The Rolling Stones’ 40 best songs

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

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Single from Exile On Main Street album, 1972

JOE STRUMMER: I like every period of the Stones really, but this is an amazing song and a great, great performance. It surges forward, but it’s not a straightforward tempo. It’s halfway between a slow and straightforward rocker. It has a mystical beat, and when it comes on I just sing along with everyone else – there must be some way of finding out the real lyrics, though I’ve been told Jagger makes up versions when they play it live. But part of what makes this special is that the words are a conundrum, like “Louie Louie”.
CHRIS HILLMAN: Typical of the Stones in that the working relationship of Jagger and Richards just couldn’t be beat in that particular era. Wonderful guitar hooks coupled with great lyrics.
ADAM SWEETING: The Rolling Stones who released Exile On Main Street in 1972 had passed through a culture-warp. They had finally abandoned London, and were living like stateless royalty in the south of France. “Tumbling Dice” perfectly caught the mood of this bandwagon of debauchery, with its swaggering raunchiness, lewdly-wailing gospel singers and lyric littered with gamblers and chancers. Keith Richards later assessed the making of Exile . . . as his finest achievement while under the influence of heroin (he didn’t bother to mention the cocaine and Jack Daniel’s), and “Dice” found the guitarist at the top of his game. The ensemble thunder along behind his peerless display of chordsmanship as if they’ve been harnessed to a bulldozer.
NILS LOFGREN: There’s a lot more going on than you’re used to in a Stones song. It seems a little bit disjointed but then once you get a chance to process it all and get your mind used to hearing a Stones song with that much information, there’s just this great rollicking love of rock and blues-funk and swing and everything that’s great about popular music in there.
PETE JOBSON: I think the Stones are the best thing since sliced bread. I have lots of good memories linked to the Stones too . . . I went to see them at Maine Road during the Urban Jungle tour and got pulled by the coppers for wearing a traffic cone, winkle-pickers and boxer shorts. I looked like a right wanker, but the gig was fantastic. “Tumbling Dice” is the horniest fucking song you’ll ever hear. The guitars are really bluesy and swaggering, the gospel backing is fantastic and the chorus just gets bigger and bigger. I fail to see how anybody could make a song this good, it’s the best song in the world. If you want to see where bands like Primal Scream got their inspiration, play this.
RYAN ADAMS: It’s so groovy a track. It’s perfect.
TERRY MILES: Would have been “Rocks Off” had I gone with my original plan of listing the first 10 songs from Exile On Main Street as my 10 choices. In reality, “Tumbling Dice” is my absolute favourite Stones tune. It’s so close to falling completely apart every second. Perfect.
NIGEL WILLIAMSON: It has that recklessly loose-limbed, gloriously spontaneous feel that American bands found so easy but few British bands could match. But you have to work hard to sound so supremely effortless – apparently they spent two weeks just getting the basic backing track right.
ED HAMELL: Shit, this isn’t even my favourite song from my favourite album. That’s how strong my love is. But if you’ve ever travelled to the southern US, where all this began, there is an indefinable vibration. It ain’t for everybody. It is as intangible as Jagger’s words. It’s as simultaneously loose and precise as Charlie’s drumming. (Is that guy a fucking genius or what?) It is as historic and contemporary as Richards’ guitar. It is a host of contradictions. Beautiful, angry and weird, this country, perfectly personified in this song.


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