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Rolling Stones Album Guide: The Good, the Great and the ‘Angie’

A bluffer’s guide to the world’s greatest rock & roll Band

Rolling Stones;

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There are roughly a million Rolling Stones albums, and almost all of them have songs that will drastically improve your life. (Some of them also have “Angie.”) Where to start? Where to go after the classics? Here’s a road map of the good, the great and the “Angie.”

By Rob Sheffield

Beggars Banquet

‘Beggars Banquet’ (1968)

 

In a time of psychedelic excess, the Stones strip down with their most hardass songs.

Key Track: "Sympathy for the Devil," which sums up the collapse of Western civilization with demented "hoo hoo" chants and congas.

Best Mick Moment: "Stray Cat Blues," where he mixes up lust, cruelty and compassion. But mostly lust.

Brian's Swan Song: This was Brian Jones' last full album with the band. His slide guitar on "No Expectations" may be his saddest moment.

Let It Bleed

‘Let It Bleed’ (1969)

The Stones luxuriate in darkness and dread, as if they always knew flower power was a scam. If you're taking just one Stones album to that moon colony, let it be this.

Key Track: "Gimme Shelter," a portrait of Sixties turmoil that Keith wrote in 20 minutes.

Best Mick Moment: His crazed whoops on "Let It Bleed," dripping bodily fluids all over Charlie Watts' drums.

Honky Tonk Man: "You Got the Silver" was Keith's first lead vocal on a Stones LP.

Sticky Fingers

‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971)

The Stones' most downbeat, druggy album, with new guitarist Mick Taylor stretching into jazz and country.

Key Track: "Brown Sugar" was the big hit, but "Sway" is one of the band's spookiest pro-evil anthems.

Best Keith Moment: His guitar battle with Taylor throughout "Bitch."

Pantsed: Andy Warhol designed the infamous crotch-and-zipper cover.

Exile on Main Street

‘Exile on Main Street’ (1972)

 

A double-vinyl outlaw manifesto with lots of speed (musical as well as chemical) and rustic blues beauty. Basically everyone's favorite Stones album.

Key Track: "Sweet Virginia," which starts off like a goof but turns surprisingly soulful.

Best Mick Moment: His screed on "Rocks Off": "I'm zipping through the days at lightning speed/Plug in flush out and fight and fuck and feed."

Junkie Genius: Keith once boasted, "While I was a junkie, I learned to ski and made Exile on Main Street."

Aftermath

‘Aftermath’ (1966)

The Glimmer Twins arrive as genius songwriters, raising the ante on Dylan and the Beatles with their first full album of original tunes.

Key Track: "Paint It Black," a grown-up death drone driven by Jones' sitar.

Best Mick Moment: "Under My Thumb" is the ultimate rock & roll sneer, all jaded sarcasm and comic bravado.

Friendly Jab: The Beatles considered calling their next LP After Geography as a joking tribute to Aftermath.

Between the Buttons

‘Between the Buttons’ (1967)

The Stones' most Sixties-sounding album, with Jones showing off how many exotic instruments he can add to the Mick-and-Keith harmonies.

Key Track: "Something Happened to Me Yesterday," an old-time music-hall ditty about an acid trip.

Best Mick Moment: The slobbering lust of "My Obsession."

Blowing Brian's Mind: Brian Wilson dropped by the studio when they were making this; he thought "My Obsession" was the greatest rock & roll song he'd ever heard.

Some Girls

‘Some Girls’ (1978)

The band's all-time bestseller. It put the Stones back on top, with Mick dishing about the New York rock-star high life.

Key Track: "Shattered." Key lines: "Laughter, joy and loneliness/And sex and sex and sex and sex."

Best Keith Moment: "Before They Make Me Run," a defiant statement of the What Would Keef Do? lifestyle.

Girls, Girls, Girls: Keith was once asked why the album was called Some Girls. His reply: "Because we couldn't remember their fucking names."

Tattoo You

‘Tattoo You’ (1981)

The Stones banged this out, raiding the vaults to turn outtakes and rejects into gold.

Key Track: "Waiting on a Friend," with a sax solo by jazz legend Sonny Rollins.

Best Keith Moment: "Little T&A." Spoiler: She's his little rock & roll!

Low Concept: You haven't lived until you've seen Mick dance around in sweatpants in the "Hang Fire" video.

 

 

NOW!

‘Now!’ (1965)

The Stones were already rock & roll's bad boys, even in this early phase. They leer through Chicago blues and Memphis-soul classics, all brash wit and raw menace.

Key Track: "Off the Hook," an original that can hang with any of the cover versions.

Best Mick Moment: He lights up "Down Home Girl" with his own libidinal flair.

 

 

 

out of our heads

‘Out of Our Heads’ (1965)

Their great R&B album – by now the Stones could write their own classics as well as pick them. Mick struts through the grooves with a sullen edge of seduction, his voice dripping with sex, while Keith and Brian keep hitting new twin-guitar highs.

Key Track: "Satisfaction" – if they quit the day after they cut this, they'd still be legends.

Best Mick Moment: His toweringly soulful version of "Cry to Me."

 

 

December's Children

‘December’s Children (And Everybody’s)’ (1965)

England's newest hitmakers expand musically, from acoustic tunes to the pure electric mania of "Route 66."

Key Track: "The Singer Not the Song," an early taste of delicate balladry.

Best Mick Moment: He snarls "Get Off of My Cloud" with total punk hostility.

 

 

 

Their satanic majesties request

‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ (1967)

The Stones try to copy Sgt. Pepper, with some cringingly cheesy results. But it's full of stellar tunes, if you can get past a 3D cover featuring Mick in a wizard hat.

Key Track: "2000 Light Years From Home," the band's trippiest psychedelic epic.

Best Mick Moment: "2000 Man" turned out to be a totally accurate prophecy of Internet addiction.

 

 

Flowers

‘Flowers’ (1967)

An album about rich, young mods, swishing through London with a satirical eye. Imagine Oscar Wilde sitting in with the Velvet Underground.

Key Track: In "Ride On Baby," Mick talks a speed-freak girl off the ledge while Jones adds harpsichord and marimba. Maybe the most underrated Stones gem ever.

Best Mick Moment: The breathless decadence of "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?"

Goats Head Soup

‘Goats Head Soup’ (1973)

Since this was the follow-up to Exile, everyone expected more raw, uncut, filthy rock & roll. Instead, everyone got "Angie" and a load of hippie-mom wind-chime ambience.

Key Track: "Star Star." Is this the first song about a groupie with a sex tape?

Best Mick Moment: You know what? "Angie" is fucking awesome. Nobody else in a million years would have tried to get away with that "let me whisper in your eeeaaar" bit.

 

 

Black and Blue

‘Black and Blue’ (1976)

 

It was the Seventies, and nobody was trying too hard, but there are plenty of loose, boozy, when-does-the-roadie-get-back-with-the-bong jams.

Key Track: "Memory Motel," a sentimental ballad that makes "Angie" sound like "Gimme Shelter."

Best Keith Moment: That Skynyrd-style riff in "Hand of Fate."

 

 

Emotional Rescue

‘Emotional Rescue’ (1980)

The guys needed a follow-up to Some Girls, so they churned out the most outrageously frivolous album of their career. Proof that nobody does quickies like these guys.

Key Track: "Emotional Rescue," a disco goof that fluked into a Top 10 hit.

Best Mick Moment: "Let Me Go," a tale of New York bed-hopping mania in the 1970s.

 

 

 

Undercover

‘Undercover’ (1983)

The Stones obviously sat around the hotel watching MTV, saw all those New Wave- haircut bands and scoffed, "Bloody hell, we can do that."

Key Track: "Undercover of the Night" mixes up the Clash, Grandmaster Flash and Duran Duran into a rant about U.S. imperialism.

Combat Rock: In the "Undercover" video, Keith is a guerrilla who pulls a gun on Mick, a fantasy he must have secretly savored for years.

 

 

Dirty Work

‘Dirty Work’ (1985)

The guys rip one another apart, but that just makes it a perfect expression of the Stones' dysfunctional love/hate bond.

Key Track: "Dirty Work," where Mick rages against an unnamed nemesis. Maybe his guitarist? Maybe himself?

Neon Warriors: The cover has to be the most absurd Stones photo ever taken. But leave it to the Stones to make Miami Vice threads almost look cool.

 

 

A bigger bang

‘A Bigger Bang’ (2005)

The Stones took their time with this one, as if they had something to prove. Their toughest album in a long time.

Key Track: "Sweet Neo Con," where Mick rips Republicans a new one.

Best Keith Moment: "Infamy." If he ever decides he wants to start doing LPs of cocktail ballads, he could give Rod Stewart a run for his money.

Fresh Ones: The guys wanted new songs to play live, even if fans didn't. "They say, 'I much prefer to hear 'Brown Sugar,' " Mick said. "Well, I don't give a shit what you prefer."