5. “Paint It, Black” (1966)
The Beatles, Dylan, The Byrds and The Beach Boys might all have been breaking sonic barriers while The Stones continued to play r’n’b, but listening to “Paint It Black” it’s easy to see just how Mick and Keith kept pace. “Paint It Black” is an irresistible mood piece. It’s devilishly alluring, pulling the listener in as the guitar part marries East to West. The track does build to a pounding crescendo, but it’s never heavy, this isn’t the bleakness of metal, this is something far more seductive. This is the despond of the outsider, the sharp dressed devil with a condescending sneer and a despairing cry. Mick’s narrator evokes sympathy even in his most vengeful extremes. By the track’s conclusion Mick’s message is sawed into your head with the uncomfortable grating bass echoes that punctuate the track’s slow fade to black.
4. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
It’s time for Martin Scorase’s favourite! The product of both Jagger and Richards, “Gimme Shelter” proves that the duo could produce their best work in tandem. Richards playing is uniformly brilliant, from the infamous opening to the slow burning solo, every part of Richards’ performance has been chopped and cropped for a million traumatic move scenes. Jagger isn’t to be outdone, even his trademark flippancy of tone can’t undermine one of the great pleading vocal performances. The shrewdest move of The Stones career came when Jagger got Merry Clayton on board to hit the searing high notes that he never could. Sadly, her exertion on this track cause the singer to miscarry, but the results were sensational. When she comes in at the height of Richards’ solo it feels as if the world is set to collapse. A stunning composition.
3. “Miss You” (1978)
Who said disco was a vacuous pursuit? The once spurned genre has since been rightfully redeemed for all its forward thinking sexual attitudes, under-reported social conscience, and of course, its pop brilliance. The Stones have always maintained that they never intended to write a disco track, it just happened. Mick was messing around with keyboardist Billy Preston one day, and he came up with a breezy, spacious and withering siren call. It’s impossible to avoid picturing the quasi-comic image of Mick snaking across the dancefloor, but that can’t undermine the track’s hard emotional pull. Like the best disco tracks it’s underpinned by yearning and melancholy, which Mick masterfully brings out by crying: “I guess I’m just lying to myself, it’s you and no one else”.
2. “Street Fighting Man” (1970)
The Stones most overtly political track, as Jagger admits, this wrenching rocker is more about the feeling and sensation of witnessing a violent outburst than rallying people to one particular course of action. Observing the anarchy on the streets of Paris and America at the height of 60s social revolution, Jagger expresses the frustration at London’s unshakeable quiet. In truth “Street Fighting Man” works best as an expression of mood; the feeling of being pent up with no outlet – the fundamental desire to punch, kick, thrash and smash, until the world has been set to rights. Consequently, “Street Fighting Man” is one of Stones greatest expression of wit, with it’s abiding message: “what can a poor boy do, ‘cept to sing for a rock and roll band?”
1. “Sympathy For The Devil” (1969)
Originally written as a folk song, but transformed at Richards’ suggestion in to a quasi-samba rocker, The Rolling Stones’ great narrative masterpiece was inspired by a French poet. Reading Baudelaire Jagger decided to craft a track that recounted with relish and charm the devil’s many achievements – showing how his invisible hand has shaped history across the ages. Growing in intensity and repulsive glee the track is a triumph of both characterization and composition.
Imagine how comprehensively the band could have fallen on their face. How corny and cliché this concept of stepping into the shoes of the devil could have been. It seems bizarre, how did a six-minute historical hop scotch that goes from Pontius Pilate to the Kennedy assassinations in samba timing not crash and burn under it’s own pretentions. It’s a crafty and majestic head scratcher that’s taken on a life of it’s own. Sprawling out to nine minutes in length live, it has crowd bouncing, cooing, and screaming incessantly. “Sympathy For The Devil” remains enlivening off centre 50-years into the Stones career, no amount of over exposure can make it passé.