The Rolling Stones’ 40 best songs

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

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28 UNDER MY THUMB
Aftermath album track, 1966

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Gon8_V0wb8

CHRIS HILLMAN: I doubt if it’s any woman’s favourite song. At least you knew back in those early days, you could see Mick the raving misogynist, jumping down on women! It’s an interesting thing, and you could see it back then, in ’64 or ’65 or whenever, and I’m sure he was just having a good time with a certain mind-set. But there’s his early misogyny coming out. But great song, great bass line and chorus

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27 MOONLIGHT MILE
Sticky Fingers album track, 1971

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gy3PH4Sf6g

SIMON GODDARD: With a truly majestic string arrangement scored by Paul Buckmaster (of “Space Oddity” fame), finding “Moonlight Mile” at the end of Sticky Fingers – this great ugly beast of an album (“Bitch”, “Brown Sugar” et al) – is to savour the supreme calm after the roughest of storms. The kind of song you’d quite happily listen to as a last request before facing the firing squad, such is its poignant optimism. The story goes that the Stones nailed this in the studio about four o’clock in the morning. Keith was so fucked he missed the session so all credit to Mick Taylor whose divine 12 string pluckings more than fill the void. It fits that “Moonlight Mile” is still best experienced at four in the morning, large whiskey in hand.
DAVE MARSH: Like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, this will reveal the whole point of staying up all night, if you listen to them at the crack of dawn, as I have been doing for as long as they’ve existed. The former is scarier every year as it becomes less and less a projection of a moment and more and more a hideous truth of daily existence, the latter is the only example I know of where cocaine reference points add up to true emotional insight. Both are beautiful, in a way the more cynical later Stones would never dare to be, and among the band’s last examples of real musical ambition.

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26 BEAST OF BURDEN
Some Girls album track, 1978

ADAM SWEETING: Stumbling out into a post-punk world, the 1978 Rolling Stones of Some Girls found their bearings by looping back into some soul and country roots. “Beast Of Burden” was as simple and affecting an almost-ballad as they’ve ever concocted, squeezing the tear ducts with a simple two-chord pattern and some ragged but potent vocal harmonies. Jagger’s lovelorn pleadings almost sound sincere, for once. This would probably be piffle if anybody else had done it, but they didn’t.
NILS LOFGREN: When I saw the Stones’ Steel Wheels tour in LA, we were at the soundcheck. There were like eight people in the stadium. They came out one by one. To my amazement, they went into “Beast Of Burden” and they did the whole song right in front of us and Mick comes out on the catwalk all the way to the middle of the stadium and starts flirting with my wife. It was just a great moment. Some of their greatest stuff is the tender stuff and it’s more when the tenderness appears in the harder-edged beat.
DAVID STUBBS: By 1978, The Rolling Stones were regarded as obsolete relics of the pre-punk era. Tom Robinson was calling for them to split because they were no longer “valid”. Probably oblivious to this sea change, the Stones came back with Some Girls, whose sleazy Stateside carousing was a reflection of what was actually going on in the larger rock’n’roll world. They were still valid, just, and this was their last, great album, It’s decadent, desperate and obnoxious, with the racist lyrics of the title track and the blatant disco-isms of “Miss You”, but it contains moments of rueful reflection, not least on “Beast Of Burden”, defiant, sad and bluesy, with the ageing Jagger in full mid-life crisis mode: “Ain’t I rough enough? Ain’t I tough enough? Ain’t I rich enough?” The Stones carry on, rougher and richer than ever, but this was their last hurrah and deep down they knew it.
IAN McCULLOCH: I love Some Girls, it’s a great album. It came out in the middle of punk and I just like the spite of it.
NICK JOHNSTONE: Having recently interviewed Ronnie Wood for Uncut at his house in Kingston and asked him how to play this song – always one of the slickest, loosest, funkiest Stones songs – he abandoned his glass of wine and grabbed an acoustic guitar. Watching him, fag in mouth, hunched over his guitar, tuning it up, that black crows’ nest of hair all over the place, skinny in the way the Stones have always been, I realised I was witness to that quality, that ingredient, that something that defies words, that makes the Stones what they are. Anyone with basic guitar skills can play a Stones song, but only the Stones can play it the way it’s meant to be played. It just confirms what everyone knows: that band, when they play together, are from another planet. They divine magic and they play like no one else, and that’s why they’re still the biggest rock band in the world.

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