10 Best Rolling Stones Songs (1962-1972)
If you’re a learned rock 'n' roll scholar -- a man or woman of wealth and taste -- you know the Rolling Stones didn't exist solely in the '60s. They put out some of their dirtiest, grimiest, best tunes in the ’70s, and you might argue they hit their peak with 1972's sweaty, chemical-damaged classic 'Exile on Main St.' Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and their various associates have made fine records since, but this list of the 10 Best Rolling Stones Songs centers on the first 10 years of their career, the fertile decade that earned them the title of World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band.
Written in that loosey-goosey slack-tuned guitar that Keith Richards has made his trademark, ‘Salt of the Earth’ -- the closer on 1968’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ -- is like the dirty cousin of the hit ‘Wild Horses.’ The first line, sung by Keef himself, is one of those lovely moments we hear his weathered pipes on wax. You can just imagine him going in and out of consciousness as his voice wraps around that amazing melody.
Opening one of the band's best-loved albums, the drug-fueled masterpiece ‘Exile On Main Street,’ No. 9 on our list of the 10 Best Rolling Stones Songs (1962-1972) is perfectly messed up. From the animalistic “Ooo yeah” that dribbles out of Mick Jagger’s pursed lips to lines like “the sunshine bores the daylights out of me,” it’s so sloppy and so good. We get our rocks off every time we hear this damned song.
The Foo Fighters did a great version of this '65 Stones classic on ‘SNL’ with a special lead vocalist -- lead Stone himself, Mick Jagger. And though '19th Nervous Breakdown' gets regular radio airplay, it’s definitely not one of those Stones tunes everyone knows. It’s got a fringe sort of element to it. That and an absolutely killer riff.
Recently covered extremely well by British alt-jazz band Gomez, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ is one of those Stones numbers you could probably listen to every day on a desert island and never get tired of. It wafted in as a single in 1968 and has been a gas, gas, gas ever since.
Whenever we hear this song, we think of a timeless British A-levels joke. Q: “What’s the difference between the Rolling Stones and a Scottish farmer?” A: “The Rolling Stones say, ‘Hey, you, get offa my cloud’ whereas the Scottish farmer says, ‘Hey, McCloud, get offa my ewe!’" But in all seriousness, this song kicks so much ass -- all the way from the riff to that stiff-upper-lip British attitude Mick Jagger exudes throughout the song.
Appearing on 1971’s ‘Sticky Fingers,’ No. 5 on our list of the 10 Best Rolling Stones Songs (1962-1972) is just about as heart-wrenching a tune as you'll find in their extensive catalog. (The Flying Burrito Brothers version is really good, too.) If you’re wondering about the guitar setup, that’s Keith Richards on electric and 12-string acoustic, with Mick Taylor on a "Nashville"-strung guitar -- i.e. the top strings in a 12-string packet used as the six strings on a regular guitar. Every time we hear this song, we fumble for our lighter.
Everybody knows the opening riff to ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,' which Keith Richards fell asleep after recording. When he woke up, he realized he’d hit gold. It's like it happened in some dope-infused dream, where a naked Indian shaman playing a lute said to sleeping Keith, "You need to record this song. It's gonna be bonkers, mate." And bonkers it was.
‘Dead Flowers’ is one of the greatest country songs ever written by a British band. It originally appeared on ‘Sticky Fingers,’ which features several of the band’s greatest numbers, including opener ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’
The Rolling Stones should’ve called this one ‘Symphony for the Devil,’ because seriously, there's so much going on musically, it’s like 10 orchestras playing at the same time. You’ve got the off-the-wall percussion, the lazy piano part, Mick's dastardly lead vocals, Keith's searing guitar solo, a sicker-than-sick bass line (also played by Keef) and the chorus of woo-woo’s in the background. What doesn’t this tune have? (Check out the awesome original album cover, which held up the disc's release and was ultimately nixed by the record company and held up its release.
They play this tune all the time on classic rock radio, but it’s definitely another of those fringe Stones songs. It has arguably some of their most depressing lyrics, but even so, it tops our list of the 10 Best Rolling Stones Songs (1962-1972). What puts it ahead of every other one? There's the ridiculous opening guitar riff, as well as the one-of-a-kind vocals of Merry Clayton, who slays the unique chorus section, screaming her voice red and raw as she cries, “Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away, It’s just a shot away!” (Listen to this otherworldly isolated vocals recording). 'Gimme Shelter' isn't one you’d play your kids to introduce them to the Stones, but you hope they one day discover and respect it on their own.