The Rolling Stones’ 40 best songs

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

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2 STREET FIGHTING MAN
Beggars Banquet album track, 1968

IAN MacDONALD: I love this because of Charlie Watts’ behind-the-beat drumming with that huge slamming offbeat, and because the guitars sound like wire-string fanfares, and because Jagger’s melody sounds like crowds surging back and forth against police lines, and because the production makes everything sound a hundred feet tall. It’s just a colossally exciting record – the biggest beat on a Stones track apart from “Get Off Of My Cloud”. This is about the anti-Vietnam, anti-establishment marches of the late Sixties, in particular the Grosvenor Square battle outside the US Embassy. “Dancing In The Streets” redone as revolution. Dig those crazy maracas, dad.
JOHNNY MARR: It couldn’t have been done by any other band. It has that aspect of The Stones that’s almost become a cliché now – tight but loose. All of them playing in the same space, but that space not being uptight. It’s funky and vibey.
BOB STANLEY: Most of my favourite Stones tracks are power-pop, incredibly tough sounding stuff. On this the intro’s amazing as well. I don’t really like that much after ’67, and I wish they made more records like “Street Fighting Man”. Never been that big on their devil blues angle, and the wasted-in-the-south-of-France thing just bores me tears.”
BUTCH VIG: I used to hear this on the radio and I love the way it sounds so fucking intense when the groove kicks in. It’s an amazing performance and Jagger sounds on fire lyrically . . . For my money, he’s still one of the best lyricists in rock’n’roll. He writes great songs that manage to be both timeless and extremely relevant to the culture (or counterculture) they’re surrounded by. I don’t care what anyone says, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street are both completely untouchable records.
ED HAMELL: As hard a rocking song as they’ve ever come up with, (and Lord knows there’s been some bastards), done entirely with acoustic guitars. I can relate. I wonder what the artistic, and specifically pop music, manifestations of this “new” world will be. This incredible external force. This internal frustration and bewilderment. And if there’s to be no “fighting in the streets”, will poor boys (and poor girls now) play in a band?
MICHAEL GIRA: This was the Stones at their apogee, in my opinion. Direct, rushing, joyful violence.
ANDY WILLIAMS: I love the way this sounds like it was patched together from a number of different recordings. It’s exactly how a lot of artists like The Beta Band deliberately make their music today… We actually spent three days in the studio trying to match the drum sound for one of our new songs, “Hit The Ground Running”. To get that tinny, DIY sound we had to put the drums through a tape recorder and try and degrade the sound. It’s just an amazing song with a real vibe about it.
JAY FARRAR: I think I first heard it via one of those double vinyl compilations.
To me it always kinda represents the pre-eminent raucous drinking song, but there are a lot of things I like about it, from the powerful lo-fi opening acoustic chords to the fading strings and piano. I kinda like it all. There’s also some legend about it. Like Keith’s acoustic guitar track at the start of the song was recorded on a cassette machine and transferred onto two-inch tape, which is why you get that lo-fi wow and flutter. And that Charlie played a fold-up toy drum kit. They may just be legends but, hey, I believe it.
STEVE WYNN: First of all, this is one of the best-sounding records ever made, and I’ve heard that the song was actually recorded into a cassette deck, explaining its intensely compressed sound. If that’s true I would say all modern studios should be burned to the ground and musicians should just be issued $20 condenser-mic cassette recorders for all future recordings. Man, this is amazing. Some of Charlie Watts’ best drumming,
an incredible vocal and some of the best rhythm guitar ever. This is the kind of song that inspires you to start a rock band or to go outside and smash things up. Or both.
ADAM SWEETING: 1968 was a year of riots and assassinations, and “Street Fighting Man” mirrored the mounting social anxiety in one of the Stones’ most dramatic and visionary pieces. It derived much of its force from a minimum of ingredients. Giant acoustic guitars, throbbing bass and an immense beat frame Jagger’s yowling vocal in a thrilling rush of sound. Yet the track also captured the ambivalence of the band’s outlaw stance as they sang about Marxist insurrection while merely looking on like dilettanteish voyeurs. As it soars to a close in a euphoric drone, with piano, percussion and sitar bubbling up through the mix, you could imagine it had all been an opium dream.

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