The Rolling Stones might be fleecing their loyal fanbase with eye watering ticket prices but only a fool would deny the brilliance of their back catalogue. So to help balance the good with the bad, we look back on the Top 10 Rolling Stones tracks. In truth this could have been a Top 40. The Stones have influenced thousands of bands who have taken to the Reading stage over the years, and witling the list down to measly ten in next to impossible, but we’re going to give it a go.
10. “Heart Of Stone” (1964)
Before Lennon and McCartney gave Mick and Keith a brief masterclass in songwriting, The Stones were a covers band. They brought a devilish, barely contained sense of danger and sexuality to black American classics, but they soon broke out. The first real success for Jagger and Richards came in 1964 when the duo penned “Heart Of Stone”.
While The Beatles were frustrated chasing love and labeling themselves well-meaning losers, The Stones struck out as uncompromising lady killers. Accustomed to reducing girls to tears, Jagger finally meets his match on “Heart Of Stone”, but by the time he finds love, he is too callous and detached to embrace her – leading to one of rock’s great tragic finales: “Listen little girl, I ain’t got no love, I ain’t the kind to meet. You’ll never break this heart of stone”. The Stones potential was suddenly unleashed.
9. “Brown Sugar” (1971)
The Stones might have been arch rock primitivism employing the raucous sounds of the Louisiana swamp, but Mick Jagger always possessed a modernist flair for lyricism. Heroin and interracial sex abound on The Stones most irresistible anthem. “Brown Sugar” shakes, balloons and bursts with the energy and seediness of New Orleans. Horns pop as the rhythm snaps, you can practically hear Mick rolling his shoulders and swivelling his hips as he’s blurts: “Drums Beating, cold English blood runs hot, Lady of the house wondering when it’s gonna stop”. It’s all lewd boasts, sexual grunts and scathing couplets – how many pop songs go from the slave ship to the whore house so quickly, conquering the world in the process.
8. “Rocks Off” (1972)
Exile On Main Street is such a grotty yet strangely cohesive LP, that it’s hard to imagine hearing “Rocks Off” without it being followed immediately by the electric “Rip This Joint”. Still, it may work best in its intended setting, but alone “Rocks Off” remains staggering. On the surface it’s a raucous free wheelin’ party with bar room piano runs and wild horn blasts, but dig beneath the surface and you uncover a deep darkness. That sensational opening line “I hear you talking when I’m on the street, your mouth don’t move but I can hear you speak” seems like a brilliant ode to unspoken sexuality magnetism at first, but it slowly revealed to be a darker statement on Richards’ detachment. Over run by Herion addiction, in between the wild sexual scenes, a dark melancholy begins to emerge:
“I’m zipping through the days at lightning speed. Plug in, flush out and fire the fuckin’ feed. Heading for the overload, Splattered on the dirty road, Kick me like you’ve kicked before, I can’t even feel the pain no more.”
The atmosphere becomes less a riotous party and more frightening blur of activity experienced but not felt, witnessed in person while cut so far adrift. Brilliant stuff.
7. “Shine A Light” (1972)
While Richards was confronting his heroin addiction with riotous roots rock, Mick Jagger was scouring churches, embracing gospel choirs and grand redemptive sweeps. His experimentation supplied a great many unexpected gems on Exile… but none was finer than “Shine A Light”. Jagger perfectly counterpoints the portentous sweep of the track (its huge solo and booming backing vocals), with this cutting and incredible specific imagery: “Saw you stretched out, in-a-room ten oh nine; A smile on your face, and tear in your eye; Could not seem to get a line on you”.
In a sense it’s a simple song and a well-worn concept, pleading, praying that a hopeless pitiful case will be redeemed. The track’s joyous final chorus gives “Shine A Light” a wonderful opening ended feeling. The wretch could be saved, death could have rid them of their pain, or the singer could simply have freed himself of his emotional burden through well meaning prayer.
6. “Angie” (1973)
Goats Head Soup might be seen as a minor misstep in The Stones back catalogue, but the album is not without its merits, most all “Angie”. It’s not a wide reaching a composition like “Shine A Light”, instead it’s a rather simple pop song that leaves so much unsaid. Jagger’s isn’t overly descriptive, and the title figure’s identity is largely irrelevant, instead the track thrives on the sharp longing tone of Jagger’s voice and the beautiful blend of the piano and strings. “Angie” launched a million tender but intelligent rock ballads, everyone from Axl Rose to Jarvis Cocker would attempt to emulate and better this sublime 1973 cut.