The Rolling Stones’ 40 best songs

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

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Sticky Fingers album track, 1971

BUTCH VIG: A lot of their early songs were about social rebellion and being the new bad boys of rock’n’roll, but this song is almost tender. It has a lovely, bittersweet quality to it, great guitars and seductive lyrics.
DAF: There’s so many great Stones songs to choose from, but this reminds me of living with some mates in Cardiff and listening to Sticky Fingers over and over again. I was reading Keith Richards’ biography at the time and I was really touched by the fact he wrote this with Gram Parsons. The delivery is just wonderful.
MICHAEL J SHEEHY: I personally think The Flying Burritos’ version is better than the Stones’ version, but the vibes of this song, and the way Jagger delivers each note,
is just beautiful.
CHRIS HILLMAN: To be honest, it’s not one of my favourite songs. It felt at the time, and I still feel the same now, that Gram [Parsons] probably pestered them to get the song and to further forge his link with Keith. Gram was a charming, persuasive man, but I don’t know why we ended up doing that song. It took the Burritos out of the honky tonk realm and into maudlin balladry. I like the Stones’ version much better than ours. I think Gram and Keith had a very close relationship for a while, then it became a burden. Their ‘recreational pursuits’ got in the way of reality. As I recall, I think Keith politely asked him to leave. Having worked with Gram – as talented a guy as he was – he wasn’t someone you could work with over a long period of time. It was destructive, not productive. Music is creative and it’s not something you wallow in despair over. You don’t need to wallow in despair at all. That’s a myth. But, yeah, they had a brief sharing of enlightenment together.
NIGEL WILLIAMSON: Wistful, epic and heartbreaking with a brilliant lyric, the ultimate expression of the Stones’ debt to the one and only Gram Parsons – who, of course, recorded his own sublimely aching version of the song with The Flying Burrito Brothers.
MICHAEL GIRA: One of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. “Angie” sounds like music for termites compared to this.
THEA GILMORE: I think my being born was bad news for the Stones because if they’ve made a great record since the year of my birth (1979), I haven’t heard it. My dad was a big fan, so I grew up with their music playing in the house, especially the Sixties hits and the Sticky Fingers album. I loved the vibe of their stuff, though as I grew up a bit the whole hip-thrusting misogyny thing came to be a bit of a problem. I guess that’s why the stuff I like best is where Mick actually allows a bit of vulnerability to seep through – “Take It Or Leave It” is a neglected gem which shows what beautiful pop songs they could write, though The Searchers did a much better version of it. “Sister Morphine” is pretty chilling, along with the prophetic vibe of “Gimme Shelter”, but “Wild Horses” is my number one because of the way it aches from the first note. It’s got a ‘just before you jump’ feel about it, and while Mick is being as tender as he can allow, it’s very claustrophobic and desperate. The Stones were hanging out with Gram Parsons at the time, and I think his influence is really strong on this track. It’s only testosterone and guilt . . . but I like it!


Single, 1967

CHRIS HILLMAN: Another out-of-left-field song. They were kind of in a weird place then. I think Brian Jones took them there and everybody was getting hippied out, as I call it. But again, like most of their songs, it holds up years after the fact. And that’s a great accomplishment. That was the thing that was drilled into The Byrds when we were younger with our manager [Jim Dickson]. He said we needed to record songs that we could listen to in 10 years’ time, not some goofy, novelty thing. And he was basically right. It was the same with the Stones. It’s a great song. Lyrically, it still has something to say.
PHIL MANZANERA: For its time, this seemed quite luxurious and elegant since it wasn’t the hard R&B side of the Stones, it was the sort of pop, or the ‘mincey’ side
of the Stones. It’s very ‘Swinging Sixties’, there’s a very English side to it, and I suppose there’s that slightly medieval-ish thing in there too. “Ruby Tuesday” just added another dimension to their music.
MICK FARREN: An odd choice? I’ve always thought of this as poor Brian’s true epitaph, plus I also dug the Stones’ flower power medievalism as a move beyond apeing the blues to mannered and decadent Anglo subversion. An amazing piece of writing with its multi-sectioned verses building to the anthemic punch of the chorus, and the genesis of devices that would henceforth become a major part of the Jagger/Richards bag of tricks.
TERRY MILES: Pure psychedelic pop.

Sticky Fingers album track, 1971

ED HAMELL: This is beautiful, transcendent junk. It sounds like The White Stripes on their best day of dreaming. I was at the South-By-Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas a few years ago. It had been about five nights of no-sleep, intense partying, non-stop talking, listening to music. The kind of exhaustion that brings about a life-confirming epiphany or brutal self-examination suicide. The festival (at least in those days) would culminate in a performance by Alejandro Escovedo on Sunday night at the La Zona Rosa club. What remained of the festival, some 2,000 strong, would meet there. He performed “Sway”. The line “It’s just that evil life that’s got me in its sway” cut through the haze of that crowd like a razor. It’s as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had.
J MASCIS: My fave Stones song, even though Jagger is playing guitar.


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