The Rolling Stones’ 40 best songs

An all-star cast pick the greatest cuts from Jagger, Richards and co

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In this very special piece from the Uncut archives (January 2002 issue, Take 56), an all-star cast, including Johnny Marr, Ryan Adams, Frank Black, Chris Hillman, Michael Gira and more, pick the Stones’ 40 greatest tracks. By Allan Jones

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Joe Strummer remembers it, too: that time in the Sixties when it seems that whenever you turn on the radio, there’s something new and mindblowing by The Rolling Stones. In 1963, for instance, in the space of months, there’s “The Last Time”, “Satisfaction”, “Get Off My Cloud”. The following year, in breathtakingly brisk succession, there’s “19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Paint It Black”, “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows?”

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The Stones at the time are for many of us the most formidable force in pop music, our band of choice. The Beatles are the nation’s darlings, fawned over by the public who hold them in what turns out to be an eternal affection, dutifully admired by critics for whom the Fab Four are rearranging the topography of popular culture.

The Stones often suffer by comparison. What they are doing in the studio is often as hair-raisingly original as anything by The Beatles, but this is frequently not acknowledged, which somehow adds to their outsider surliness. They know they are not liked as The Beatles are liked, but admirably they don’t give a fuck, appear to enjoy their notoriety – at least until things turn really nasty and the drug busts and constant harassment began to take a more fearsome toll. As Ian MacDonald memorably puts it on one of the following pages, the Stones were indeed “the first pop/rock act to make relentless transgression their main pitch”. Which, of course, is another reason why we loved them then: for their rebellious intransigence as much as the loud raw noise of their music.

As I think I’ve said before in these pages, apart from The Beatles and Dylan, no other act in rock history has left their signature on the times as indelibly as the Stones  because they grew old instead of dying when they looked their best – with their legend intact, that is. Even now in their grizzled dotage they still insist on calling themselves The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World, and it’s perhaps not as easy as it should be to recall a time when this is exactly what they were. The evidence is there, however, on the records they made and the impact they have had on successive generations of fans and fellow musicians, nearly 100 of whom contributed to the poll that follows.

My own favourites? Since you ask: “Street Fighting Man”, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Get Off Of My Cloud”,
“19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Tumbling Dice”, “Happy”, “Moonlight Mile”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and “All Down The Line”.

Allan Jones

[Turn over for the Stones’ 40 best songs…]

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