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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)

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7

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1968)

"It's about having a hard time and getting out. Just a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things," Jagger told Rolling Stone's Jann S. Wenner in 1995. After the psychedelic experimentation of Their Satanic Majesties Request, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," released in May 1968, was a primal system shock that kick-started the greatest period in the band's career. Richards was on a historic run at the time, exploring the open-D blues-guitar tuning for the first time and coming up with some of his most dynamic riffs. He overheard an organ lick that bassist Wyman was fooling around with in a London studio and turned it into the song's unstoppable, churning pulse. The lyric was inspired by Richards' gardener, Jack Dyer, who slogged past as the guitarist and Jagger were coming to the end of an all-night session. "Who's that?" Jagger asked. "Jumpin' Jack," Richards answered. The song evolved into supernatural Delta blues by way of Swinging London.

The Rolling Stones

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6

“Paint It, Black” (1966)

"We cut it as a comedy track," Richards confessed. Some comedy. "Paint It, Black" became one of the most flat-out frightening singles to ever hit Number One, driven by a droning sitar riff from Jones. Jagger sings about death, grief and sex ("I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness goes") over the band's repetitive stomp. The song was originally a conventional pop tune and, according to producer Andrew Loog Oldham, not a very promising one. Wyman's roiling bass line, written on a Hammond organ, pushed the Stones in a new direction. The sound was psychedelic yet disturbing. "It was a different style to everything I'd done before," Richards said. "Maybe it was the Jew in me. It's more to me like 'Hava Nagila' or some Gypsy lick. Maybe I picked it up from my granddad." The record company added a stray comma to the title, yet somehow the punctuation glitch made the song seem even more mysterious: "Paint It, Black."

The Rolling Stones

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5

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (1969)

On the final track of their last album of the Sixties, the Stones delivered the shotgun lesson of that decade with bittersweet flair: Everything was possible, and it all came at a price. They were at a new creative peak and preparing to return to the road. But Richards was using heroin; Jagger's girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, had suffered a miscarriage; and Jones was all but gone. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was "basically all Mick," Richards admitted. The singer turned that turmoil into a witty evocation of universal disillusionment countered by the practical hope in the chorus and a sumptuous R&B arrangement: the entrance of the London Bach Choir, arranged by Jack Nitzsche; guest pianist Al Kooper's regal contribution on French horn; and the pushing shuffle in the drums, played by producer Jimmy Miller. "It was," Richards crowed, "a beautiful juxtaposition" – just like the Sixties.

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4

“Street Fighting Man” (1968)

"Street Fighting Man" was recorded in the spring of 1968, after Jagger witnessed a massive anti-war protest in Grosvenor Square. The song's literal meaning was ambivalent. But its energy wasn't, and it felt like a call for radicals to up their game. Inspired by Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets," the song emerged from the band's first sessions with Jimmy Miller, who produced all of its albums from Beggars Banquet to Goats Head Soup, in 1973. Remarkably, bass aside, it has no electric instrumentation. Richards created the layered guitar parts by distorting his acoustic through a cassette recorder. Jones played sitar and tamboura; Dave Mason, of Traffic, played a droning double-reed shehnai; Nicky Hopkins tinkled some ascending notes on piano, and Watts played a small practice drum kit miked to sound gargantuan. What emerged was the Stones' most explicitly political moment. As Richards later wrote, "You wouldn't have had 'Street Fighting Man' without the Vietnam War."

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3

“Sympathy for the Devil” (1968)

No band ever summed up its mission on Earth as perfectly as the Stones did here. "Sympathy for the Devil" was a shot at their critics that also mirrored real-world evil. (Jagger had to change the lyric "who killed Kennedy" to "who killed the Kennedys" when news of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination reached the Beggars Banquet sessions in June 1968.) Originally written as a Dylan-esque folk song, it rolls forward like a storm front, driven by a menacing samba-funk groove from Watts and African percussionist Rocky Dijon and piano and bass (played by Richards), with a wicked guitar solo midway through. The unrepentant whoo-whoo backing vocals were sung by a crowd that included Watts, Jones (who would be dead in a year) and his ex-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, who was keeping company with Richards. Jagger based his portrait of Satan as "a may-yun of way-elth and tay-ste" in part on Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel The Master and Margarita. But he made the role his own.

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2

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)

Built on the Stones‘ greatest riff, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” near-singlehandedly turned “rock & roll” from a teenage fad into something far heavier and more dangerous. The guitar line was conjured by Richards while he was asleep. “I had no idea I’d written it,” he recalled in his memoir, Life, explaining how he awoke to discover the bones of the song – evidently recorded the previous night with his acoustic guitar – on a bedside cassette machine. Jagger thinks his partner got the title from a line in Chuck Berry‘s 1955 single “30 Days” (“I don’t get no satisfaction from the judge”); the singer wrote the remaining lyrics sitting next to a hotel pool in Clearwater, Florida, in early 1965, during the band’s third U.S. tour, distilling his “frustration with everything,” especially with “America, its advertising syndrome, the constant barrage.” The verses took him all of 10 minutes. It ended up being the band’s first Number One in America.

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