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 Undercover album, 1983

JULIEN TEMPLE: Obviously there are personal reasons because I directed the video. With this track, there was a sense of Keith reclaiming his place, and this song has a devil/outlaw feel to it that they lost for a while. Here, they’re not trying to be complicated, it’s a stripped down and raw, almost punk rock song. I also like songs that have a social edge to them. Having worked with the Pistols, I didn’t want to work with the Stones to be honest, although I loved them when I was a kid. It was quite funny because I thought they wouldn’t do an edgy video, but again they were reclaiming an edge and danger they had lost.
SIMON GODDARD: Undercover is a rancid dung heap of an album, but this single still stands out as perhaps their finest moment of the last 20 years. Jagger has a pop at US foreign policy in South America (partly in response to the ridicule levelled by those such as The Clash that the Stones were by this stage depoliticised dinosaurs) over a backing that lurches forth like the bigger, badder sister of “Honky Tonk Women”. A remarkable but simplistic guitar shape, sonically spacious and fairly radical for its time, specifically those delay pedal ‘machine gun’ judders. Unlike the video – which also created a headline grabbing X-rated brouhaha at the time – the song hasn’t really aged at all. Released today, this would still be a classic Stones return to form.
IAN ASTBURY: Their great comeback after punk. Proved you could be cool at 40.
MIKE JOYCE: Obviously they were going for more of an Eighties feel, but it worked. Knowing the way Charlie Watts is, I can imagine him sitting at the back when they were making it with his head in his hands going, “No, no, please no!” Which is why I like it.
NICK HASTED: Keith’s guitar clangs round some hellish wind tunnel, the drums tick and thump, torn between New York clubs and tribal Africa, and Jagger writes his last interesting lyric, launching into secret police-haunted ’80s Latin America with a politically ambiguous, voyeur’s eye: suicide, slit tongues, lace, rubber, sex-jittered GIs just stimulate his jaded taste for smirking Satanic majesty.
ANDY WILLIAMS: The 80s was a bit of a shady time for the Stones, but this song is a great exercise in funk. It’s really dark and lean and I can still remember the video about the kidnapping . . .


From the Performance soundtrack

JON SPENCER: Strictly speaking, this isn’t a Rolling Stones song. But it was written by Jagger and Richards and it works just as brilliantly as a deviant rock song as it did on the soundtrack to Performance.
ADAM SWEETING: Sleaze-drenched opus which pitched Jagger and Richards at loggerheads thanks to Jagger’s allegedly unfaked sex scenes with Anita Pallenberg
in Performance. Driven forwards by Ry Cooder’s rattlesnake slide guitar, the track seethes with sexual disgust and homoerotic contempt as Jagger revels in his own
Satanic love-god mystique – “You were a faggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick”; “You’re the great grey man whose daughter licks policemen’s buttons clean”. Even though Jagger is the only Stone performing on it, the song epitomised the hypnotic psycho-sexual aura the band generated at their peak.

Single from Some Girls album, 1978

PHILL JUPITUS: I’ve got this one on the original seven-inch vinyl – so it’s nice to know that amidst my fascination with the Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks et al, I hadn’t shunned the Stones like so many of my peers. My all-time favourite Charlie Watts record. I can see him sitting there so completely minimal in his approach as to make Bertolt Brecht look like Andrew Lloyd Webber. His summation of their career in the 25th anniversary documentary 25 x 5 is my favourite rock quote: “Five years work, 20 years hanging about.”


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