In all the hoopla around The Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary Marketing Extravaganza Sell-A-Thon (copyright Richards/Jagger, all rights reserved), something may have been lost… the music. While the crass commercialism of The Stones third act now has stretched into its fourth decade (Jesus, take them), all of this tedious hype rests on a great catalog of music, the vast (vast, vast) majority of which was made in the band’s first 15 years.
Make no mistake… in pop culture’s most tedious debate (Beatles vs. Stones), P.C.H.A. is on the Stones side. Which makes every time they pop their heads out of their country estates to refill their already overflowing coffers that much more painful. But, nothing salves a wound like a fantasy draft. So, in honor of their 50th anniversary (with a remarkably stable lineup to boot), we’re going to pick 25 songs each (don’t worry… we’ll keep the commentary brief), and see who can come up with the best collection. First up: David Simon Cowell.
David Simon Cowell: This is one of those drafts where having the first pick isn’t that much of a bonus, since there’s more of a top tier than a no-brainer number one. While there are many justifiable picks here, I’m going with:
1.) Sympathy For The Devil – Beggars Banquet
The sinister lyrics and complex music gives the best distillation of the Stones experience. Plus, it contains what I think is the best guitar solo in rock history.
The Dilemma: Am I allowed to just take all of Exile on Main Street with my first pick? If not, I’ll start off with my favorite Stones’ song from my favorite Stones’ album:
1.) Brown Sugar – Sticky Fingers
While Sympathy for the Devil may be the signature Stones song, Brown Sugar is the quintessential Stones song — all swagger and guitar and offensive lyrics. Then I’m taking:
2.) Gimme Shelter – Let It Bleed
The most epic Stones song, and the one most likely to give Marty Scorsese an erection.
D.S.C.: If we were doing albums, Exile would also clearly be my first choice.
2.) You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Let It Bleed
My other top contender for the first pick, so I’m pretty happy it’s still here. Arguably the best ballad in rock history.
3.) Paint It, Black – Aftermath
The highlight of the Brian Jones years, he perfectly matches his love of Eastern music with a classic Stones song.
3.) Street Fighting Man – Beggars Banquet
Along with Sympathy, this song signaled that the Stones were about to make a huge leap with their next few albums. A perfect match of lyrics and music.
4.) Honky Tonk Woman – Single
The best example of the Stones taking their obsession with American country music and stamping it with their own style.
D.S.C.: Even though it’s better as a collection than as individual singles, I’m going to take the two best songs and (almost) bookends from Exile.
4.) Rocks Off – Exile On Main Street
“The sunlight bores the daylights out of me” – ‘Nuff said.
5.) Shine A Light – Exile On Main Street
One of the Stones’ strengths is bluesy power ballads that are able to sound epic while still rocking. This might be my favorite.
T.D.: And I’m going to take the two best songs off Some Girls, the last really good Stones album — and the last two great songs the band ever released.
5.) Miss You – Some Girls
The band’s best attempt to truly redefine itself and an undeniable groove.
6.) Beast of Burden – Some Girls
One of their best ballads, the Stones song I’m happiest to hear come on a jukebox, and a perfect lyrical representation of Jagger’s work.
D.S.C.: Miss You is a sad sop-to-disco abomination that would easily make my Bottom 5 all-time Stones songs. And no album since Mick Taylor was replaced by “Mr. Fun” Ronnie Wood has even approached “really good”.
6.) Dead Flowers – Sticky Fingers
I’ll grab my choice for the best Stones country song, a classic that’s been covered by a bunch of honest-to-god country artists, and also makes me think of the Big Lebowski.
7.) Salt Of The Earth – Beggars Banquet
This is my choice for most underrated Stones song. I have no idea why it has been overlooked by Greatest Hits collections and classic rock radio, but it probably makes me love it more, because I haven’t heard it 10,000 times. Plus, it reminds me of a jizz-worthy musical moment from my youth.
T.D.: Claiming that Miss You is a Bottom 5 Stones song is David Simon Cowell hyperbole at its finest. Wonderful 2012 vintage.
7.) Let it Bleed – Let It Bleed
You leave me no choice but to grab my choice for the Stones’ best country song, as I can’t let you have both Bleed and Dead Flowers.
8.) Bitch – Sticky Fingers
Horns! Motherfucking horns!
D.S.C.: Not worst as far as all the crap that came after, but worst in the sense that, to me, Miss You is the sound of the Stones death rattle.
8.) Monkey Man – Let It Bleed
Since you took Bitch, I need to grab this song, which is also a great swanky blues jam. With piano! Motherfucking piano!
9.) Sway – Sticky Fingers
Right behind Salt Of The Earth as the Stones song I can’t believe wasn’t bigger. This also means that, while you clearly got great songs too, I now have my two favorite songs from each of their Core Four albums. Now that’s some drafting!
Quick general interest question: My contention would be that to put together a good Rolling Stones collection, all you need is their albums from ’66 to ’72 (Aftermath to Exile) minus Satanic Majesties Request, plus a good Best Of collection (there’s plenty to choose from) to fill in the early singles and decent late stuff. Agree or disagree?
T.D.: Agree, though I’m not that down on Satanic.
9.) Sister Morphine – Sticky Fingers
A great slow-burning dark epic of a kind the Stones don’t have too many of.
10.) (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Out of Our Heads
Speaking of songs you’ve heard 10,000 times… Yes, it’s been drilled into our heads by classic rock and oldies radio, but not without merit. It’s an amazing guitar riff, especially considering it was written in 1965, and Jagger’s lyrics are brilliant in their simplicity. One of the defining songs of rock and roll.
D.S.C.: Yeah, Satisfaction is a cliche, but if you can separate that out, also a great, great song. I’ll go for scarcity next with my two favorite songs from their post-peak era (i.e. the past forty years).
10.) Angie – Goats Head Soup
Just a great ballad, made even more so by the rumor that it was written about David Bowie, which after seeing his Dancing In The Streets video with Jagger, I choose to believe.
11.) Fool To Cry – Black And Blue
I will be teaching my unborn child that the Rolling Stones died in a Lynard Skynard-style plane crash the day after Mick Taylor left in 1974. However, Fool is undeniably a great song, joining with Beast of Burden as the only two of the hateful Ronnie Wood-era (although he didn’t play on this one). Props to the late Ted Demme for reviving this one in Beautiful Girls.
T.D.: I would actually include Goats Head Soup in their peak. Yes, it’s a step down from Exile/Sticky, but it’s a really underrated album with a bunch of good songs. I’m staying pre-preak with these next two picks, because the Stones did a lot of good work before they became the best band in the world for a little while, and I want a fair representation of that era.
11.) 19th Nervous Breakdown – Single
12. Mother’s Little Helper – Aftermath
Songs like these helped separate the Stones from the Beatles and Beach Boys by giving them a darker edge, a lyrical bent that would eventually lead to bands like The Velvet Underground taking things to an even more unseemly place.
D.S.C.: Ouch… both of those were on my short list, and having them and Satisfaction off the board really limits my early era options, especially since so much of that early stuff was covers. Thankfully there’s still a couple of good ones left.
12.) Get Off Of My Cloud – December’s Children (and Everybodys)
13.) Let’s Spend The Night Together – Between The Buttons
Both have lyrical content that sounds a bit dated, but that’s important to historical context. And both are great, danceable boogie-woogie.
13.) Starfucker – Goat’s Head Soup
Maybe because of the obscenity (meaning it can’t get played on radio), one of the most unheralded rockers in the Stones’ repertoire.
14.) Happy – Exile on Main Street
Yes, Keith Richards’ voice sounds like you took Bob Dylan’s voice circa 2012 and ran it through a garbage disposal, but this is his best turn in the Stones catalog, and it’s a song that actually fits well with his “vocals.”
14.) Play With Fire – Out Of Our Heads
An early example of the Stones persona, with a nice sinister undercurrent.
15) Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows? – Single
The Stones are notable for the number of great songs that never made it to an album. This is one of the most underrated.
15.) Moonlight Mile – Sticky Fingers
Combines with Dead Flowers and Sister Morphine to form just a devastating closing stretch of Sticky Fingers.
16. Ruby Tuesday – Between The Buttons
I’ve always had a soft spot for this sing-along ballad, even if the restaurant chain has defiled its name forever.
16.) Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Single
Another Yellow Ledbetter. With Satisfaction and some others, the overplay of this song sometimes makes me forget how fucking awesome the guitar lick is.
17.) She’s A Rainbow – Their Satanic Majesties Request
While not horrible, Satanic Majesties was a serious misstep by the Stones to directly follow Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper in order to be “serious”. This song has absolutely retarded lyrics (“She comes in colors everywhere/she combs her hair”) which points out how absolutely beautiful the music is.
I think Satanic gets skewered because it tried to be Pet Sounds/Sgt. Peppers and obviously failed to meet its goal, but it’s an interesting album nonetheless with some really good songs.
17.) Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) – Goats Head Soup
Speaking of retarded lyrics: The police in New York City/They chased a boy right through the park/And in case of mistaken identity/They put a bullet through his heart. Killer chorus, though.
18.) Tumbling Dice – Exile on Main Street
It’s not anywhere close to the strongest lead single the Stones have, but it’s emblematic of Exile on Main Street’s loose vibe.
I was thinking earlier that if Miss You is the death rattle, Heartbreaker is the chest cough that should have sent them to the doctor. We obviously disagree about a certain strain of Stones songs.
18.) Connection – Between The Buttons
While I like Happy, this and Salt would be my choices for best use of Keith Richards’ vocals.
19.) Start Me Up – Tattoo You
I know, I can’t believe it either. But I’m searching for some sort of representation from the ’80s, and this is far and away the best choice. Otherwise I’ve pretty much got to go Steel Wheels. Massively overrated and overplayed, but still a great, energetic riff.
Although relevance longevity is obviously harder (i.e. unprecedented) for groups, I can’t help but think the Stones have missed a huge opportunity by not going the Cash/Dylan/Springsteen route by downshifting and going back to their roots. Obviously, that would mean not servicing the big concert bombast that they’ve made their whole reason for being, but given that their strength was always bluesy darkness, they probably left some good albums on the table.
aha ha haha ha ha ha ha ha haha ha. Start Me Up?? Can’t abide Miss You and you’re drafting Start Me Up???? Excited to see where you take Waiting on a Friend and Harlem Shuffle.
19.) Loving Cup — Exile on Main Street
Another classic track off Exile with great honky tonk piano.
20.) Ventilator Blues – Exile on Main Street
My entry in the “dirty blues” sweepstakes and a deserved showcase for Mick Taylor.
D.S.C.: I understand hating on the song, but it’s a bad-ass riff. I’m also somewhat torn about how much to represent the entire arc of their career, and it is the best song of the past 30 years, and one of the few I could stomach to represent their Big Concert iteration. Plus if Start Me Up can melt even the heart of Claire Arnold, it’s good enough for me.
20.) Love Is Strong – Voodoo Lounge
Know I’m setting myself up for more ridicule, but the completist in me is grabbing this for the ’90s. Plus, I actually think it’s a pretty solid effort.
21.) Midnight Rambler – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out
Originally on Let It Bleed, but has always worked more as a live song. If Satanic was their channeling of the Beatles, Rambler is them channelling the Who, trying to write an epic blues opera.
21.) Sweet Virginia – Exile on Main Street
I’m just loading up on Exile tracks at this point. I feel like I could pick them out of a hat and be happy with whichever ones I get.
22.) She’s So Cold – Emotional Rescue
I’ll dip my toe into the ’80s with this track, which I’m guessing you hate, and which I like just a little better than Emotional Rescue. Plus, I get to use the video to promote my greatest hits package.
D.S.C.: It could be worse… it could be Waiting On A Friend. And I searched for something from the ’00s, but the closest I came was Streets Of Love, an OK power ballad, which I just couldn’t pull the trigger on. But I did also come across Rain Falls Down, a rap song from A Bigger Bang that clearly is their worst song ever.
22.) Let It Loose – Exile On Main Street
Somehow, with all your Exile love, I’ve still been able to grab three of my five favorite songs.
23.) Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – Sticky Fingers
Ditto with Sticky Fingers. As I’m sure has become apparent, one of my favorite things about the Stones are the Keith Richards song opening/structuring crunchy guitar riff (tied with making heroin look like something I want to do RIGHT NOW as my favorite part about him), and this one is Scorsese-rific.
23.) Saint of Me – Bridges to Babylon
Fuck it, now I feel like I’ve gotta grab a song from each decade. And I honestly do like this one.
24.) The Spider and the Fly – Out of Our Heads
One of the forgotten gems of the band’s early days. It features a slinky blues riff and one of Jagger’s best sets of lyrics, depicting him as a bored barfly preying on girls for sport.
24.) Jigsaw Puzzle – Beggars Banquet
Maybe my favorite Stones deep cut, this song has great Jagger attitude and a really weird minor key guitar line.
25.) I’m Free – Out Of Our Heads
A great jingly melody, with a chorus that sticks in your head (sometimes too much). I’d probably use the the Fatboy Slim remix to represent the fallow ’00s.
25.) Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren) – Exile on Main Street reissue
OK, I literally cannot force myself to take something from A Bigger Bang, so I’m going to blatantly cheat and take this song from the 2010 Exile on Main Street reissue (on which the disc of outtakes and unreleased tracks is better than 95% of the band’s output since then). They added overdubs in 2010, so I’m going to say that technically that counts. It’s a downtempo song that could have fit on Exile but also has a slightly different feel to it.
It’s incredibly impressive that we just took 50 songs, and songs like these are still out there:
-Live with Me
-All Down the Line
-Rip this Joint
-Torn & Frayed
-Under My Thumb
-Dancing with Mr. D
-The Last Time
…and a bunch more. Their peak might be the best of any band ever. Which makes what came later even more depressing.
I think the biggest one we missed was No Expectations, although the most shocking to most people would be Wild Horses. And I’m proudest of you for not adding Shattered to Miss You, Heartbreaker, and She’s So Cold.
On this list, we’ve consciously stuck with Stones originals. But they’re also a great covers band. And since we love covers, here’s a little bonus of their best.
5.) Love In Vain – Robert Johnson – Let It Bleed
4.) I Wanna Be Your Man – The Beatles – Single
3.) Shake Your Hips – Slim Harpo – Exile On Main Street
2.) Time Is On My Side – Irma Thomas – 12×5
1.) Not Fade Away – Buddy Holly – England’s Newest Hitmakers
I have to say that I feel pretty good about my results.
Only your grabbing of Mother’s Little Helper and 19th Nervous Breakdown right before I would have, which with Satisfaction gives you a clear win in their pre-Aftermath era, keeps me from declaring outright victory. I crush you in the Brian Jones peak years (Aftermath to Let It Bleed). Could go either way for the Mick Taylor era (where it’s pretty hard to go wrong, really)… I got more of the epics, while you grabbed more of the genre experiments. And we both mostly ignored the Ronnie Wood era, splitting the only two songs (Fool To Cry and Beast) that we’d both agree are must haves.
I’m quite happy with my overall compilation. Going into this, I thought I would dominate you by leaning heavily on well known greatest hits early, then grabbing my favorite deep cuts later on. But you obviously had a similar strategy. The Stones’ catalog is deep enough that it’s possible for us to go through this exercise and both be pleased with our roster of 25 songs. The picks of your that really wounded me were Dead Flowers and Paint It, Black. Those were the ones that affected my overall plan. But I feel like I have nice balance of straight-forward rockers with country, blues and disco tracks.
I think it’s fair to say that grabbing disco tracks was not part of my Rolling Stones plan.
Play With Fire
Get Off Of My Cloud
Paint It, Black
Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows?
Let’s Spend The Night Together
She’s A Rainbow
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Sympathy For The Devil
Salt Of The Earth
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
Let It Loose
Shine A Light
Fool To Cry
Start Me Up
Love Is Strong
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
19th Nervous Breakdown
Mother’s Little Helper
Street Fighting Man
Honky Tonk Woman
Let It Bleed
Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)
Starfucker (Star Star)
Beast Of Burden
She’s So Cold
Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)