsche adding harpsichord. When they performed it on the U.K. music show Ready Steady Go, with Richards on acoustic and Jones strumming a dulcimer in his lap, it was an image of the band maturing in real time.

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66

“Sittin’ on a Fence” (1967)

Largely written in a hotel room during their 1965 tour of Ireland, this modest fingerpicked folk shuffle feels like a throwaway (it appeared on the 1967 outtakes set, Flowers). In fact, it's kind of a manifesto: Jagger watches his friends grow up, marry and buy homes – "'cause there's nothing else to do" – and opts to stay on that fence and lead the swingin' single life, at least for now.

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65

“Heart of Stone” (1965)

Early in 1965, the Stones hit the Top 20 for the second time (after "Time Is on My Side") with this wonderfully prickly soul ballad written by Jagger and Richards. With its poking guitar twang and caddish lyrics ("If you try acting sad, you'll only make me glad"), it's an early flare-up of Jagger-ian devilry. Fittingly, an alternate take featured a young Jimmy Page on guitar.

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64

“Undercover of the Night” (1983)

The murky, clattering sound and Julien Temple's action-thriller video weren't the only things that set "Undercover of the Night" apart. It's a rare overtly politicized diatribe ("100,000 diasporas/Lost in the jails in South America," Jagger sang), with a unique echo-drenched production that took its cues from dub reggae and added to the song's unsettling, jittery vibe.

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63

“Goin’ Home” (1966)

"You can't edit this shit," Richards told their label about this 11-minute-plus song – possibly the longest studio track released on a rock album at that point. A slow-building electric blues about a man aching long-distance for his baby, it morphs into a fevered jam at the three-minute mark – Jagger freestyling in a way he'd refine on "Midnight Rambler."

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62

“Sister Morphine” (1971)

"Here I lie, in my hospital bed" goes the creepy opening line, and from Richards' grim strums to guest Ry Cooder's sinister slide guitar, things only get more beautifully macabre. Debate still rages as to whether it's about Jagger's then-paramour, Marianne Faithfull (she even had a part in writing it). Whatever the case, it's one of the Stones' starkest, scariest recordings.

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61

“You Got the Silver” (1969)

"One of the first ones I wrote entirely by myself," Richards said. It's gruff, simple country blues with his shining acoustic-slide work, some handsome Nicky Hopkins organ, and autoharp from Jones. It's also a sleeper among Let It Bleed's flamboyant set pieces. As a love song by a romantic to a gold digger, it's among the guitarist's truly revealing moments.

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60

“Time Waits for No One” (1974)

One of the band's most uncharacteristic ballads is credited as a JaggerRichards song. But Richards had little to do with it. Taylor's glistening Santana-esque guitar lines define it, and his extended outro may be the best guitar solo in the Stones catalog. Sadly, it would be a swan song, as he quit the band shortly after it was released, in part, he claimed, for being denied writing credit.

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59

“Angie” (1973)

One of the band's softest and most tenderhearted ballads (and their only ballad to go Number One), "Angie" was written by Richards while he was being treated for heroin addiction at a clinic in Switzerland. "Once I came out of the usual trauma," he recalled, "I didn't feel like I had to shit the bed or climb the walls or feel manic anymore. I just went, 'Angie, Angie.' " Completed during the Goats Head Soup sessions in Jamaica, it became a gently strummed benediction with a processional piano by Nicky Hopkins and strings arranged by Nicky Harrison. "Angie" has inspired much speculation as to its inspiration. Despite writing it at the time of his daughter Angela's birth, Richards claims the lyrics were just a placeholder that stuck: "I didn't know Angela was going to be called Angela when I wrote 'Angie,' " he said. "Sometimes you have a hook, a phrase or a word or a name or something, which maybe you don't even intend to keep. . . . It was just a working title, like, who's gonna call a song 'Angie,' how boring, another chick's name, ya know."

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58

“Live With Me” (1969)

"Straight balls-to-the-wall rock & roll," Richards said of "Live With Me." Richards and Taylor exchange buzz-gun riffs, and Bobby Keys adds a torrid solo. The naughty lyrics – "The cook, she is a whore/The butler has a place for her behind the pantry door" – are said to be the reason the London Bach Choir didn't want its name listed in the credits of Let It Bleed.

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57

“Sweet Black Angel” (1972)

A tribute to Angela Davis, the Black Panther who was jailed for murder in 1970, this ballad is the band's most activist moment. Jagger sings, "Free the sweet black slave," framed by acoustic guitars, backwoods harmonica and a touch of calypso lilt. It may also be Jagger's least campy, most convincing country-folk performance.

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56

“Not Fade Away” (1964)

The Stones made this Buddy Holly standard sound demanding and desperate. "[We] put the Bo Diddley beat up front," Wyman said. Andrew Loog Oldham went so far as to say it was "the first song Mick and Keith wrote. The way they arranged it was the beginning of their shaping of them as songwriters."

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55

“Star Star” (1973)

As per the chorus, this tribute to groupies was titled "Starfucker," until label honcho Ahmet Ertegun stepped in. And it became even more infamous during the 1975 tour, when a 20-foot-tall penis was inflated alongside Jagger as he sang it. The line about "givin' head to Steve McQueen" had to be vetted with the actor, who was quite flattered.

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54

“Loving Cup” (1972)

"Loving Cup" closes the first half of Exile, punctuating a tumultuous, ragged half-hour of rock & roll with a shot of mountain-climbing redemption and lyrical warmth. Originally attempted at London's Olympic Studios during the Let It Bleed sessions, then revived and finished in early 1972 in Los Angeles, it's one of several gospel-steeped Exile songs that didn't come out of the band's hazy time at Nellcôte. This may account for its very un-basement-y maximalism: Nicky Hopkins' majestic piano comes on like clouds parting, and the song seems to gather momentum and emotional power as it gathers influences. Jagger goes from self-deprecating come-ons ("I am nitty-gritty and my shirt's all torn/But I would love to spill the beans with you till the dawn") to innocent elation ("Feel your mouth kissing me again/What a beautiful buzz") in a country drawl. The bright soul horns and a backing choir (which probably included an uncredited Gram Parsons) enhance the song's sense of deeply spiritual gratitude.

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53

“All Down the Line” (1972)

"It's going to be the single," Jagger enthused about this breakneck rocker, the first song finished for Exile. They immediately took the demo to an L.A. DJ and drove around listening to their work. "It was surreal," recalled engineer Andy Johns. "Up and down Sunset Strip at nine on a Saturday night. The Strip was jumpin', and I'm in the car with those guys listening to my mixes."

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52

“Worried About You” (1981)

A lush stax/volt soul ballad via Jamaican reggae, this may be best known for its music video, featuring Jagger and Richards playing with a bottle of Jack Daniel's close at hand. It was recorded in 1975, so although Wood appears in the clip, the scalding guitar solo was played by Wayne Perkins, one of the other candidates for Taylor's job.

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51

“2000 Light Years From Home” (1967)

While other bands were singing about the joys of tripping through outer space, the Stones were already looking on the dark side. This song is a psychedelic nightmare, capturing the desolation ("It's sooo very lonely") of feeling lost in the cosmos, as Jones' Mellotron casts an ominous spell.

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