In 50 years of swaggering, sneering, preening and generally instigating rock & roll mayhem, the Rolling Stones have created a discography like no other. In addition to 29 studio albums released in America and the United Kingdom, the band has issued nearly as many compilations and more than a dozen live albums. With the band's plans for a 50th anniversary tour still very much up in the air, we asked you last week to pick your favorite Stones albums. Click through to see the results.
Recorded at the hazy height of the freewheelin' Sixties, this would-be answer to the Beatles' game-changing Sgt. Pepper has never been a big favorite among the Stones themselves. For one thing, it remains the only Stones album produced by the band – a mistake, they've claimed. "Too much time on our hands, too many drugs," Mick Jagger once said. "It's like believing everything you do is great and not having any editing." But that excess is likely what some of you like about the record, which features a pair of certifiable psychedelic classics in "2000 Light Years from Home" and "She's a Rainbow."
Released in 1976, at the height of disco fever, the Stones' 15th album found the band digging deep into soul ("Fool to Cry") and funk ("Hot Stuff"). The album also features the standout, seven-minute Jagger/Richards ballad "Memory Motel." It was the first Stones album with Ron Wood on guitar after he replaced Mick Taylor; the band also relied heavily on the contributions of guest keyboardist Billy Preston.
The follow-up to the sprawling Exile on Main St. was bound to suffer some creative lag. Yet 1973's Goats Head Soup, recorded mostly in Kingston, Jamaica, contains some of the band's finest moments, including "Angie" and the outsize indignation of "Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," a bleak but musically thrilling tale of life and death on the mean streets of New York.
This 1966 release, the band's sixth in America, pretty much marked the end of their apprentice work with blues and R&B covers. Opening with a stunner, "Paint It, Black," the album also features the veddy British parlor piece "Lady Jane" and the near-perfect pop song "Under My Thumb," not to mention the wickedly amusing "Stupid Girl" and the goofy hillbilly stomp of "High and Dry."
A patch job cobbled together from song ideas developed well before its 1981 release (in some cases, years), Tattoo You had no business achieving the kind of success it had (Number One Billboard album of the year). However, the songs were fantastic: "Hang Fire," "Slave," the punky "Neighbours." And oh, that second side! Five gorgeous soul ballads, including "Worried About You," "Tops" and "Waiting on a Friend," that to this day can really… ahem… set a mood. It's all more than enough to forgive the leadoff presence of the band's battery commercial, "Start Me Up."
The original cover art for Beggars Banquet, rejected by the band's U.S. and U.K. labels, featured an infamous photo of a grimy, graffiti-covered bathroom wall. After the wizard-costumed excess of Their Satanic Majesties Request, Beggars marked a return to the band's original seedy image, and the songs – "Street Fighting Man," "Stray Cat Blues," "Factory Girl" – fell right in line. Most impressive, of course, was the instant epic "Sympathy for the Devil," which set the dark air of mystery that has come to define the band's story.
Though it was recorded in Paris and included a couple of classic, fake-Southern-twang shitkickers (Mick's "Far Away Eyes" and Keith's "Before They Make Me Run"), 1978's Some Girls was a New York album through and through. While the Bronx was burning, Jagger was singing about "the crime rate going up, up, up, up, UP!" as if his own pants were on fire. And damned if they didn't manage to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable opposites of the city's disco ("Miss You") and punk scenes ("Some Girls") on this one inspired outing.
The 1971 album with the classic Warhol "zipper" cover produced two big hits for the band, "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar." Better yet, it features a bumper crop of Stones classics that weren't quite right for the radio, including "Sway," "Sister Morphine," the straight country of "Dead Flowers" and the unstoppable groove of the seven-minute "Can't You Hear Me Knocking."
Sandwiched between Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers, December 1969's Let It Bleed brought the Stones to what many consider their creative apotheosis. It opens with "Gimme Shelter," closes with "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and pauses in the middle for the stop-time menace of "Midnight Rambler." The Sixties were definitely dead; it's no coincidence that the tragedy at Altamont occurred the day after this harrowing album was released.
Given the sheer breadth of the Stones' 1972 double album and the critical foot-kissing it has accrued over the years, Exile's appearance at the top of this list comes as little surprise. What might be more surprising to some is the fact that the album, upon its release, was not especially well-received. Lenny Kaye, the future Patti Smith Group guitarist, spoke for plenty of writers when he wrote in Rolling Stone that the album had songs "you'll probably lift the needle for when the time is due." But with 40 years of hindsight, it's clear this was, and remains, a ridiculously abundant piece of work. From the hits "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy" to the relentless lineup of album tracks – "Rip This Joint," "Shake Your Hips," "Sweet Virginia," "All Down the Line" – the needle stays put.