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 Aftermath album, 1966

WILL SERGEANT: You can imagine Mick trying to cop off with some posh bird, you know, having her in the back garden, in the maze or something. It just had that sort of great imagery and again they were more than just rockers and pretty out there for the time. I also like the harpsichord on it – simple but effective. I heard this track on the first Stones record I bought, Gimme Shelter, a Decca compilation with a live side on it.
NICK DAGGER: Aftermath is still my favourite album, but this is a very un-Stones sounding song, nothing to do with slide guitars, harp or dirty beats. But it’s so decadent – we knew they were a strange aristocracy and this seemed to link them to Henry VIII. You could imagine it being played as they sprawled round their country mansion, chewing on chicken legs, big hounds snoring at their feet.
MICHAEL GIRA: I’m old enough to remember the Stones when they first came out, but young enough (10 or 11 years old) at the time to allow a direct mainline of their music into my ill-formed psyche. When I first heard The Beatles, I went out and bought a Beatle wig and pointy shoes. When I first heard the Stones I started taking drugs. I listened to this again recently and the lyrics are ridiculous, but the atmosphere created by the auto harp (or is it dulcimer?) is enough to smear the Elizabethan pretensions of the words with proto-psychedelic prettiness and anxiety, confusing everything.


Single, 1965

ADAM SWEETING: This one seems to get overshadowed by “Satisfaction”, which hardly seems fair. The relentlessly-cycling guitar riff sounds like it’s being played on sizzling high-tension cables, and contributes to a mounting sense of panic as the combo whip up a rare old stomp behind Jagger’s malignant sneer-fest. The guitar solo sounds like a herd of Ford Zephyrs being shoved over a cliff, and the “Well-I-don’t-know” climax snaps at your ankles so ferociously, a rabies shot would be in order.
DUKE ERIKSON: “Satisfaction” usually gets the ‘best guitar riff’ award, but the opening of this song is every bit as powerful and exciting. The song rolls relentlessly with great Jagger vocals, a couple of strong acoustic strums and little harmony bursts by Richards. I’ve never really been asked my early influences, but this was one of the first guitar lines I was determined to play.
STEVEN SODERBERGH: My favourite Rolling Stones song. It’s just a great hook, one of the all-time great guitar licks. If I had to put one on and listen to it again and again, that would be it.

Some Girls album track, 1978

ED HAMELL: What can I say? I entered New York, with my wife, four days after the events of September 11 to attend a wedding. I didn’t know what to expect. I was struck by the fellowship, the kindness, the compassion of strangers. New York isn’t known for this. The bride and groom walked the 20 blocks downtown that separated the wedding ceremony and the reception. They couldn’t get a cab or subway train. People kept coming up and congratulating them, and thanking them for not postponing. Saying how important it was to get married that day. At the reception the DJ couldn’t get a bead on the crowd. People seemed reluctant to dance. They ignored him. After a few hours of trying to get people to dance with ballads, hip retro-disco, current alt-rock, the frustrated DJ played a Stones medley. The dance floor was packed. Probably unthinking, and elated that he’d found something that finally clicked, he played “Shattered”. People continued to dance, to sob, to laugh through their tears when Jagger sang, “This town’s in tatters”. Sha-doo-bee indeed.
NEIL HAGERTY: I was very young when this single came out, but I was really proud of the way they managed to steal elements of punk and disco to make this song. It still has elements of rock and blues bubbling underneath the surface, but the overall sound totally tapped into that late Seventies/early Eighties New York vibe.
JIM SCLAVUNOS: This is the consummate New York song that encapsulates the mood of the Eighties as much as “Gimme Shelter” encapsulated the end of the hippie idealism. I like the blunt clarity of the lyrics and the way they sound like social commentary from a uniquely malcontent point of view. “Get Off My Cloud”, “Mother’s Little Helper”, “19th Nervous Breakdown” – whatever Stones songs you listen to, they offer a crystallised slice of life.


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