Friday, May 25, 2012

50 Years/50 Reasons The Rolling Stones are the Most!

According to Karnbach and Bernson’s It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first went to see Brian Jones and Ian Stewart rehearse with their new blues band on May 25, 1962. Kismet. For the next fifty years, The Rolling Stones would remain the definitive Rock & Roll band, leaving a trail of milestones in their wake. Here are 50 that prove The Stones are and have always been the most.


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1. Start Me Up
“Hot Stuff” notwithstanding, Stones albums could always be counted on to get off to a rousing start. Track one always packed a little extra kick: “Route 66” on their debut, “She Said Yeah” on Out of Our Heads, “Sympathy for the Devil” on Beggars Banquet, “Gimme Shelter” on Let It Bleed, “Rocks Off” on Exile on Main Street, “Start Me Up” on Tattoo You. Sometimes The Stones lured you in with beguiling mood music, as they did with “Mother’s Little Helper” on Aftermath, “Yesterday’s Papers” on Between the Buttons, and “Sing This All Together” on Their Satanic Majesties Request. No matter what, as soon as the needle drops on side one, there’s no mistake you're listening to the world’s greatest Rock & Roll band.

2. Imagination
Sometimes The Stones’ exploits overshadow their music. Mick and Keith are rarely spoken of in the same breath as fellow lyricists Dylan or Lennon and McCartney, but could they be Rock’s greatest wordsmiths? They were not as poetic as Dylan. They were not as empathetic as The Beatles. Yet Mick and Keith were far more personal, varied, and imaginative than many listeners realize. Songs such as “Before They Make Me Run” and “Wild Horses” are vulnerable contemplations of real situations. “Citadel”, “Torn and Frayed”, and “When the Whip Comes Down” establish incredibly detailed scenarios of fantasy and reality. “Sympathy for the Devil” may be Rock & Roll’s finest—and most frightening— character study, while “Monkey Man” might be its most hilarious self-parody.

3. Copy Me
One of the things that made Mick Jagger such a stellar frontman was his ability to mimic the greatest frontmen before and of his time. He spent the first few Stones records working hard to capture Chuck Berry’s audible smirk, Jimmy Reed’s slur, Marvin Gaye’s sweet roll, and Otis Redding’s transcendent shout. By the mid-‘60s he was an expert impersonator who had Ray Davies’s wryness (“Cool, Calm, & Collected”), The Beatles’ Liverpudlian harmonies (“Yesterday’s Papers”), and Dylan’s whine (“She Smiled Sweetly”) down pat.

4. The Bass Player He Looks Nervous…and the Drummer, He’s So Shattered…
Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were never a flash rhythm section like Moon and Entwistle, or rhythmic melodists like Starr and McCartney. They just locked into grooves like no other white rhythm section, smearing slicks of drums and bass Keith could slide all over with his greasy licks. So what if Charlie played a little behind the beat? So what if Bill didn’t have the interest in distinguishing his lines from the mix, making it necessary for Keith to tear the bass from Bill’s hands and do the job himself from time to time? There’s still an undeniable magic to their boogie: Charlie wacking away like a slightly slack metronome; Bill tossing off walking runs with ease, occasionally dive-bombing down neck like Bo Diddley. On stage, the guys looked like they could not have been less interested in what they were doing. The exquisite rumble they made proved otherwise.

5. …and the Guitar Players Look Damaged
While Bill and Charlie were perfecting their rhythms at the back of the stage, Keith Richards and Brian Jones were out front revolutionizing guitar dynamics. The lead and rhythm player had always been distinct entities in Rock & Roll. Keith and Brian started changing that through a technique Keith christened “weaving,” instinctively trading rhythm and lead roles within a song. While Mick Taylor’s virtuosity meant that the roles became less integrated during his tenure, The Stones’ acquisition of Ronnie Wood in 1976 resulted in the most perfect weaving Keith would ever achieve with a guitar partner.

6. Slipped My Tongue
It’s been slapped on T-shirts, jackets, and air fresheners (though it’s hard to believe anything associated with The Stones would actually make the air smell better). Over-commercialized for sure, The Rolling Stones’ tongue is still a perfectly lascivious, unbelievably iconic logo for the world’s dirtiest band of pirates. It has certainly gotten more mileage than if it had “slowly (turned) into a cock,” as Keith Richards once suggested it might.

7. I Got the Blues
Some critics have tisked at The Stones for hitting so huge with a style of music originated by poor, older black artists. However, most of those artists were not among the critics. In fact, The Stones helped expose great bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Slim Harpo, Robert Johnson, and Jimmy Reed to record buyers that never would have known they existed otherwise.

8. Undercover (Part 1)
With the very arguable exception of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards were Rock & Roll’s greatest songwriting team, but The Rolling Stones could also transform other writers’ songs to the point that one couldn’t be faulted for thinking they were written in house. The Stones’ first few albums and singles were almost exclusively occupied by covers, and some of these are astonishing in both their respect for the originals and their almost offhand, radical interpretative strokes. The ever-exciting Chuck Berry may have never cut anything as exciting as The Stones’ interpretation of his interpretation of Don Raye’s “Down the Road Apiece”. Howlin’ Wolf’s barnyard blues “Little Red Rooster” sounds even more rustic in The Stones’ lazy hands. Larry Williams’ driving “She Said Yeah” rockets into overdrive when Keith and Brian stomp on their fuzz pedals and unleash Hell. The Stones’ versions of Irma Thomas’s “Time Is On My Side”, The Valentinos’ “It’s All Over Now”, and even Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” are now rightfully considered the definitive ones. Sometimes questionable choices resulted in dud covers. The nasty Stones could never navigate their way around the sweeter side of soul, and their interpretations of “Under the Boardwalk” and “My Girl” are pretty embarrassing. Their best covers are some of their best recordings, period. When Jagger and Richards fully developed as songwriters in late ’65, they had less need for other writers’ material, but they still slipped some ace interpretations (“Prodigal Son”, “Love in Vain”, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “Just My Imagination”) onto their later discs.

9. Undercover (Part 2)
The Stones weren’t the only artists cooking up cool covers, and Jagger and Richards’s writing prowess provided some stellar material for their peers. Mick always insisted his greatest interpreter was the blue-eyed soul shouter Chris Farlowe, who put his stamp on such great pieces as “Think”, “Out of Time”, “Yesterday’s Papers”, and “Paint It Black”. Of course, Farlowe had nothing on the era’s greatest soul man. Otis Redding boiled the literate “Satisfaction” down to its very essence, expressing the composition’s message of frustration with his signature grunts and howls. The Who was a band that never needed any outside songwriting help, but as a show of solidarity when Mick and Keith were facing stiff prison sentences for minor drug charges in ’67, they cut angry, ragged, and John Entwistle-less versions of “The Last Time” and “Under My Thumb”. Many other artists would cut cool versions of Mick and Keith’s songs over the decades, but one thing is true of all interpretations: none ever bested the originals.

10. Undercover (Part 3)
The Stones always put as much attention into the covers on the outside of their discs as they put into the ones in the grooves. Beginning with the 1966 compilation Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), The Stones’ album jackets often featured some unusual touch that set them apart from everything else in the record store. Big Hits included a lavish eight-page photo booklet showcasing the guys at their gnarliest. The UK edition of Between the Buttons appeared in a laminated jacket. The cover of Their Satanic Majesties Request was their most radical, portraying The Stones posing in an elaborate psychedelic tableaux shot with a 3-D camera. The octagonal cover of Through the Past Darkly, the working zipper of Sticky Fingers, the die-cut jacket of Some Girls: all exemplify the band’s determination to make every aspect of their myth unique and stylish.

11. The Devil Is My Name
The Rolling Stones struck a lot of poses in their time, but one thing they never did was strike a pious one. While Pete Townshend and George Harrison were going through their religious phases, Mick decided to don a pair of joke-shop horns and align himself with Lucifer. It was as facile as any other guise he tried on, but the effects it had on his and The Stones’ personas were monumental. It began as a joke with the parodic title Their Satanic Majesties Request. It soon turned serious when Mick wrote his greatest lyric, “Sympathy for the Devil”. Aside from a funny name-check in the self-parody “Monkey Man”, Satanism didn’t feature much in The Stones’ music from that point on, but Mick’s faux allegiance apparently gave him a lyrical license to kill, and he’d often keep evil close at hand, whether aping a slaver in the genuinely objectionable “Brown Sugar” or pirouetting with the grim reaper in “Dancing with Mr. D.”

12. Darkness Goes
Andrew Loog Oldham was not particularly well versed in the financial matters or studio techniques that go with being a great manager and producer. Yet he served a key function in the Stones’ ranks as the mastermind behind the image that made them infamous. Oldham had done some publicity for major players like Dylan and The Beatles before taking The Rolling Stones under his pasty wing. He immediately went to work crafting the dark image for his boys that contrasted the lovable mop tops. As Mick pointed out, The Stones were no more debauched in real life than The Beatles (both groups were, in fact, pretty damn debauched). In print, The Stones were the bad boys. “Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry a Rolling Stone?” Andrew posited in an early stroke of promotional genius. He performed further wet work by aligning The Stones with the murderous Droogs of A Clockwork Orange by copping their Nadsat lingo in bizarre liner notes that suggested shoplifting and—yeesh—mugging blind men as viable ways to acquire the latest Stones album.

13. Raise Your Glass to the Evil
Andrew fabricated some of the evil hoodoo swirling around The Stones. They didn’t always need his help, though. The guys were quite adept at stirring controversy on their own, and the most infamous tales have been chiseled in Rock lore: the incident in which they pissed on a garage and elicited their first judicial admonition, the riots their performances incited, “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl”, the Redlands bust, the banned “Street Fighting Man” single, “Brown Sugar”, tax exiles, the S&M Black and Blue advert, Jesse Jackson’s “Some Girls” furor, Keith’s Canadian drug bust. No Rock history book would be complete without such bawdy tales.

14. Je Suis Un Rock Star
Jagger and Richards maintained tight control over their songwriting credits, but this does not mean they always wrote The Stones’ songs on their own. One reason Mick Taylor left the fold in the mid-‘70s was his failure to receive credit for co-writing “Moonlight Mile”, “Hide Your Love”, “Till the Next Goodbye”, “Time Waits for No One” and “If You Really Want to Be My Friend”. Unlike Taylor, Bill Wyman took such matters in stride, even though he might have an even greater gripe considering that some of the tracks he had a hand in—“Paint It Black”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” —were big hits (and in this writer’s opinion, the best hits). That’s a lot of royalties lost for the laconic bassist. Unfortunate, yet Wyman also managed to be the first Stone to break Mick and Keith’s stranglehold on the royalties by landing a solo composition on an L.P. “In Another Land” slipped onto Their Satanic Majesties Request largely because Mick and Keith were too preoccupied with their legal problems to protest. It’s also an excellent song that sums up the album’s controlling theme of drugged fantasy vs. harsh reality better than any other track. High on his coup, Wyman whipped up another original composition for the next Stones album. Not surprisingly, Mick and Keith put a swift end to any illusions that he might maintain a sort of George Harrison/John Entwistle role in the band. That’s too bad, because “Downtown Suzie” is a rollicking, witty, infectious number that would have sat well on Beggars Banquet. In any event, he can rest comfortably knowing he wrote a couple of damn good songs.

15. Low Down Melody
Although Bill Wyman was a great Rock & Roll bass player in the tradition of Willie Dixon, he wasn’t really one to stretch himself. So when a song demanded a more atypical or melodic bassline, Keith Richards often stepped in to pluck the four strings. Keith’s work as a bass player is incredibly underrated and just plain incredible. He’s responsible for most of The Stones’ most distinctive low-down lines: “Live with Me”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Jigsaw Puzzle”, “Street Fighting Man”, and “Sympathy for the Devil”, to name a few.

16. Thru and Thru
If Bill Wyman had a problem with Keith grabbing his bass from time to time, he never seemed to express it. Mick was not quite as understanding when Keith decided to step in front of the mic. He thinks fans don’t really appreciate Keith’s singing, which is, to be fair, an acquired taste. But once that taste has been acquired, it’s downright addictive. Mick is a master impersonator; Keith is genuine through and through. His pipes are tobacco raw, but soaked with the purist emotion. And when the Mick persona seemed to usurp the real Mick once and for all in the ‘80s, Keith could always be counted on to ground their albums in authenticity. It’s no accident that the best tracks on the later Stones discs—“Wanna Hold You”, “Sleep Tonight”, “Can’t Be Seen”, “Slipping Away”, “The Worst”, “Thru and Thru”, “You Don’t Have to Mean It”, “Thief in the Night”, “How Can I Stop”—are all sung by Keef.

17. Your Pretty Clothes
After a brief, and unfortunate, dalliance with matching vests and dogtooth jackets in their early days, The Stones broke free from the bonds of band uniforms to establish a distinctive style all their own. Brian was the true pioneer, plundering women’s fashion bins to come up with floppy hats and big brooches. His black and pink pinstriped gangster suit was striking when completed with bold red tie and pocket square. He pulled off the sheepskin vest look better than Sonny Bono and Boris Karloff combined. Mick favored ratty sweatshirts in the early days but soon graduated to wild ensembles like the thigh-length blouse he sported at Hyde Park in ’69 and the superhero cape at Altamont. Keith cultivated his piratical image with home-patched trousers, billowy shirts, and the multitude of ribbons, skulls, and doodads dangling from his head.

18. Dance
Singing and style were as essential to the Jagger pose as the moves he unfurled on stage. A cock of the hip. A clap of the hands. A shuffle of the feet. A flap of the wings. The Mick Jagger dance is an iconic gesture of Rock & Roll bravado and a damn good rooster impersonation.

19. If I was a Dancer (Dance Part 2)
Black dance music is the backbone of the Stones sound, yet some of their fans took issue with the band’s decision to cop disco when it became a mid-‘70s craze. Mick argued that disco was just another form of black music for the taking, like soul, the blues, and Rock & Roll, itself. The Rolling Stones really only flirted with disco, but it is to their credit that most of their trysts with the genre were pretty great. “Hot Stuff” was awful, but the paranoid funk “Fingerprint File”, the yearning mega-hit “Miss You”, the uproarious Bee-Gees parody “Emotional Rescue”, and Keith’s dance floor bubblegum “Wanna Hold You” bested most records by artists who aligned themselves with disco more faithfully than The Stones ever did.

20. All in a Row
Has any band ever had a hot streak like the one The Stones had from 1966 through 1972? Dismissing Satanic Majesties-hate for the bullshit it clearly is, the seven albums they released from Aftermath through Exile on Main Street comprised a stunning row of classics. Even if we don’t include Yellow Submarine, which wasn’t really a proper new album, the closest The Beatles came were the five albums they put out from Rubber Soul through Abbey Road (Help! had a few weak cuts by Beatles standards and Let It Be may have been their weakest L.P. overall). Even if one argued that The Who matched them (My Generation through The Who by Numbers), there aren’t too many other contenders.

21. All over the Stage
The Stones made some of Rock & Roll’s greatest records, but sitting at home with a copy of Sticky Fingers isn’t much of a substitute for seeing them live. Charlie and Bill’s adrenal boogieing. Keith wire-armed guitar whipping. Brian’s sudden rushes to the edge of the stage. Mick’s spastic flailing all over it. Once again, only The Who could contend.

22. You've heard of Oxford Circus, you've heard of Picadilly Circus…
On December 11, 1968, The Rolling Stones assembled Marianne Faithfull, The Who, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, The Dirty Mac, and a motley crew of circus performers and filmed a remarkable snapshot of the times. Keith, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell gathering as The Dirty Mac was a once in a lifetime occurrence. The Who were never more exciting than they were while blistering through “A Quick One, While He’s Away”. Marianne was never more beautiful. Taj Mahal ripped raw through “Ain’t That a Lot of Love”, and Tull… well… at least the song they chose to lipsynch was a good one. Of course, this was “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”, and the headliners didn’t disappoint even though they didn’t end up going on until 5 in the morning following a 14-hour shoot. They laid waste to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and a clutch of numbers from their latest and greatest long player, Beggars Banquet, and debuted “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Though Brian looked like his days were numbered, Mick was positively luminous. Still, the vain one supposedly did not like the way he looked or the way his band performed (particularly in comparison to The Who), so the “Rock and Roll Circus” was not aired on TV during its time. Nearly twenty years later, it won a video release. It was a long wait, but well worth it as the three greatest bands on Earth (Lennon, of course, represented The Beatles) helped put on the greatest T.V. Rock Show ever made.

23. On with the Show
For showmanship, variety, and period color, no Stones concert show matched their “Rock and Roll Circus”. That was not their only great concert film, though. Their first was Peter Whitehead’s 1966 documentary Charlie Is My Darling, which captured Brian waxing philosophic about pop stardom, Mick getting drunk and mocking the riff from The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”, and the title character mumbling while on tour in Ireland in 1965. The film’s arty yet lighthearted tone could not have been more different from The Maysles Brothers’ Gimme Shelter, a disturbing document of Altamont that also squeezes in some fierce music. 1974’s Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones cut out any pretense to storyline to just give us The Stones at their starkest, shredding tracks from Beggars Banquet through Exile while on stage in Texas, 1972. They returned to the relatively intimate venue to shoot Some Girls Live in Texas six years later, and though they were no longer at their peak excitement, they were at their most polished. The film was finally released on DVD last year. Subsequent concert films— Hal Ashby’s bloated Let’s Spend the Night Together, Martin Scorsese’s old-timer’s review Shine a Light— obviously couldn’t recapture the vitality of those early films. It’s still better to have past-prime Stones than no Stones at all.

24. Traps for Troubadours
Keith Richards could sling it out with his acoustic guitar just as well as he could with his Telecaster, and the archetypal Rock & Roll band made some of the best folk rock of the ‘60s and beyond. They first started playing with the form on “Play with Fire” in early ’65. They got it right right from the start: Keith’s delicate acoustic picking matched with Mick’s withering voice as he sang of a privileged woman slipping toward doom. The Stones’ brand of folk-rock was always distinctly their own. They never used it to parrot Biblical verses or deliver protest statements. In fact, they housed some of their darkest lyrics— “Play with Fire”, “Mother’s Little Helper”, “I Am Waiting”, “Back Street Girl”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Sister Morphine” —in folk rock garb.

25. There’s Too Much Noise
At the far other end of the aural spectrum, The Stones could stir a din worthy of The Who. Andrew Oldham had a notoriously heavy hand when manipulating the echo dials on his soundboard. Couple that with Keith’s new fuzz pedal and you have some of the most exhilaratingly noisy sides of the ‘60s: “She Said Yeah”, “19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Please Go Home”, “My Obsession”, “We Love You” and the biggest, baddest monster of all, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?”

26. In Another Land
In the days swirling around the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, every band worth its salt was expected to conjure a similar psychedelic opus. Some of this was weak-kneed and precious, if charming enough. Of course, The Rolling Stones could always be counted on to locate the darkness. They even managed to do so with flower power on their sneering single “We Love You” and the long-playing masterpiece Their Satanic Majesties Request. While Lennon was fancifully channeling Lewis Carroll, Mick and Keith were wailing disorienting tales of alienation, such as “Citadel”, “2000 Man”, and the magnificent “2000 Light Years from Home”. Possibly the most underrated album of all time is also the greatest detonation of pure psychedelia from the age of tangerine trees and newspaper taxis.

27. Sweet and Strange
Even though Keith Richards housed the essence of The Stones’ sound in the strings of his Telecaster, the band’s best records were driven by a lot more than the usual guitar/bass/drums attack. Strange instrumentation was a recurring detail on Rolling Stones records, and not just during their psychedelic phase. “Street Fighting Man” squeals with Indian tamboura and shehnai. Jack-of-all-instruments Brian Jones strums autoharp on “You Got the Silver” and Byron Berline lays wheezy fiddle over “Country Honky”. Icy sheets of Mellotron invade “Let It Loose”. Full Moroccan ensemble takes “Continental Drift” into untraveled places. Of course, The Stones were at their most varied during those magic years of 1966 and 1967, when sitar, dulcimer, marimba, vibraphone, harpsichord, koto, kazoo, and many other sweet and strange sounds took pride of place alongside the usual guitars and drums.

28. We Love You
In private, Keith and Mick (in particular) really fretted over the possibility that they’d be sent to prison for the bullshit drug offenses discovered on Richards’s premises on February 12, 1967. In public, they couldn’t seem cooler. Case in point: the scathing promotional film Peter Whitehead conceived for their parodic single “We Love You”. Whitehead thought the song was “unbelievably bad” but respected The Stones’ sticky situation enough to come up with a brilliant protest against the British court system. He drew parallels between the ignorant treatment of Oscar Wilde, who’d been tried for homosexuality, and that of Mick and Keith. The film was a rag-tag recreation of the Wilde trial with Mick starring as Oscar, Keith in the role of the judge (complete with wig fashioned from old newspapers), and Marianne Faithfull as Lord Alfred Douglas, the lover who ultimately betrayed Wilde. The coup de grâce occurs when Jagger appears naked beneath the infamous fur rug Marianne wore when the cops descended on Redlands. Gutsy stuff coming from those under the gun.




29. Butterflies on a Wheel
Mick and Keith may have been sent up the river had it not been for strong support from a most unlikely source. The Times was a notoriously conservative paper and William Rees-Mogg was its editor. He was the last guy in the world anyone could imagine grooving to “Get Off My Cloud”, yet he recognized the grand injustice that had befallen Mick. Mogg came to the singer’s defense with one of the best-known editorials ever written. Taking a line from Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?”, Mogg put the drug offense and the reaction to it in perspective. Because he was so respected amongst The Stones’ opposition, his editorial helped change opinion in their favor. “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?” only mentioned Mick, but Keith fortunately benefited from the new wave of support it fostered, and both Stones were ultimately acquitted.

30. The Judge, He Gonna Judge
Prosecutor Malcolm Morris: “There was, as we know, a young woman sitting on a settee wearing only a rug. Would you agree, in the ordinary course of events, you would expect a young woman to be embarrassed if she had nothing on but a rug in the presence of eight men, two of whom were hangers-on and the third a Moroccan servant?”
Keith Richards: “Not at all.”
Prosecutor Malcolm Morris: “You regard that, do you, as quite normal?”
Keith Richards: “We are not old men. We are not worried about petty morals.”

In your face, Morris.

31. Waiting on a Friend
The Rolling Stones were nasty characters who still managed to make a lot of friends in the business. Consequently, their records featured some impressive guest spots by the likes of Lennon and McCartney (“We Love You”, “Sing This All Together”), Billy Preston (“Melody”), John Paul Jones (“She’s a Rainbow”), Jimmy Page (“One Hit [To the Body]”), Pete Townshend (“Slave”), and Sonny Rollins (“Waiting on a Friend”). Of course, no guest spot is as stunning as Merry Clayton’s solo spot on “Gimmie Shelter”. Her cracking, careening contribution shoves the track’s controlled tension over into hysteria.

32. Down in the Hole
50 years of recording has resulted in hundreds of great tracks, some of which never managed to slip out on any official release. Though the 1975 outtakes compilation Metamorphosis and recent deluxe editions of Exile on Main Street and Some Girls hint at what we’ve been missing, there are still plenty of treasures buried down in the hole. From The Stones’ very first recording—a hyper run through of Bo Diddley’s “Diddley Daddy”—to the cool blues “Looking Tired” slotted for the unreleased Could You Walk on Water? to the rocking pre-Between the Buttons outtake “I Can See It” (aka: “Get Yourself Together”) to the magnetic jam “Highway Child” from the Beggars Banquet sessions to the It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll reject “Living in the Heart of Love”, there are plenty of great vault items that have kept Stones bootlegs essential.

33. Dangerous Beauty
The world’s nastiest band was capable of tremendous beauty. Keith’s guitar could lilt as well as it could strike. Mick could shout, but he could also cajole a lyric with great sensitivity. Charlie could wallop, but he could keep time with great delicacy too. The Stones’ back catalogue houses nearly as many beautiful ballads as vicious rockers, even as most of those ballads—“Back Street Girl”, “Play with Fire”, “Ruby Tuesday”, “Lady Jane”, “I Am Waiting”, “Let It Loose”, “Time Waits for No One”, “Angie”, “Wild Horses”, “As Tears Go By”, “Moonlight Mile” —don’t exactly have lyrics you’d want to walk down the wedding aisle to. On occasion The Stones could play it sweet without the sour, as “She Smiled Sweetly” and “Sweethearts Together” prove.

34. Hide Your Love (Part 1: The ‘60s)
Unlike The Beatles, whose every song seems to have seeped into the pop-culture conscious, the second most famous band of all time possess many hidden gems. Delve into the B-sides of big hits “19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Paint It Black”, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows?”, and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and unearth the spectacular fazed cookies “Sad Day”, “Long Long While”, “Who’s Driving Your Plane?” and “Child of the Moon”. Many albums tracks of the era are equally underappreciated, such as “I Am Waiting”, “Flight 505”, “My Obsession”, “Back Street Girl”, “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?”, “2000 Man”, “Citadel”, “Sing This All Together”, “Jigsaw Puzzle”, “Salt of the Earth”, “You Got the Silver”, and “Monkey Man”, to name just a few. In some cases, great songs never even made it to official UK albums during their own times. Amazing to think tracks like “Ride On Baby”, “Sittin’ on a Fence”, and “Blue Turns to Grey” were deemed unworthy of release on proper English albums.

35. Hide Your Love (Part 2: The ‘70s)
By the ‘70s, Rock’s main medium had shifted from the single to the album. During the decade, The Stones recorded no exclusive A-sides for their singles and just a handful of B-sides. This reduced the number of hidden gems to be found, but there was still a fierce live version of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” on the backend of the “Brown Sugar” single in the UK, the dusky ballad “Through the Lonely Nights” on the B-side of “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll”, and the funky jam “Everything Is Turning to Gold” on the flip of “Shattered”, which trumps a lot of the similar efforts on Black and Blue. The mass of hidden gems to be found in the ‘70s lurked on their L.P.s, and there certainly was no shortage with “Sway” and “Moonlight Mile” hidden on Sticky Fingers, “Torn and Frayed” and “Let It Loose” tucked away amidst two albums of Exile on Main Street, “Silver Train” and “Winter” floating in the murk of Goats Head Soup, “Time Waits for No One” and “Fingerprint Files” filed away on It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, and “Hand of Fate” and “Memory Motel” secreted on Black and Blue. Some Girls, however, was massive enough to seemingly lack obscurities, good or bad.

36. Hide Your Love (Part 3: The ‘80s)
Early in the ‘80s, The Rolling Stones tidied up their past with the outtakes collection Tattoo You. They didn’t seem to have much plan for the rest of the decade. For the first time, most new albums were largely disappointing. Even though The Stones’ best days were unquestionably behind them, they could always be counted on to turn out a new gem or two. Hidden items like “Summer Romance”, “Let Me Go”, “Wanna Hold You”, “Had It With You”, “Can’t Be Seen”, “Break the Spell”, and “Slipping Away” guaranteed the ‘80s weren’t a total wash-out for The Rolling Stones.

37. Hide Your Love (Part 4: The ‘90s)
The Rolling Stones were somewhat refreshed in the ‘90s. They smartly started the decade by leaning back on their past strengths, and Voodoo Lounge offered the heftiest dose of quality Stones in years. The best tracks found the band back making ace country (“The Worst”), folk rock (“New Faces”), psychedelia (“Moon Is Up”), ballads (“Sweethearts Together”), and old-fashioned Rock & Roll (“Mean Disposition”). The best hidden gem in the lot, “Thru and Thru”, was not only their best song in nearly two decades but their first in even longer that found them expanding into fascinating new musical territory. Bridges to Babylon wasn’t as hot, but some first-rate classic rock (“Low Down”), ska (“You Don’t Have to Mean It”), after-hours jazz (“How Can I Stop”) made it matter, while “Thief In the Night” continued the atmospheric experimentation of “Thru and Thru”. Most interesting of all, the ‘90s saw a new age of exclusive B-sides, some of which (“Anyway You Look at It”, “Wish I’d Never Met You”, “The Storm”) were fairly gem-ish.

38. All Those Beat-up Friends of Mine
The core Stones always received ample support from a regular cast of cronies. They had one of the best percussionists on hand with Rocky Dijion, who can be witnessed doing his thing in the “Rock and Roll Circus”, Bobby Keyes and Jim Price on horns, and perhaps the greatest sessionman of them all, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. And though he has never been afforded official-Stone status, bassist Darryl Jones has maintained the low end righteously since Bill Wyman’s departure in the early ‘90s.

39. Boogie with Stu
The Stones’ most famous sideman was an official member at one point. Andrew Oldham was concerned that Ian Stewart looked too square and that six band members would be too many for the teenyboppers to keep track of. So Ian was muscled out of the band. He begrudgingly accepted a role as road manager, and more significantly, unofficial keyboardist. Stu played on nearly every Stones album and regularly joined them on stage right up until his death in 1985. Because he was a staunch blues purist who refused to play anything as exotic as a minor chord, Stu’s contributions tended to be limited to the bluesiest, rockingest tracks. His honky tonk can be experienced loud and proud on such classics as “Brown Sugar”, “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll”, “Dead Flowers”, and “Honky Tonk Women”.

40. Honky Tonk Women
Although they never appeared on stage with their guys, and only got involved in the recordings by “whoo-whooing” along with “Sympathy for the Devil”, The Rolling Stones’ lady friends have played nearly as important a role in their mythology as the musicians. Mick’s involvement with the strong-willed, talented, and very complicated Marianne Faithfull proved he was not merely interested in keeping women under his thumb. Even more formidable was Anita Pallenberg, who often fought back against the abusive Brian and ultimately left him in the dust to take up with the kinder Keef. Together, they became one of the most iconic—if self-destructive—power-Rock couples of the ‘70s. They were certainly more beloved than Mick and Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias, who was often derided for weakening Lucifer into a status-hungry, jet-setting celeb. Yet Bianca was another strong, admirable woman, a human rights activist who has done good work in her home country of Nicaragua and abroad. She continues to work as a powerful opponent of the death penalty and supporter of women’s rights initiatives in Afghanistan. Even Keith, who was heartily against her marriage to Mick, doffed his cap to her in his autobiography Life. Keith’s current wife, Patti Hansen, has accomplished some humanitarian initiatives of her own by keeping that grizzled old skeleton alive for the past thirty years.

41. They’re Pretty Funny
Despite fifty years under the banner of the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band, The Rolling Stones have always managed to maintain their sense of humor. Sometimes others have failed to find the larfs in their nastiest larks, such as “Brown Sugar”, “Star Star”, and “Some Girls”, or the infamous single sleeve for “Have You Seen Your Mother”, in which the band appears in drag with Bill Wyman twisted up as a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic (oof). But you don’t have to feel guilty for getting some guffaws out of straight-up silliness like “Monkey Man”, “Dear Doctor”, “Far Away Eyes”, and “Emotional Rescue”. At their most devastatingly hilarious, Mick and Keith wrote and recorded an X-rated morsel called “Cocksucker Blues” when Decca contractually demanded one final single. Surprisingly, it never made the hit parade. The guys were capable of plenty of high jinks off the vinyl too: Mick dancing with a giant inflatable cock, Keith’s sparring matches with Elton John, and this:




42. Like Diamonds
Mick Taylor was the unlikeliest Stone. Fresh and innocent looking, traditionally pretty, and musically impeccable, Taylor always seemed a little on the outside of the otherwise ragged, raging Rolling Stones. Yet most fans contend that his tenure with the band was its greatest era. Although this is largely because the band as a whole had reached its stride as a working unit, and Mick and Keith had matured as songwriters to craft their most iconically Stonesy material, Taylor’s fluid, diamond-sharp guitar lines certainly played a decisive role in that golden age. For the first time, the seamless ensemble saw fit to allow extended showcases for a single musician on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, “100 Years Ago”, “Time Waits for No One”, and others. By the time Taylor was done with The Stones in 1974, he’d changed immeasurably, having lost his beatific, innocent smile and wandering off in a fog of addiction. He’d also left behind some of the most beautiful guitar solos ever to grace Rock & Roll.

43. The Guitar Player Gets Restless
Beauty never seemed like something on the Keith Richards agenda, yet he often achieved breathtaking beauty by way of his uncompromising honesty. This always shone through in his lead guitar playing. From the beginning, Keith Richards was clearly a guitar player with immense technical skill. Just listen to his liquid lines on “Down the Road Apiece” from The Stones’ second L.P. He achieved even greater acclaim for his viciousness. Keith’s hellish discharges on “Sympathy for the Devil” are defining. His slippery lines on “Gimmie Shelter” find Keith at his most haunting. His slide work on “Midnight Rambler” is hypnotic. His rolling intro in “Paint It Black” establishes mood like perhaps no other. Keith never played a line for the sake of flash or showmanship, and his instantly recognizable open-tuning style has solidified his reputation as perhaps the greatest Rock rhythm guitarist. His less heralded leads are equally intoxicating.

44. Street Fighting Men
When Rock & Roll developed a social conscience in the 1960s, it became very fashionable to taut simple solutions to significant injustices. “Come on people, now, smile on your brother.” “Reach out in the darkness.” “All you need is love.” Despite a persona of utter self-involvement, The Rolling Stones were concerned about the world outside their decadent sphere. They just never pretended to have any panaceas for society's ills. As such, Mick (who tended to have more interest in current events than Keith) was one of Rock’s great journalists. Songs such as “Satisfaction”, “Jigsaw Puzzle”, “Salt of the Earth”, and “Street Fighting Man” capture the frustration of social and political problems well out of the control of a mere Rock singer. “Sweet Black Angel” from Exile on Main Street was a rare song to address a specific political issue: the trumped-up arrest of Black Panther Angela Davis. Even as Mick settled into his wealth and jet-set lifestyle in the mid-‘70s, he continued to roll out political messages from time to time with stuff like “Indian Girl”, “Undercover”, “Back to Zero”, and “Sweet Neo Con”. Though more explicitly angry, these tracks were less insightful and more musically tepid than his biting ‘60s work. It’s still nice to see that Mick cares enough to make the occasional observation from the correct side of the political spectrum… even if he did accept knighthood from warmonger Tony Blair.

45. The Band Has Got Problems
Some stand-up comic once joked about how the only survivors after a nuclear war will be the cockroaches and Keith Richards. Keith’s resilience is both hack comedy fodder and a key to how he runs his band. Most groups have made work under difficult circumstances. The Beatles were deteriorating while making Let It Be in front of a movie crew. Robert Plant was wheelchair bound when Led Zeppelin recorded the harrowing Presence. Fleetwood Mac’s personal problems while making Rumours are particularly well documented. But has any group ever made as much great music under trying circumstances as The Rolling Stones? Their Satanic Majesties Request was created under the frightening and very real possibility that Mick, Keith, and Brian were prison bound. Let It Bleed was put together in the wake of Jones’s death, while Marianne Faithfull’s near death hung over the Sticky Fingers sessions. Exile on Main Street was famously recorded in a haze of heroin and inhumanly hot temperatures with completely unsatisfactory equipment. Goats Head Soup was also brewed in serious drug addiction and Some Girls brought the return of possible prison for Keith. The Stones didn’t always manage to spin their troubles into gold. Attempting to audition guitarists while cutting a new record resulted in their weakest album to date, Black and Blue, and Mick and Keith’s nearly beyond-repair relationship resulted in their first truly terrible one, Dirty Work. For the most part, The Stones seemed to thrive on their personal and professional problems. It deepened their music, gave them something to fight against.

46. The Young Men All Look On
Mick Jagger often tried to translate his mighty onstage presence to the silver screen, but it really only worked the first time. Still, his performance in Performance is a thing to behold. Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg’s 1968 film about a Rock star who gives safe haven to a hunted gangster is certainly an acquired taste. It puts the sleaziness of The Stones’ recent records on the screen in lurid detail and queasy earth tones. Those who can stomach it will be mesmerized by Jagger’s portrayal of the reclusive Turner, which is less a feat of imaginative acting choices than an uncanny impersonation of Brian Jones. Jagger exudes wasted elegance as he orgies with Anita Pallenberg and Michele Breton. He comes to invigorating life when he breaks the fourth wall to serenade the viewer with his funky, ferocious rap, “Memo from Turner”.




47. Exile
One of the most unusual offshoots of Rolling Stones mythology arrived in 1993 when a songwriter from Chicago supposedly composed a song-by-song response to Exile on Main Street. This was a red herring. In actuality, Liz Phair merely used The Stones’ double-L.P. as a sort of blueprint when choosing and ordering songs for her influential Exile in Guyville. But there had to be more to it than that, right? When Mick begins his Exile by decrying his impotence on “Rocks Off”, Liz starts hers by sneering at a failed lothario while feeling 6’1”. She matches The Stones’ out-of-control party “Rip This Joint” by playing the host cowering from the testosterone-fueled reveling in “Help Me Mary”. The roguish lifestyle Keith describes in “Happy” parallels Liz’s frustration with guys happy to “Fuck and Run”. On “Let It Loose”, Mick gives in to an available woman because he “can’t resist a corny line,” which Phair must have heard as “horny line,” because she promises to “fuck (him) ‘til (his) dick is blue” in “Flower”. The concept doesn’t always play out (what does Phair’s break-up ode “Johnny Sunshine” have to do with the blue collar celebration “All Down the Line”?), but her Jaggeresque drawl and loose Richards strumming, as well as Brad Wood’s behind the beat Watts drumming, keep Guyville Stonesy all the way through. The Rolling Stones never inspired an artist to create worthier work.

48. 2000 Men
In the mid ‘80s, the compact disc emerged as the latest and greatest way to listen to music, because it offered higher fidelity and durability than cassettes without the scratchiness and size of vinyl albums. A significant and very vocal minority was quick to criticize CDs. Their easy-to-store size sacrificed the artfulness of L.P. covers. Furthermore, digital mastering could only sample sound waves, so CDs missed crucial points in the waves that left them lacking the warmth and presence of vinyl. The cover issue is something CDs never satisfactorily resolved, but the introduction of Super Audio Compact Discs, or SACDs, in the early 2000s went a long way toward resolving the CD’s sound issues. ABKCO Records held off on remastering and reissuing The Stones’ Decca catalogue until technology made some significant new strides. SACD did the trick, and The Rolling Stones were the first major Rock band to have a big chunk of their back catalogue released on the new format. Like a lot of audiofile formats, SACD never quite caught on with music buyers. Those who’d invested in SACD players could now hear The Stones sounding better than they—or almost any other band from their era—ever did. Pioneers to the end.

49. Got Live If You Want It
The Rolling Stones have continued to be on top of technological advances in recent years. In late 2011, they unveiled Stones Archive.com. The site offers rare, previously bootlegged concerts as high-quality FLAC files for very reasonable prices. Since it might not make financial sense to release each of these archival performances on vinyl or CD, the inexpensive, legal, downloadable format is a near gift to fans who can’t quite bring themselves to patronize the pirates. It’s also nice to see that these shows have been rolling out with relative regularity. Over the past six months, there have already been three tasty entries on Stones Archive.com: 1973: The Brussels Affair, 1975: L.A. Friday, and 1981: Hampton Coliseum.

50. Long Long While
Few Rock & Roll bands have endured as The Rolling Stones have. While The Who seemed to lose its essence when Keith Moon died, and surely ceased to be when John Entwistle followed, the death of Brian Jones and exit of Bill Wyman didn’t quite have the same effect on The Rolling Stones. Perhaps it's because Brian exited so early in the band’s existence, and Bill was always roundly consumed by Mick and Keith’s big personalities. However, even Keith admits there would be no more Rolling Stones without mild-mannered Charlie Watts. That core trio of Mick, Keith, and Charlie has lasted 50 years now. And Ronnie Wood has now been in the band as long as Bill and Brian combined. Sure, their greatest work is long behind them, but even each of the more recent Rolling Stones records have contained a gem or two. With Ronnie’s recent announcement that he’s going to be heading back into the studio with his old cronies, we may have a few more before a long, long while.
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