Readers’ Poll: The Rolling Stones’ 10 Greatest Songs
The Rolling Stones roared back to life this past week with a pair of shows in Paris, and that's just the beginning of their huge 50th anniversary plans. Right now, only two London and two Newark, New Jersey, shows are on the books, but all signs point to a ton more on the horizon. They're likely to even include former bandmates Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman in some capacity.
We figured this was a good time to poll our readers and determine their favorite Rolling Stones songs. As expected, the feedback was overwhelming. Click through to see the results.
The Rolling Stones went through a bit of a creative dry spell after the release of their 1972 masterpiece, Exile on Main St. The follow-up album, Goats Head Soup, has its moments, but the group was clearly not operating at their peak. (Drugs had more than a little to do with the problem.) The album was still a big hit, driven partially by the huge success of the lead single, "Angie." The tender ballad shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in America.
For the past 40 years, fans have been trying to determine if "Angie" is about a particular woman. Some think it's about Angela Bowie, while others point to Angie Dickinson or Keith's daughter Angela. "It was not about any particular person," Keith himself wrote on his memoir, Life. "It was a name like, 'Ohhh, Diana.' I didn't know Angela was going to be called Angela when I wrote 'Angie.'"
9. ‘Tumbling Dice’
While Exile on Main St. may be the Rolling Stones' most famous album these days, it doesn't have very many actual hits on it. "Tumbling Dice" is the lone exception, and it's the only song from the LP that became a regular part of their setlist over the past 40 years. The song began under the title "Good Time Woman," but they weren't quite happy with subject matter, so Jagger wrote the new lyrics, possibly inspired by the casino games the band played in France while recording the album. "I don't think it's our best stuff," Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. "I don’t think it has good lyrics. But people seem to really like it, so good for them."
8. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’
"You Can't Always Get What You Want" began its life as a simple ditty Mick Jagger played on the acoustic guitar – but once the band entered Olympic Studios in 1968 to record Let It Bleed, it morphed into something else altogether. Organist Al Kooper and the London Bach Choir were recruited to flesh out the song, and the end result is a sing-along classic that rivals the Beatles' "Hey Jude." "People can identify with it," Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. "No one gets what they always want. It’s got a very good melody. It’s got very good orchestral touches that Jack Nitzsche helped with. So it’s got all the ingredients."
7. ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’
Sticky Fingers was a very important album for the Rolling Stones. It was their first disc after Brian Jones left the band and their first full-length LP with his replacement, Mick Taylor. It instantly crushed any doubts that the group was going to struggle without their founding member. It's packed so full of hits that it's easy to overlook the seven-minute epic "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," though over the years, it has emerged as a huge fan favorite.
According to Mick Taylor, the jam at the end was a totally spontaneous moment that the band nailed in a single take. The song sat dormant for a great long time, but in 2002, it began making regular appearances in the setlist.
6. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’
After the failed experiment of 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones knew it was time to return to a more basic rock sound. The "Jack" in this song is actually Keith's old gardener, Jack Dyer; Jagger crashed at Keith's place one night and the sound of Dyer walking around in his rubber boots woke Mick up. He asked Keith about the noise. "Oh, that's Jack. That's Jumping Jack." From that tiny spark, they sat down together and wrote one of their biggest hits.
In many ways, the track launched a whole new phase of the band's career. A crappy follow-up to Their Satanic Majesties Request could have easily sent the band into a downward spiral, but they bounced back in a bigger way than almost anyone could have imagined possible.
5. ‘Wild Horses’
The Rolling Stones stopped by Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama during downtime from their 1969 American tour. They didn't have a recording permit for America at the time, so the sessions became an extremely hush-hush affair. In just three days, the group banged out "Brown Sugar," "You Gotta Move" and "Wild Horses." They had to sit on the latter song for almost two years because of a legal battle with their former manager, Allen Klein.
The ballad reached Number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been in regular rotation on classic rock radio ever since. "It’s an example of a pop song taking this cliché 'wild horses,' which is awful, really," Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995, "but making it work without sounding like a cliché when you’re doing it."
4. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
The story behind "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" has been told so many times, it's beyond clichè, but it's still worth repeating. Here's the short version: the Rolling Stones were staying at a hotel in Clearwater, Florida, in May 1965. Before he went to bed one night, Keith turned on his tape recorder and fiddled around before falling asleep. When he woke up, he heard a rough sketch of the song, followed by hours of snoring.
The Stones likely got the title from the 1955 Chuck Berry song "30 Days," which features the line "I can't get no satisfaction from the judge." Days later, they cut the song in RCA Studios in Hollywood, and it was on shelves by early June. It became their first Number One hit and instantly catapulted them to a whole new level of fame and success. In many ways, it's the most important song of their career.
3. ‘Paint It, Black’
By 1966, the Rolling Stones were writing songs at a furious pace. On "Paint It, Black," the band decided to stretch their legs a little bit by incorporating a sitar, even though some critics said it was them merely aping the Beatles. The dark track became their third Number One hit in America. The unexpected success forced the group to add it to the American release of Aftermath. Bill Wyman has long claimed he helped a great deal in writing the song, even though it's credited to Jagger/Richards.
Years later, the group started to agree with him. "I must say in retrospect that actually, what made 'Paint It, Black' was Bill Wyman on the organ," Richards said in 2004. "It didn't sound anything like the finished record until Bill said, 'You go like this.'"
2. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’
There's not a lot of video of the Rolling Stones in the recording studio during their heyday but thankfully, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard was filming the band when they cut "Sympathy for the Devil" at Olympic Studio in 1968. "The song turned after many takes from a Dylanesque, rather turgid folk song into a rocking samba," Keith wrote in his memoir. "From a turkey to a hit – by a shift in rhythm, all recorded in stages by Jean-Luc."
One of the original lyrics was "Who killed Kennedy?" but midway through taping, Robert F. Kennedy was killed and Jagger changed it to "Who killed the Kennedys?" Contrary to widespread belief, this is not the song they were playing onstage at Altamont when a fan was murdered. (It was "Under My Thumb.")
1. ‘Gimme Shelter’
In the end, this wasn't even a close contest: "Gimme Shelter" won by over 100 votes. The opening number from Let It Bleed, "Gimme Shelter" was never released as a single – but over the decades, it's been used in so many soundtracks and been played on the radio so many times, it's become one of their most well-known songs. Jagger himself says the track is a "end-of-the-world song," and the apocalyptic overtones are hard to miss.
The selling point of the song may well be backing vocalist Merry Clayton, who howls "Rape, murder/ It's just a shot away" over and over. Martin Scorsese is so infatuated with the song that he's used in three movies: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed. Perhaps realizing it was in enough Scorsese films already, the Stones opted not to play it at the Beacon Theater gigs the director chronicled in the movie Shine a Light.
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