I’ll admit it, as a longtime Beatles fan, I was a bit late to the party when it came to the Rolling Stones, but once I arrived, there was no taking me back. Although I’m not a big fan of their earlier work, I jumped on in the late ’60s period. I found the band had found a sound in the ’70s and gave us some of their best work.
Number Ten: Some Girls. Released in 1978, Some Girls was the Stones’ biggest selling album to date. The first single, “Miss You,” set the mood for the record with shades of disco. With Ronnie Wood officially being named as their new guitar player, it only fueled their creative fire. It would hit the number one spot in the US as fans were tired of waiting for a new disc.
It has been said that the record was their finest work since Exile on Main St.. I disagree as Exile was filled with jams that seemed almost unplanned. Some Girls was neat and tidy with each song carefully rehearsed. The record had many different flavors from country to blues to straightforward rock and roll. The Rolling Stones were never shy about controversy, and the disc got some with the line “black girls just want to get f***ed all night,” which brought out Jesse Jackson. Jagger wasn’t phased at all. Some Girls would go on to sell six million copies and was certified platinum six times over.
Number Nine: Black and Blue. Black and Blue was Ronnie Wood’s inaugural move into the Stones’ lineup, and his distinctive slide guitar would become a staple in the Stones’ “sound.” The new collection of songs were varied as the band was experimenting with new grooves such as “Cherry Oh Baby,” which was reggae-flavored, “Hot Stuff,” which had a funk vibe going on, and “Melody,” which was jazz influenced. Billy Preston was summoned to play keys and was featured heavily. The disc was seemingly perfect in every way as it spent four weeks at the number one spot on Billboard.
Number Eight: It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. This was proof, as if they needed any, that the Rolling Stones were/are the greatest rock and roll band in the world. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was a tight album with shifting moods and stellar musicianship across the board. Mick Taylor would contribute for the last time as Ronnie Wood waited in the wings. The band offered up three amazing covers: “Drift Away,” “Shame, Shame, Shame” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”
The Stones showed their softer side on a pair of ballads, “Till the Next Time We Say Goodbye” and “If You Really Want to Be My Friend” and flirted with reggae on “Luxury.” “If You Can’t Rock Me” and “Dance Little Sister” showed the band could still rock with the best of them. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll reached number one in the States and number two in the UK and sold enough to garner platinum status.
Number Seven: Goats Head Soup. With Goats Head Soup, the Stones once again messed with the Christian Right with “Dancing With Mr. D,” which referred to the devil. The entire album would eventually be played on FM radio, but stand out tracks in my mind were “Coming Down Again,” which was a Richards tune about then girlfriend who jilted him for the cuter Brian Jones, the lead single “Angie,” which was rumored to be about David Bowie’s wife, but was debunked and “Star Star,” which was originally called “Starf***er,” but retained its raunchiness with the chorus, which heard the band singing “Starf***er, Starf***er, Starf***er.” The disc would occupy the number one spot in the States, and sales were good enough to be certified platinum status three times over.
Number Six: Let It Bleed. As the Rolling Stones got further away from the traditional blues, Brian Jones became less enchanted with the group he formed, which was probably the reason he jumped ship for Let it Bleed. However, the band didn’t need Jones anymore as Jagger and Richards had become formidable songwriters in their own right. The album spawned such classics as “Gimme Shelter,” which was their answer to Vietnam, ” You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which featured a gospel choir, and “Midnight Rambler,” which was based on the man who was mistaken for the Boston Strangler. Personally, I’m fond of “Monkey Man,” which was based on a bad acid trip. While Let it Bleed had to compete with the Beatles’ Abbey Road on the charts, it managed to go platinum in both the States and the UK.
Number Five: Beggars Banquet. Released in 1968, Beggars Banquet was met with some controversy over the song “Sympathy for the Devil” as it payed respect to Satan (one of many songs that dealt with Lucifer). They got a bit political with the tune “Street Fighting Man,” which was inspired by the anti-war movement . The album itself was mainly acoustic with electric guitars used sparingly. They got back to their roots with bluesy numbers such as “Parachute Woman” and “Dear Doctor.” Jones’ presence was felt with slide guitars, sitar and harmonica, but it would prove to be one of his last of times he would be heard on a Stones record. “Jigsaw Puzzle” had a definite Dylan influence, whereas “Stay Cat Blues” was blatantly sexual. While it only peaked at number five, Beggars Banquet would go on to enjoy platinum status.
Number Four: Their Satanic Majesties Request. In 1967, the Stones caved in to the increasingly popularity of psychedelic rock, and many considered Their Satanic Majesties Request as an answer to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. For the album, they abandoned their blues roots and tried their hand at acid, trippy songwriting. Although it confused critics and fans, it was masterfully produced as it used sounds and instruments that were foreign to their previous work. John Paul Jones, who would later join Led Zeppelin, provided Mellotron and string arrangements for the album, and along with pianist Nicky Hopkins, helped with the creation of well produced soundscapes.
Lennon and McCartney provided uncredited backing vocals on “Sing This All Together” as well as the non album single, “We Love You.” The Stones borrowed heavily from Sgt. Pepper as they incorporated brass and strings into “She’s a Rainbow.” One of the best songs ever recorded was the “2000 Light Years from Home,” which has been covered by the likes of The Tragically Hip, Cary Grace and Sky Cries Mary. Love it or hate it, Their Satanic Majesties Request was a welcome addition to the Rolling Stones catalog.
Number Three: Aftermath. Aftermath found the Rolling Stones still rooted in Chicago blues, but their creativity shined through on other non blues numbers such as “Mothers Little Helper” and “Under My Thumb.” Charlie Watts sat it out for the ballad “Sweet Lady Jane,” and they performed it for their fourth appearance on Ed Sullivan. Aftermath was a coming of age recording and a precursor for what they had in store for ’67. Album tracks, “19 Nervous Breakdown” and “Paint it Black” received some chart success on both sides of the pond. And while it failed to go gold, it was a crowning achievement for the Stones.
Number Two: Sticky Fingers. The Rolling Stones kicked off the 1970s with Sticky Fingers and began to record some of their best music. The album was also the first time Mick Taylor played as a full fledged member of the band. Having formed their own label, they enjoyed complete artistic freedom, starting with the cover, which was conceived by Andy Warhol. But more importantly, there was the music, starting with “Brown Sugar,” which was lyrically suggestive. Jagger never revealed who his inspiration was, but it suggested a woman of color.
The band gave us one of the greatest songs ever recorded. “Wild Horses” was originally cut in ’69, but legal battles forced the Stones to leave it shelved until ’71. Clocking in at a little over seven minutes, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” was destined to be a classic as it ends with an improv jam session with sax, congas, organ and of course, guitar. With a strut in Jagger’s step, came the song “Bitch,” a hard-driving rock composition which makes the listener wish it were longer. There literally wasn’t a bad song on Sticky Fingers which is probably why it achieved triple platinum status in the US.
Number One: The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St
The first double album by the Stones, Exile on Main St. covers a lot of ground. From blues and gospel to rock and country, it was a powerful statement by the band. While a few tracks had been lying around since ’69, they were worth the wait. Unlike the disorganized White Album by the Beatles, Exile had continuity. They jumped in head first with the rocker, “Rocks Off,” which was followed by “Rip This Joint” before paying homage to blues legend Slim Harpo with “Shake Your Hips.”
There are not a lot of hits on this particular recording except for “Tumbling Dice,” which tells the story of a gambler. Richards grabbed the mic from Jagger on the track “Happy,” which found its way to number 22 on the US charts. The band got there country on with “Sweet Virginia” before diving into another country-tinged tune, “Torn and Frayed.” They again looked deep into the blues archives to dig out the Robert Johnson classic, “Stop Breaking Down.” Though critics were mixed about this recording at the time of its release, it has stood the test of time and sounds as fresh as it did in 1972.