Time doesn’t apply to the Rolling Stones quite like it does to other rock bands. Their longevity is staggering — this band has been around for 55 years. Fifty-five years! Founding members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts have been hitched to each other for far longer than the vast majority of marriages last — longer than a lot of lives last, too.
That staying power is an incredible achievement, and it also has a distorting effect. If you’re a fan of the Stones, it’s hard not to always compare them with their glorious 1968 to 1972 peak, when they fully assimilated all their blues, rock-and-roll, R&B, and country influences and turned it into something decadent, dark, ironic, sexy, and wholly their own. That leaves 45 ensuing years of gradually declining cultural relevance and, if we’re being honest, more mediocre music than good, and a seemingly ceaseless parade of product — compilation albums, concert films, live albums, and, recently, the traveling “Exhibitionism” display of band memorabilia. In 2017, it seems equally reasonable to think of the Rolling Stones as rock gods or greedy dinosaurs. Either characterization, though, is inadequate.
In all likelihood, the band’s most recent studio album, the all-blues cover effort Blue & Lonesome, is going to be its last. It’d been 11 years since the previous one, and Mick, Keith, and Charlie are north of 70 years old. Guitarist Ronnie Wood, who joined up in 1976, is the youngster at 69. At some point, time is going to do to them what time always does. Before that though, let’s try and take account of what the Rolling Stones have achieved since they set out from London in 1962. As the following 373 songs attest, it’s been an improbably long, wildly lucrative, bumpy, and very often brilliant rock-and-roll life.
Some general notes before we start:
— Keith Richards is the Rolling Stone everyone loves, the one with whom you could imagine sharing a beer. Mick, not so much. If Jagger were even to deign to have a drink with a plebe, I suspect it’d entail something like his sipping a Peter Thiel vampire smoothie while peering at you through jeweled binoculars and having a Slovenian model smooth anti-aging unguents into his wrinkles. In other words, he’s not cool and Keith is. The problem with that dynamic is that it diminishes Mick’s contribution. A great Rolling Stones song, unlike a great Beatles song or a great Led Zeppelin song, is the result of the band’s leaders working at a peak at the same time. Keith Richards knocks out solid melodies and guitar riffs like the rest of us breathe. (Charlie Watts’s drumming is just as consistent.) So what really separates apex Stones from good Stones, and good Stones from bad Stones is Mick Jagger matching Keith’s excellence. When his singing is engaged and his lyrics have purpose, the results are strong. When he doesn’t, there’s not much Keith can do to help. Keith is the constant; Mick is the variable. (Mick was also the one who pushed the band toward new sounds and styles. Was he a trend chaser? Yes, but he often caught worthwhile sounds.)
— We think of the Rolling Stones as a blues-rock band. Over its six-decade existence, though, the outfit has had several distinct musical periods. From 1962 to 1965, the band — Mick, Keith, Charlie, bassist Bill Wyman, and guitarist Brian Jones, who, along with manager-producer Andrew Loog Oldham, was an important driving force in the early days — was, by design, derivative of its musical heroes. This period includes a lot of music that, to my ears, doesn’t hold up today. When you can easily stream a Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf original, the baby Stones’ covers of mid-century blues material become less enticing. The real thing is right there waiting for you. The band didn’t put out a fully absorbing album till the second half of 1965, not coincidentally when Jagger and Richards started to consistently generate original material.
— The band’s less blues-oriented material from 1966 and 1967 constitutes a minor peak. These guys were very good at writing and recording pop songs! Unique ones, too. The Stones’ sound during this mini-era was pop with punkish, at times almost metallic touches, adorned with Brian Jones’s (then at his creative peak) distinctive instrumental textures — textures lost when his time in the band was up. And once the Stones started down the heavier, harder rocking road, they never really returned to the playful, exuberant atmosphere of albums like Between the Buttons.
— The ’80s weren’t as creatively bad for the Stones as is commonly thought. Mick may have been pandering to glossy production trends in search of a hit, but the material on 1986’s often-maligned Dirty Work, for example, is stronger than the more conventional Stones-isms of better known ’70s albums like It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. If you’re not married to a singular idea of how the band should sound, the ’80s Stones have a lot to offer. Once you get to the ’90s though, the best you can do is to cherry-pick the good songs; the albums become interchangeable, marred by musical and lyrical clichés.
— The Rolling Stones have multiple songs that are lyrically reprehensible to women and people of color — often both at the same time. If I were questioned about this topic at the Pearly Gates, I’d suggest that the Stones’ offensive attitudes had more to do with a craven desire to be provocative than any fundamental malignant worldview, but maybe I’m a fool. Whatever the true motivation behind them, a handful of the band’s songs have been tarred by Jagger and Richards’s sex and race insensitivity. There’s no getting around it. Then there’s the matter of appropriation. Excepting perhaps Elvis, there is no rock act that benefited more from drawing on black music than the Rolling Stones, who have repeatedly talked with respect and deference about how much they’ve taken from their musical idols. I do think that once the band took flight, its music represents a synthesis of their influences, rather than mere mimicry or theft. That said, I don’t know what you do with all these issues other than acknowledge that they’re a problem. Whether that problem is an aesthetically and/or ethically insurmountable one is up to you. (Perhaps comparison with the other great superstar English blues-appropriators Led Zeppelin is helpful here: The Stones weren’t nearly as blasé about stealing songwriting credits and far more diligent about helping their heroes gain wider exposure.)
— This ranking includes covers recorded by the band as well as original compositions. In both instances, I used the earliest album or EP appearance of a given song as the basis for the ranking. (A lot of Stones songs, especially in the very early days, showed up on multiple albums; there’s also a lot of material included on more than one live album.) I didn’t include songs that were only available unofficially. (So no “Cocksucker Blues.”) There are two legitimately released sources of material I discounted. Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago 1981 is co-credited to Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones. It’s not a Rolling Stones album. It’s a Muddy Waters album on which different members of the Stones appear at different times. Similarly, there are two songs on the L.A. Friday live recording where Billy Preston sings his own songs while backed by the Stones. Those are Billy Preston performances, not Rolling Stones performances. In both cases to include them in this ranking would’ve felt misleading.
Anyway, enough preamble. Ladies and gentlemen: The Rolling Stones.
374. “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” Their Satanic Majesties Request The gaudy album from which this song comes isn’t nearly as much of a post–Sgt. Pepper’s trend-chasing psychedelic disaster as is commonly believed. Except, that is, for this song, a full eight-and-a-half-minute musical blart.
373. “Indian Girl,” Emotional Rescue Mick sings to the destitute titular character — a hungry survivor in a war-torn country who, it’s implied, has been raped — that “life just goes on getting harder and harder.” Nice. Maybe “Indian Girl” works if you read it as an anti-imperialist character sketch, but if you’re willing to give the benefit of that doubt, then try explaining the cartoonishly sentimental music that accompanies Jagger’s lyrics. Those “Latin” horns? Whatever accent Mick is going for when he sings, “They’re fighting for Mr. Castro / on the streets of Angola”? This song is the pits.
372. “Going Home,” Aftermath Here and there you’ll find people arguing that this clattering jam, the final track on the otherwise excellent Aftermath, is innovative because of its 11-minute length — nearly unprecedented for a rock band in 1966. The first three minutes of “Going Home” consist of a non-awful blues tune. The following eight are aimless, uninspired, and not especially skillful.
371. “Melody,” Black and Blue Does anybody under 50 much remember Billy Preston these days? For a spell in the late ’60s and ’70s, the singer-keyboardist was a star, one sufficiently esteemed to play with the Beatles on Let It Be and with the Stones on a handful of songs, including this tedious lump of R&B. It’s based on Preston’s earlier, marginally better song “Do You Love Me?”
370. “Harlem Shuffle,” Dirty Work The original version of this song, recorded in 1963 by Bob & Earl is suave and limber. The Stones’ version is klutzy and overbearing. The music video is somehow even worse.
369. “Short and Curlies,” It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll Frequent Stones’ sideman Ian Stewart’s boogie-woogie piano playing on this dreck isn’t embarrassing. The rest of the song, the potential entertainment value of which lies in how funny listeners find lines like “She’s got me by the balls,” very much is.
368. “Key to the Highway,” Dirty Work This 30-second snippet is maybe too marginal to be ranked so harshly. Then again, it’s a wordless 30-second snippet that the Stones seemed to feel was worth appending to the end of one of their better albums of the ’80s, so render under Jagger what is Jagger’s.
367. “On With the Show,” Their Satanic Majesties Request In context as the closing track to a muddled concept album, this twee “see you next time” music-hall number at least makes sense (of a sort). On it’s own, it’s a flimsy period piece.
365. “Now I’ve Got a Witness (Like Uncle Gene and Uncle Phil),” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) The most distinctive thing about this organ-driven 1964 instrumental is its title, a reference to Stones’ heroes Gene Pitney and Phil Spector.
363. “Under the Boardwalk,” 12 X 5
If my time machine ever starts working, I’m going to set it for 1964 and tell the Rolling Stones that they weren’t, in fact, required to record nondescript versions of songs that had already been hits for other artists.
360. “Mr. Pitiful,” Light the Fuse Otis Redding co-wrote this with Steve Cropper and included it on his brilliant The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. The Stones’ cover is skippable.
359. “Hey Negrita,” Black and Blue The Stones were casting around for new influences on 1976’s Black and Blue, and “Hey Negrita” is one of the album’s two dalliances with reggae. But even if you forgive the iffy lyrics — “Negrita” translates to “little black girl” — the song doesn’t do anything interesting with the rhythms. This song is a ponderous five minutes. Aside from the Clash and Bad Brains, did any rock band figure out how to consistently do something interesting with reggae?
357. “Wish I’d Never Met You” (B-side)An indolent blues song recorded in 1989 and released two years later.
356. “Get Up, Stand Up,” Light the FuseYep, the Bob Marley anthem. The Stones put a cover of this on a live album recorded in Toronto in 2005, which was only made available as a Google Play Music download. It is, for this band, an interesting song choice. And it’s an uninteresting performance. If you’re curious Brussels Affair (Live 1973), also a Google Play exclusive, is fantastic.
354. “Cook Cook Blues” (B-side) A justly forgotten song recorded in 1982 and released in 1989, “Cook Cook Blues” is a lifeless blues shuffle that sounds like a warm-up exercise. Most bands know better than to release this kind of stuff.
353. “Anyway You Look at It” (B-side) The companion to 1997’s “Saint of Me” single, “Anyway You Look at It” is glacial gunk, complete with a maudlin cello part.
352. “Gomper,” Their Satanic Majesties Request There are only so many ways to say that ornate psychedelia was not the Stones’ métier. Guru, how is it that a five-minute song like “Gomper” can feel endless?
351. “It Won’t Take Long,” A Bigger Bang 2005’s A Bigger Bang was a rebound for the band after the shaky Bridges to Babylon. And still there was no earthly reason it needed to be 16 songs long. This pro forma rocker should’ve wound up on the chopping block. (How is there not a Rolling Stones song called “Chopping Block?”)
350. “In Another Land,” Their Satanic Majesties Request Bill Wyman on lead vocals! Which is something he never again did for the Stones. Given his his performance on this spaced-out track, that decision was probably for the best.
349. “Stoned” (B-Side) Credited to the pseudonym Nanker Phelge, this 1963 band composition is an instrumental loosely based on Booker T. & the M.G.’s hit “Green Onions.” The song has the distinction of being the band’s first non-cover release. That’s the most interesting thing about it.
348. “I’m Gonna Drive” (B-side) Zero-impact blues-rock from 1994. A classic case of the band using a B-side (the flip to “Out of Tears”) as a dumping ground.
347. “Can’t Be Seen,” Steel Wheels Keith’s lyrics are atrociously lazy: “I just can’t be seen with you … I just got obscene with you.” This is the kind of song that, if he’d written it, Eddie Money would’ve thought, I gotta do better. 346. “Tie You Up (The Pain of Love),” Undercover Circa 1983, Huey Lewis and the News, for chrissakes, were doing knock-kneed uptown blues with more zeal than the Stones offered here.
345. “Off the Hook,” The Rolling Stones No. 2 A Jagger-Richards rewrite of a 1953 Little Walter song called “Off the Wall.” Interesting how in recasting the tune, the Stones dampened any spark or joy.
344. “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers)
An R&B standard by Bobby Troup, done by Stones on their 1964 debut LP. Apart from a couple of crashing Charlie drum fills, the performance is tepid.
343. “I’m a King Bee,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) Apparently Mick Jagger at one point told Rolling Stone, “What’s the point in listening to us do ‘I’m a King Bee’ when you can hear Slim Harpo do it?” Mick’s no dummy.
342. “Sleep Tonight,” Dirty Work A compassionately maundering Keith ballad.
341. “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” The Rolling Stones No. 2 Brian Jones contributes a hip slide-guitar part to the band’s take on a Muddy Waters classic. As with so many of the Stones’ early blues covers, though, when you can hear the deeper, heavier, more unique originals, I don’t think the Stones’ versions (with a couple exceptions) offer more than historical interest.
340. “Mean Disposition,” Voodoo Lounge Voodoo Lounge is an hour-long album that would’ve killed at 45 minutes. If you make it all the way to the end, you’ll hear this, a rockabilly-derived song that huffs and puffs and closes the album on a meh note.
339. “Fortune Teller,” Got Live If You Want It! A cover of an Allen Toussaint composition, the Stones’ totally serviceable “Fortune Teller” suffers from the existence of the Who’s way, way more forceful version of the same song.
338. “Rock and a Hard Place,” Steel Wheels Keith’s riff library isn’t the most wide-ranging, but he was obviously stripping his own playing for parts here.
336. “All About You,” Emotional Rescue According to public lore, Keith Richards is the Rolling Stones’ beating rock-and-roll heart, the one who balances out Mick’s mercenary chart-hungry instincts. Sure. Fine. Fair enough. It’s just too bad that Keith’s “authenticity” sometimes manifests itself as a badly sung and deadly dull ballad like “All About You.”
335. “Blinded by Love,” Steel Wheels The Stones usually put some kind of spin on their country songs. Usually.
334. “Try a Little Harder,” Metamorphosis The tambourine and horns here are Motown-derived, and also the best thing about this 1964 song, kept in the vaults till 1975’s odds and ends compilation, Metamorphosis.
333. “Suck on the Jugular,” Voodoo Lounge A slight dance tune beefed up with wheel-spinning instrumental breaks.
332. “Down the Road a Piece,” The Rolling Stones No. 2 Ian Stewart cranks up some good boogie-woogie piano, but this is another early Stones rocker that could be lost in the dustbin of history with no harm to our collective cultural understanding.
331. “The Nearness of You,” Live Licks American songwriting great Hoagy Carmichael wrote this torchy ballad (with lyrics by Ned Washington) in 1938. Keith Richards croaked his way through it on 2004’s in-concert Live Licks. If you walked into a bar and randomly found Keith singing this alone at the piano, you’d have a story to tell. Outside of that fantasy scenario, Keith’s rendition is gloopy.
330. “Money,” The Rolling Stones EP Barrett Strong’s 1959 original is priceless; the Beatles’$2 1963 cover nearly as valuable. The Stones attempt, from the same year as their Liverpudlian rivals, is a good effort.
329. “Honest I Do,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) A slow, feckless blues done originally — and best — by Jimmy Reed.
328. “Terrifying,” Steel Wheels For the most part, 1989’s Steel Wheels found the band avoiding the then-contemporary sounds they’d been chasing for most of the ’80s in favor of more conventionally Stones-y sonics. “Terrifying,” though, is sunk by a surplus of chintzy processed guitar and keyboard.
327. “This Place Is Empty,” A Bigger Bang Got a big presentation to give tomorrow and can’t sleep? You’re out of Ambien? Try this Keith bore.
326. “Fancy Man Blues,” After the Hurricane An instance where the song’s title is better than the song. “Fancy Man Blues” was originally included on After the Hurricane, a 1989 compilation album released to benefit the victims of Hurricane Hugo. It’s a loose 12-bar blues, and if you’re keen to know, Mick Jagger’s harmonica solos cut the guitar leads.
325. “I Go Wild,” Voodoo Lounge For a later-career Stones effort, Voodoo Lounge — the first album the band recorded without longtime bassist Bill Wyman — had a few galvanizing stylistic detours. “I Go Wild,” an overbearing riff tune, isn’t one of them.
324. “Can I Get a Witness,” The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers) Despite Jagger’s game vocals, adding something fresh to a Holland-Dozier-Holland classic, one originally sung by Marvin Gaye, was too tall a task for the fresh-faced Stones.
323. “Moon Is Up,” Voodoo Lounge Apparently Charlie Watts smacked a garbage can for percussion on this track. Other unusual tidbits in the mix: harmonium, a whining harmonica, castanets. Those sonic curiosities are more interesting than the song to which they belong. (There’s a great scene in Luca Guadagnino’s 2016 film A Bigger Splash where Ralph Fiennes’s producer character talks about coming up with the garbage can idea.)
322. “Rain Fall Down,” A Bigger Bang Can rain fall up? Titular redundancy aside, “Rain Fall Down” is harmless funk, which probably wasn’t the point.
321. “Poison Ivy,” The Rolling Stones EP A lightweight cover of a Lieber & Stoller song made famous by the Coasters. In a few years, the Stones wouldn’t feel the need, as Lieber & Stoller did with this composition, to come up with polite euphemisms for STDs.
320. “Slipping Away,” Steel Wheels This creeping, creaking Keith ballad gets a boost when Mick comes in on the bridge.
319. “I Wanna Be Your Man,” The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years The Stones’ third single was a Beatles cover (the Fabs recorded their own version), offered to the former by the latter in 1963. The differences between the two bands are already apparent: The Beatles’ eventual take is tightly exuberant; The Stones’ wilder and harsher. At this point in their respective careers, though, the Beatles sound was both more developed and more exciting.
318. “Good Times,” Out of Our Heads Pleasant enough, and you can hear the Stones’ honest enthusiasm for the music of their idols, but the band was setting itself up to fail by covering a Sam Cooke tune.
317. “Good Time Woman,” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)All the good parts of this Exile outtake were pilfered and later used as the basis for “Tumbling Dice.”
316. “Some Girls,” Some Girls Jeez Louise, this one. The music is so rakish and alluring — all that darting guitar and wailing harmonica. And the lyrics … I get that you’re rarely supposed to take Jagger’s words or delivery at face value, but “black girls just wanna get fucked all night,” to pick one of the song’s many examples, is hard to get past. Maybe this song is from the perspective of a boor rather than by one? That doesn’t make it easier to listen to.
315. “Hold on to Your Hat,” Steel Wheels Another high-energy, low-inspiration Steel Wheels song. Jagger’s strained guttural singing makes me think of a belligerent blowhard trying to intimidate you at a bar by bumping you with his big ol’ belly.
314. “I’m Not Signifying,” Exile on Main Street (Deluxe Edition)A pedestrian piano-led blues Exile outtake. Hard to know for sure, but “I’m Not Signifying” sounds like it has Mick’s ’70s vocal on it, unlike the other 2010-released Exile exiles, which featured vocal takes rerecorded years later.
313. “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” It’s Only Rock ’n Roll This Motown cover, like most of the band’s Motown covers, never quite justifies its existence.
312. “Low Down,” Bridges to Babylon
All the rockers on Bridges to Babylon are smartly constructed and expertly played but lacking the ineffable mojo that makes for a great Stones song. So your enjoyment of “Low Down” depends on how much you get off on yeoman-like rock music and/or production and instrumental detail, like the way Joe Sublett’s saxophone subtly bolsters the bottom end.
311. “We’re Wastin’ Time,” Metamorphosis Jagger, who was likely the only member of the band to perform on this overstuffed country waltz (which was recorded during the mid-’60s), sounds timid, as if he hasn’t figured out what he should be doing on the song. There probably wasn’t a good answer to be found.
310. “You Don’t Have to Mean It,” Bridges to Babylon It’s a relief anytime Keith sings a Stones song that isn’t one of his trademark deathly ballads, so this reggae track on Bridges to Babylon is a step up from his usual spotlight moments. Still, it’s Stones reggae, so its appeal is mostly lost on me.
309. “Brand New Car,” Voodoo Lounge Thanks mostly to a snazzy horn arrangement, “Brand New Car,” at the risk of belaboring the song’s central metaphor, is the equivalent of a zippy midsize sedan.
308. “Keep Up Blues,” Some Girls (Deluxe Edition) A well-played braggart’s blues. It sat on the shelves forever before being released in 2011.
307. “Citadel,” Their Satanic Majesties Request Despite a couple juicy guitar riffs, “Citadel” doesn’t avoid the fate that dooms much of the tracks on Satanic Majesties — it now sounds like a parody of psychedelic pop-rock.
306. “Losing My Touch,” Forty Licks After pointless Chuck Berry covers, my least favorite Stones subgenre is morose Keith Richards ballads. “Losing My Touch” isn’t the worst of those. That’s the best I can say about it.
305. “She Was Hot,” Undercover As far as Rolling Stones songs about the emotional temperature of women go, “She Was Hot” is good, but not in the league of “She’s So Cold.”
304. “Oh, Baby (We Got a Good Thing Going),” The Rolling Stones, Now! The Stones’ take on Barbara Lynn’s R&B chestnut rumbles.
303. “Come On,” More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) This was the Rolling Stones’ very first release, in June 1963, and a sign of things to come — boy, oh, boy were there more spirited but thin Chuck Berry covers on the way.
302. “You Can’t Catch Me,” The Rolling Stones No. 2 Speaking of Chuck Berry covers …
301. “Talkin’ About You,” Out of Our Heads I’m sure Mr. Berry enjoyed the respect and the royalties, but he would’ve been well served to have paid the young Rolling Stones to stop recording snoozy covers of his songs.
300. “Sparks Will Fly,” Voodoo Lounge On the one hand, hearing Mick sing the line “I want to fuck your sweet ass” is cringeworthy. On the other, it’s a relief to hear him tackle a non-rote lyric, since that’s mostly what he was pumping out in the ’90s.
299. “So Divine (Aladdin Story),” Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)The opening curvy guitar lines have a vague “Paint It Black” vibe, and the serpentine saxophone (if that’s what it is) sounds lifted from Dr. John’s classic psych-swamp album Gris-Gris. And yet the song and performance still sound like the band casting about for a stronger idea.
298. “Hide Your Love,” Goats Head Soup Mick Jagger’s piano is the best thing about this blues romp. But, man, you hear enough of these undistinguished jammy blues tunes from the Stones’ post-classic, pre–Some Girls period and you start to feel like Beavis and Butt-Head yelling at a Pavement video: “Try harder!”
297. “Confessin’ the Blues,” Five by Five EP The Stones took a methodical approach to this cover of a Jay McShann blues song, which they probably first heard performed by Little Walter. Both those artists’ versions are more authoritative than the Stones’.
296. “Surprise, Surprise,” The Rolling Stones, Now! A meaty uptempo rocker from the period when the Stones were still figuring out what made them them. Actually, you know what other band did this song super well and rarely gets talked about? Them. That band was vicious.
295. “Down Home Girl,” The Rolling Stones No. 2 Mick does his best — which is pretty good — with lyrics like “Lord I swear / the perfume you wear / was made out of turnip greens,” on this Jerry Leiber–Arthur Butler song.
294. “Goin’ to a Go-Go,” Still Life A classic Smokey Robinson Motown hit and a semi-corny Rolling Stones cover. Given the voluminous number of dud covers the Stones recorded, you’d think the guys would’ve taken a minute and considered their batting average with these things. Alas.
293. “Too Tight,” A Bigger Bang The Platonic ideal of track-11-on-a-13-track-rock-album filler.
292. “Dangerous Beauty,” A Bigger Bang Given that Mick is singing about Abu Ghraib, shouldn’t he sound a bit angrier? At least he was going for something lyrically.
291. “Ride ’Em on Down,” Blue & Lonesome In late 2016, the Stones came full circle and, just like they did more than 50 years ago, released an album consisting entirely of covers of songs by the band’s formative touchstones. It’s a strong, lively effort and also a tad too classicist; a staid deference to Eddie Taylor’s original keeps the Stones’ version of “Ride ’Em on Down” from taking off. (Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant snuck lyrics from this song, originally done by Bukka White as “Shake ’Em on Down” and then revised by Taylor as “Ride ’Em on Down,” on to Led Zeppelin’s eerie “Hat’s Off to (Roy) Harper.” That’s a much cooler, weirder recording than the Stones’ attempt.)
290. “Natural Magic,” Singles 1968–1971 The B-side to Jagger’s “Memo From Turner” is, as far as I can tell, the only song to appear on a Rolling Stones album that doesn’t feature a single member of the band playing on it. So what is it? A short and groovy instrumental that leans heavily on Ry Cooder’s swampy slide guitar.
289. “Already Over Me,” Bridges to Babylon Charlie Watts is a miracle. Once the Stones started to fade, there were plenty of songs where Jagger or Richards lollygagged. Not Charlie. He plays with wit and subtle flair, even on this Bridges to Babylon filler.
288. “If You Can’t Rock Me,” It’s Only Rock ’n Roll Goats Head Soup was the inevitable letdown after the high of Exile on Main Street. It’s Only Rock ’n Roll continued the downward trend. The album’s opening track, “If You Can’t Rock Me,” illustrates the problem. It’s well-constructed rock music, and wholly devoid of any lyrical or instrumental spark.
287. “Hoo Doo Blues,” Blue & Lonesome One of a few Blue & Lonesome tracks where the juice comes from Keith and Ronnie’s expert guitar interplay rather than Mick’s singing or blues harp. But “Hoo Doo Blues” is the only track on that album where Jagger’s vocal mannerisms don’t signify, not even as skill. It’s interesting to hear how the wizened edition of the Stones leans so much more on musicianship — solos, band dynamics — than it did in its baby days, when the songs were shorter and its energy wilder.
286. “Cherry Oh Baby,” Black and Blue A lighthearted cover of a song by reggae singer Eric Donaldson held back by Charlie and Bill’s rhythmic tentativeness. Mick’s fake patois is irritating.
285. “Biggest Mistake,” A Bigger Bang Like every song on A Bigger Bang, “Biggest Mistake” offers the audible pleasure of the Stones making music together in relatively stripped-down fashion, working all the songwriting and arranging tricks the bandmembers have learned over the years. So this is a mild
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