The Rolling Stones’ 40 best songs

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

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Single, 1965

IAN MacDONALD: This was the Stones’ most Dylanish single and their main contribution to the ‘protest music’ genre that was big in 1965, entering the UK charts right after Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction”. You hear Dylan’s influence
in those long, jam-packed lines, almost shouted out. The Stones’ stance was a sort of solipsistic surliness, so there’s no virtuous ‘we’ consciousness, no social conscience here. The song’s a rant that sends itself up as it goes along – a kind of anti-protest song. As with all the Stones’ singles around this time, the production and performance are fantastic, especially Watts’ drumming.


Exile On Main Street album track, 1972

RYAN ADAMS: That was the first Rolling Stones song I ever believed in. I loved them growing up, but there was a period in my life when I was into art-rock and Sonic Youth and stuff and stopped listening. Then I was living in a house in Raleigh, North Carolina with a friend of mine called Tom Cushman, who was a huge Stones fan. It was a beautiful day and it was snowing, and I remember that song being in my head. I went into Tom’s room and played it 20 times. There’s something about the memory of that moment. I’ll never be able to detach myself from that song. It makes me want time to stand still. It feels like they’re in a church and it’s just so wrong and beautiful. It sounds like a band that has gone all the way through and is exhuming and honing the great tradition of American music.
RICHARD LLOYD: Another religious statement. To see the truth of this philosophical search in amongst songs like “Monkey Man” and “Midnight Rambler”, with its look at white hypocrisy, is really quite earnest – a lovely piece. Unbelievable recording, the tom-toms and echo, the whole timbre of the recording. It’s an unbelievable piece.
MICHAEL J SHEEHY: They were at their most decadent and outrageous when they wrote this song, so it never ceases to amaze me what a great gospel number it is. I’ve seen a few clips from Cocksucker Blues and I think I can safely say Jesus must have been the last thing on their mind when they composed this.
IRA KAPLAN: I guess there are a couple of different things that I like about the Stones. Some of their songs it seems you never understand no matter how many times you hear them – there’s still a sense of mystery. And “I Just Wanna See His Face” always seemed like the greatest one of those. I just never wanted it to end. I’ve always wished it was much longer. The way it comes out of nowhere. And the fade. Just everything about it is great.

Sticky Fingers album track, 1971

RYAN ADAMS: It’s the ultimate riff of all time – the quintessential Keith riff. It’s the most rocking thing you’ve ever heard. It’s perfectly savage and totally loose. Not to mention that by the end of the song they’ve broken out into some total fuckin’ free jazz shit. It must have been a total accident, which is why the ending of that song will never be paralleled. It’s one of the finest recorded moments in rock’n’roll. To be able to free yourself like that and get jazzy, like Eric Dolphy or John Coltrane, is unheard of.
HOWIE BECK: What can I say about this song? Man, the way Charlie Watts and Keith Richards played off each other is incredible. The whole track sounds like they had a great time in the studio, just jamming away and bouncing off each other. The end of the song also has an awesome vibe.
JAY FARRAR: That to me represents kinda the quintessential Stones song: the driving Keith riff on electric that starts the song and the interplay between the other musicians is kind of the essence. The transition to the jam is great, too.


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