The 30 Greatest Rolling Stones Songs

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The 30 Greatest Rolling Stones Songs

In 2012, a few members of the Paste music staff ranked the 50 greatest Rolling Stones songs of all-time. 11 years later, we’ve decided that our appraisal of the London rock legends’ catalog is in need of a tune-up and reassessment. We’ve even shrunk the number of songs down from 50 to 30, to give our choices some more space to shine. With drummer Charlie Watts’ passing in 2021, the only core members left are Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. But the band’s elite blues rock pedigree is still as sharp as ever.

Though a decade has passed since our last list, the Stones are still as popular as ever. While many of their songs have not stood the test of time, other, less popular entries have grown more and more beloved—especially as the band’s fanbase welcomes new devotees of all generations into the fold with every stadium tour they complete. We’ve opted to fashion a mixture of the hits and deeper cuts. From “I Am Waiting” to “Shine a Light” to “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” here are our picks for the 30 greatest Rolling Stones songs of all-time. —Matt Mitchell & Miranda Wollen

30. “Get Off of My Cloud”
“Get Off of My Cloud” was the single that followed up “Satisfaction,” so it had enormous shoes to fill. I personally think it is better than its predecessor, but “Get Off of My Cloud” just didn’t register the same lasting, unmovable impact on rock ‘n’ roll. Nevertheless, it’s one of the very best things the Stones made before taking over the world with Beggars Banquet. While the Beatles were beginning to transition into making more intricate records that couldn’t be replicated live, the Stones were shattering eardrums with balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll that would tear away at stadium foundations. Richards never messed with the song and felt that it was a rushed successor to “Satisfaction,” but I think Jagger’s proclamation of it being a “stop-bugging-me, post-teenage-alienation” track has endured nearly 60 years later. “I laid myself out, I was so tired / And I started to dream / In the mornin’ the parkin’ tickets / Were just like flags stuck on my windscreen,” Jagger yelps in that gritty croon that he was still honing. —Matt Mitchell

Album: December’s Children (And Everybody’s)
Release: September 25, 1965

29. “I Am Waiting”
I discovered “I Am Waiting” when I watched Wes Anderson’s Rushmore for the first time, and it’s remained close to me ever since. In its entirety, Aftermath is a bucket of gems, but “I Am Waiting” is often an afterthought once the dust around “Paint It Black” and “Under My Thumb” has settled. It’s here where Jagger and Richards hone in on their Appalachian and East Coast folk references and make a hi-fi rendering of sunshine pop and jangle revivalism. Brian Jones plays the dulcimer here and it absolutely shines, while Jagger sings in a paranoid manner that explodes into a wall of frustration—all while refusing to lose the gentle backbeat that shoulders the track along. “Stand up coming years / And escalation fears / Oh, yes, we will find out,” Jagger opines. Though it arrived during the period before the Stones became the greatest rock band on Earth, “I Am Waiting” flaunts the compositional prowess that helped Jagger and Richards rival (and sometimes outmanouever) the songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney. —MM

Album: Aftermath
Released: April 15, 1966

28. “Sweet Virginia”
The Stones know how to do a slow, self-restrained country ballad as well as they do a blasting rock ditty, and “Sweet Virginia” is the former at its best. Exile On Main St. is seen as the culmination of the band’s best work in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, recorded in the Villa Nellcôte in Southern France. On “Sweet Virginia,” we’re treated to a generous helping of Jagger on the harmonica and bluesy, full-bodied vocals. The song feels like a collaborative high-point on a record often noted for its disjointed, loose atmosphere. Mick Taylor’s perfect acoustic guitar blends seamlessly with Jagger’s plangent harmonics, and swoops of Bobby Keys’ saxophone leaves plenty of space for the latter’s slow-burn lyrical entreaty. “Sweet Virginia” is , depending on who you ask, a love song or an ode to heroin—or, neatly, both—but, either way, it is the Stones’ understated country excellence that makes the track so special. —Miranda Wollen

Album: Exile on Main St.
Released: April 14, 1972

27. “Ruby Tuesday”
Everything that the Stones released between “Satisfaction” and Beggars Banquet is a fun time capsule of the band experimenting with everything from baroque pop to psychedelic rock. “Ruby Tuesday” is a combination of both, but primarily the former. One half of a double A-side with “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Ruby Tuesday” is a beautiful ode to Richard’s then-girlfriend Linda Keith. “Who could hang a name on you / When you change with every new day? / Still, I’m gonna miss you,” Jagger sings, sweetly. It’s a beautiful composition that dares to obliterate comfort zones, compositionally. Richards bows a double-bass, Brian Jones plays an alto recorder and Jack Nitzsche provides that legendary opening piano riff. Any song that inspires the creation of a restaurant chain deserves to be in the eeons of history; it’s particularly refreshing, however, that “Ruby Tuesday” stands the test of time on its arrangements and performance alone. —MM

Album: Between the Buttons
Released: January 13, 1967

26. “Bitch”
Who would’ve guessed that “Bitch” would age better than “Brown Sugar” 50 years later? In fact, “Bitch” was the B-side to “Brown Sugar” upon release in the spring of 1971. But, wow, was a riff from Richards on this song. It’s biting and ferocious beyond comprehension. Rough around the edges and glamorous in the most hedonistic way imaginable. “Yeah, when you call my name / I salivate like a Pavlov dog / Yeah, when you lay me out / My heart is beating louder than a big bass drum,” Jagger cries out in the chorus. Bobby Keys’ saxophone and Jim Price’s trumpet are sleazy, hard-nosed highlights across the track, and Billy Wyman’s bass is practically pulsing through the stereo and bleeding onto your lap. —MM

Album: Sticky Fingers
Released: April 16, 1971

25. “Miss You”
I’ll never forget that moment in the last episode of Freaks and Geeks, when there’s an argument being made about why disco is better than rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s mentioned that the Stones pivoted to the former on “Miss You” as a point of why disco is superior. I always thought that was a funny, underrated joke, given that Jagger, Richard and company most certainly did attempt to capitalize on the Earth-spanning disco craze—and they certainly did a pretty damn good job at carving out their own little spot within all of it. “Miss You” is such an undeniable masterwork of pop and soul; it’s no surprise that the song conquered the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. Between Jagger’s overloaded, sensual vocalizations, Richards and Ronnie Wood’s dueling electric leads and Mel Collins’ intoxicating tenor saxophone, “Miss You” was built immune to failure. Even Sugar Blue’s harmonica solo at the end of the track, somehow, makes sense amid the tornado of English nightclub gusto that had washed over the Stones during their late-1970s career renaissance. —MM

Album: Some Girls
Released: May 10, 1978

24. “19th Nervous Breakdown”
The fact that “19th Nervous Breakdown” peaked at only #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 is a crime, because it’s one of the catchiest Stones songs in existence. Brian Jones pulled a bass note from Bo Diddley’s “Diddley Daddy” and transformed it into something he and the band could call their own, while Richards’ guitar figure implements a fuzz tone and clean-as-a-whistle lead arpeggio. It’s blues and pop formulated into one magnetic opus of technicolor that plummets into a dive-bomb bass line from Bill Wyman at the song’s conclusion. “19th Nervous Breakdown” levels its aim at rich kids who turn into fucked up adults, a biting diss set to a high-energy, sky-blue rock arrangement. “When you were a child you were treated kind / But you were never brought up right / You were always spoiled with a thousand toys, but, still, you cried all night / Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax / And your father’s still perfecting ways of making sealing wax,” Jagger sings. When the Stones had everything to lose, they wrote songs tough and petty, a rock ‘n’ roll combination few have ever been able to replicate. —MM

Album: Hot Rocks
Released: February 4, 1966

23. “Emotional Rescue”
After releasing Some Girls in 1978, the Stones were lacking an identity. Disco had all but died, and rock ‘n’ roll was pivoting towards a world of MTV and new wave. In turn, Emotional Rescue is an undersung masterpiece that’s displaced in the DNA of rock history forever. It’s a sonic orphan, as its Eurodisco and R&B textures were not landing in the zeitgeist like they had a year or two prior. Not to mention, Jagger and Richards were growing apart, and Richards is believed to have not vibed very well with Jagger’s disco, dance-rock obsessions. The album’s title track is the brightest gem in the chamber here, as Jagger flaunts a glass-shattering falsetto that still wows me every time I tune in. “I’d be your savior, steadfast and true,” Jagger suggests. Bobby Keys returns here with a saxophone performance that duets with Jagger and Richards’ harmonies perfectly. —MM

Album: Emotional Rescue
Released: June 20, 1980

22. “Shine A Light”
The penultimate track on Exile on Main St. has all the mechanisms for an epic, 10-minute bruiser. Yet, it’s only a four-minute song and achieves everything that the longest and most powerful rock songs have in that amount of time. It’s a beautiful ode to Brian Jones after his death in 1969, in which Jagger sings hopefully of peace in the afterlife. “May the good Lord shine a light on you / Make every song your favorite tune / May the good Lord shine a light on you / Warm, like the evening sun,” he shouts in the chorus. It’s as close to a gospel track as the Stones would ever get, and backing vocals from Clydie King, Joe Greene, Venetta Fields and Jesse Kirkland signal that truth. Billy Preston’s breathing, expanding organ-playing echoes throughout the track and is the one final gasp before the instrumental concludes completely. The Stones would pick up the pace immediately on Exile closing track “Soul Survivor,” but it’s hard to not return to the gentle, heavenly optimism of “Shine a Light” and live within it for as long as possible. —MM

Album: Exile on Main St.
Released: May 12, 1972

21. “Moonlight Mile”
When I was in college, “Moonlight Mile” was the Stones track I returned to the most. What a subdued, underappreciated moment in the band’s catalog that I can’t help but cherish forever. Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangement still feels as fresh now as it did 50 years ago. Jagger strums an intimate acoustic guitar while Mick Taylor crafts an exotic arpeggio behind him like a warm, ensconcing blanket. “Oh, I’m sleeping under strange, strange skies / Just another mad, mad day on the road / My dreams is fading down the railway line,” Jaggers hums. There’s an orchestra of unbridled energy within this song, and it achieves a delicacy rarely replicated in the Stones’ catalog. The choice to make it serve as the closing chapter on the (mostly) thunderous rock explosion of Sticky Fingers should be studied for eons to come. It was a daring choice that made for one of the greatest codas in all of music history. —MM

Album: Sticky Fingers
Released: April 23, 1971

20. “No Expectations”
Beggars Banquet is not a quiet album sonically or thematically, and it’s easy to overlook “No Expectations” when it’s sandwiched between debaucherous bangers like “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Street Fighting Man.” In similar fashion to “Moonlight Mile,” though, it’s that very intentional containment of the song that makes it so special. Needless to say: If Johnny Cash is re-recording your song, you know you’ve done something right. Cash’s appreciation of the song actually encapsulates what sets it apart from the rest of the Stones’ catalog. “No Expectations” is weary and tender, purposefully devoid of the rakish panache that defined much of the band’s aura. “Our love was like the water / That splashes on a stone / Our love is like our music / Why is it here, and then it’s gone?” Jagger implores, encasing a fundamental loneliness in his comforting baritone. Many of the group’s slower songs center around the isolation of life on the road, but none capture the stagnant torment of being left behind quite like this one. —MW

Album: Sticky Fingers
Released: June 12, 1971

19. “Midnight Rambler”
Jagger and Richards’ self-proclaimed “blues opera,” “Midnight Rambler is unlike anything else the Stones ever made. It taps into the framework built by John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Albert King, as Jagger’s harmonica trades punches with Richards’ fluttering, brutal, locomotive guitar. No other band in the world at the time could have written “Midnight Rambler,” which makes its existence all the more one-in-a-million. “So if you ever meet the midnight rambler / I’m coming down your marble hall / Well, he’s pouncing like a proud black panther / Well, you can say I, I told you so,” Jagger sings. Written by him and Richards while they were on a holiday in Positano, Italy, “Midnight Rambler” exists in a vacuum of country and blues prestige. The instrumental is raw, haunting and a bit nervewracking, which makes every revisit all the more rewarding. There’s something new to love with each listen. Not many bands can produce a song like that, and the Stones are, likely, the only band that can do that and have there be two greater songs on the album. —MM

Album: Let It Bleed
Released: December 5, 1969

18. “Waiting on A Friend”
I wish Tattoo You got more adoration. From “Start Me Up” to “Tops,” it’s one of the better post-Exile on Main St. albums the Stones ever made—and it was pieced together with scraps from sessions, some of which were nearly 10 years old. The standout track is “Waiting on a Friend,” a restrained pop rock number that leans heavily on Jagger’s falsetto vocalizations, Nicky Hopkins’ sharp piano notes and Sonny Rollins’ tenor saxophone solo. Michael Carabello employs a güiro, some claves, a cabasa and congas to round out a rich, gentle instrumental. Richards’ rhythm guitar feels particularly strong, as the polished chords loop over and over. “Don’t need a whore, I don’t need no booze / Don’t need a virgin priest / But I need someone I can cry to / I need someone to protect,” Jagger sings. It’s a vulnerable moment from him, who admits to needing comfort and intimacy instead of vices, sex and romance—themes that are often embellished to an excessive degree in the Stones’ catalog. On “Waiting on a Friend,” they discovered the counterbalance to it all. —MM

Album: Tattoo You
Released: August 24, 1981

17. “Street Fighting Man”
The only US single from Beggars Banquet, “Street Fighting Man” takes on a life of its own. It was released around the same time as the Beatles’ “Revolution” and zeroed in on the summer of 1968 and its political and social turmoil. The song arrived on US radio stations around the time of the Democratic National Convention protests and became emblematic of the violent strife happening to demonstrators of the counterculture era. “Hey so my name is called Disturbance / I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants / Well now what can a poor boy do / Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band?” Jagger laments. It didn’t peak high on the charts in America, but it became a symbol of unrest and working class solidarity. As the Beatles were saying there was no hope, the Stones dared to suggest that, perhaps, there was more time left to fight back. —MM

Album: Beggars Banquet
Released: August, 1968

16. “Wild Horses”
“Wild Horses” is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful songs of all time. Rarely are the Stones so vulnerably loving, nor so openly desperate. On this Sticky Fingers masterpiece, Richards and Mick Taylor work in tandem to create a unique, painfully beautiful series of interwoven guitar riffs and mini-solos as Jagger’s voice wavers beseechingly through the verses. In typical Stones fashion, the choruses rise into a repeated sort of hymnal, one which has come to define the band’s songwriting prowess: “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away,” Richards and Jagger sing, a line so simple and powerful that it composes almost the entirety of one of the most recognizable Stones hooks in the group’s history. “Wild Horses” is one of those songs so perfect and direct that it’s impossible not to feel it in your bones as soon as that opening strum rings out.—MW

Album: Beggars Banquet
Released: August, 1968

15. “Paint It, Black”
A raga-rock, bolero and psychedelic monument, “Paint It, Black” remains one of the most immortal Stones songs. A Billboard #1 hit, Guitar Hero III inclusion and the end credits song in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, the song has quickly become a cultural zenith without being easily interpretable. Though some of the lyrics have been attributed to the gloom and doom of the Vietnam War-era, Richards himself once confessed that he and the band “cut it as a comedy track.” Brian Jones’ sitar performance is what puts “Paint It, Black” in the echelons of rock ‘n’ roll greatness, even if critics initially saw it as the Stones copying the Beatles’ use of the instrument on Revolver. “I see a line of cars / And they’re all painted black / With flowers and my life / Both never to come back,” Jagger sings in a sultry vocal fit for a Running of the Bulls. Bill Wyman’s combination of maracas, cowbell and a Hammond organ sealed the rest of the song’s fate, and it remains one of the best Stones songs that Andrew Loog Oldham ever produced for the band. —MM

Album: Aftermath
Release: May 7, 1966

14. “Rocks Off”
There’s no argument to be had about Exile on Main St.; it’s the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record ever made. And Exile wouldn’t be as strong with its opening track “Rocks Off,” a track worthy of hard rock’s Mount Rushmore. It was partially recorded at Villa Nellcõte in France and then overdubbed and finished at Sunset Sound in LA in late 1971 and early 1972. “Rocks Off” features a low vocal mix and a non-sequitur of psychedelia right in the middle of the whole thing. One of my favorite lyrical performances from Jagger, I still shout to the heavens whenever I hear him sing, “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me,” Jagger sings, “chasing shadows, moonlight mystery.” With horn supplements from Jim Price and Bobby Keys, “Rocks Off” has the machismo of “Bitch” but with an exuberant, mystical amount of finesse. It’s raw, gritty and surreal; the perfect way to kick off the most important rock record of the 1970s. —MM

Album: Exile on Main St.
Released: April 14, 1972

13. “Memory Motel”
After Exile on Main St. came out in 1972, the Stones went through a bit of a lull. Goats Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll were fine additions to the cannon—and 1976’s Black and Blue was one in the same. It gave us “Fool to Cry” and “Hot Stuff,” which are both very good piano-rock and disco tunes. But the greatest thing that Black and Blue ever gave us was the seven-minute epic “Memory Motel.” It was the Stones’ “Bohemian Rhapsody” featuring both Jagger and Richards sharing lead vocals. It was written while both men were decamped at Andy Warhol’s house in Montauk, New York, where the real Memory Motel was, in 1975. A one-night-stand concerto with a widely-debated subject at the center of it, Jagger sings about a painfully fleeting flame: “I got to fly today on down to Baton Rouge / My nerves are shot already / The road ain’t all that smooth / Across in Texas is the rose of San Antone / I keep on a feeling that’s gnawing in my bones / You’re just a memory of love.” It’s the Stones’ greatest image of heartbreak, and one that deserves many more flowers. —MM

Album: Black and Blue
Released: April 23, 1976

12. “Under My Thumb”
“Under My Thumb” is a great rock song that pairs that mid-1960s, freewheeling pop grandeur with Mexican percussion influence. It’s one of my favorite vocal performances from Jagger, whose singing is front-and-center and you can actually picture his entire body turning flush with the contour of the lyrics. “It’s down to me / The way she talks when she’s spoken to / Down to me, the change has come / She’s under my thumb,” he sings. The song’s story has not aged well, as it depicts a sexual power struggle between two dominating forces. The language Jagger uses has been lambasted by feminism scholars, though, beginning in 1969, he began changing instances of “girl” to “woman” in the song while performing it and has maintained that the story is a “caricature” sketch. Rock historian Jean-Michel Buizard, however, argued that the subject of “Under My Thumb” is a personification of an electric guitar that needs tamed in the blaze of rock ‘n’ roll hedonism. Whatever the case, “Under My Thumb” is one of the Stones’ brightest, most replayable and danceable numbers. —MM

Album: Aftermath
Released: April 15, 1966

11. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
The song that turned the Stones into household names, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is rock ‘n’ roll royalty. With one of the most recognizable riffs in all of music history, it’s impossible to ignore the importance and influence that “Satisfaction” has had on the genre for almost 60 years. Maybe it’s not the most glamorous Stones song or something that everyone returns to often, but it has a place in the band’s legacy that, on game-changing ability alone, requires high placement. Richards’ white-hot fuzz guitar echoed in rock ‘n’ roll for generations and can even be felt today. “Satisfaction” was their first #1 hit, and many bands would wither under the pressure to continue producing at such a rewarding velocity. However, the Stones were never going to be an ordinary band and were built to endure within the architecture of rock ‘n’ roll’s palace for centuries. In fact, they are likely the royalty that sits atop the throne, and they have “Satisfaction” to thank for that. —MM

Album: Out of Our Heads
Released: June 5, 1965

10. “Honky Tonk Women”
Not to be confused with the outlaw version “Country Honk,” which was released on Let It Bleed in the same year, “Honky Tonk Women” is the Stones’ greatest foray into Southern rock ‘n’ roll—as Jagger’s vocals and the bar-stage lead solo from Richards bend perfectly to the twang and bravado that encapsulated the genre. “I laid a divorcée in New York City / I had to put up some kind of a fight / The lady, then she covered me with roses / She blew my nose and then she blew my mind,” Jagger croons. It’s sexy, mystical and catchy as hell, but the best part of “Honky Tonk Women” arrives when Jagger’s vocals blend with the backing harmonies of Madeline Bell, who would also feature on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and Donovan’s hit single “Barabajagal” later in 1969. “Honky Tonk Women” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the rest was history. —MM

Album: Hot Rocks
Released: July 4, 1969

9. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”
Likely overlooked (to some degree) because Goats Head Soup was an underwhelming follow-up to Exile on Main St. and its big hit was the chart-topping “Angie,” “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is the Stones at their best and fiercest. With a light title in tow, it’s easy to not pay much attention to the song’s narrative itself—which is, arguably, the strongest story Jagger and Richards ever told together. Two key events take center-stage: a NYC cop shoots a kid he mistook for a POI in an armed robbery case, and the drug overdose of a 10-year-old girl in an alley. When Jagger sings about the police incident, he rings out a line that remains urgent even in 2023: “You heartbreaker, with your .44, I want to tear your world apart.” A highlight of the track is Billy Preston’s clavinet and his “wah-wah” distortion across the choruses. Like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” two years prior, the Stones often find the top of the mountain when they aim to blow it all up. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is a powerhouse of not just stone-cold rock ‘n’ roll, but of storytelling altogether. —MM

Album: Goats Head Soup
Released: August 31, 1973

8. “Dead Flowers”
“Dead Flowers” is, simply put, one of the greatest fuck-you songs in history. Jaunty and jangling in its instrumentals, the song’s dark lyricism—“Well, when you’re sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac / Making bets on Kentucky Derby Day / I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon / And another girl can take my pain away,” Jagger croons in an incomparable second verse—sneaks up on you. The track was recorded just days after the Altamont Tragedy, and a self-awareness of the hedonism that propelled the Stones into the situation resounds through this Sticky Fingers masterpiece. Mick Taylor’s solo makes the song edgier still, wearing away at its glossy country facade. The class tension reverberating across the song’s lyrics is surprisingly poignant, and the ending message, that a drugged-up Jagger will have the last laugh over his scoffing lover, is far more complex than it seems at first glance. —MW

Album: Sticky Fingers
Released: April 23, 1971

7. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
Long overshadowed by “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” it cannot be understated how perfect, blistering and mountainous “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is 52 years later. The epic centerpiece of Sticky Fingers, it’s actually two songs combined into one. For the first two minutes and 43 seconds, you get a slice of that standard Stones rock ‘n’ roll they perfected long before 1971. But then, the band—featuring conga player Rocky Dijon, saxophonist Bobby Keys, organist Billy Preston and percussionist Jimmy Miller—cascades into a monumental, explosive and improvised flood of jazz-rock improvisation. And to think, the entire thing happened by accident—as the jam session was unknowingly captured on tape and then loved so much it got thrown into the second act. It’s no wonder that the Stones are the greatest rock band of all-time; even their practice material is perfect. —MM

Album: Sticky Fingers
Released: April 23, 1971

6. “Tumbling Dice”
The great thing about Exile on Main St. is that it’s such a perfect record that very few moments on it outshine the tracklist as a whole. The album is a singular, breathing organism. There is one song on it that rises to the top of the Stones’ catalog, and it’s the boogie-woogie, honky-tonk masterpiece “Tumbling Dice.” With, arguably, the grooviest country and blues rhythm the band ever fortified, hitting #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972. Much of Exile’s first disc contains sweet ballads, which helps emphasize the racous swing of “Tumbling Dice” even further. “Baby, I can’t stay, you got to roll me / And call me the tumblin’ dice / Always in a hurry, I never stop to worry / Don’t you see the time flashin’ by,” Jagger belts. The subject of a gambling addict who is so engrossed in his own vice that he cannot fathom settling down with any partner was particularly untapped at the time the Stones made Exile, and “Tumbling Dice” is so good that no one has attempted to conjure that narrative since. If you’re looking for an upbeat song that’s no-notes perfect, “Tumbling Dice” will heed your curiosity. —MM

Album: Exile on Main St.
Released: April 14, 1972

5. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
Let It Bleed ages better with each passing year. Tapping back into the album, each song hits me harder and harder than ever before. Closing track “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is the perfect finale in every way conceivable, as it traverses different sonic acts and energies. That introduction from the London Bach Choir alone still lingers in my psyche even when I’m not listening to the Stones, and the way it transitions into Richards’ perfect, dainty acoustic chords is the stuff of urban legend. Jagger’s vocals are more pronounced here than anywhere else. If there was to be only one reference point for any argument as to why he is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll frontman of all time, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” would be the winner. Jagger has called it a “doomy ballad about drugs in Chelsea” but it never lulls into any type of bummer. With an army of congas, French horn, maracas, tambourine and organ, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is the type of epic that so few artists have the chops to muster. It was destiny that the Stones were the ones who brought this masterpiece to fruition. —MM

Album: Let It Bleed
Released: July 4, 1969

4. “She’s A Rainbow”
“She’s A Rainbow” experienced an online resurgence earlier this year, and no wonder—its vibrant, poppy instrumentation and sing-along lyrics are totally timeless. The Stones somehow manage to make the song sound like its subject—lilting piano arpeggios, stunning strings and Brian Jones’ wacky mellotron create a kaleidoscopic aura to the song, and Jagger’s exuberant vocals float over them alongside childlike “ooh-la-la-la”’s sung by the other Stones. Just as “Wild Horses” saw the Stones at a uniquely vulnerable place, “She’s A Rainbow” carries a lovely innocence rarely to be found in their catalog. The lyricism is borderline-Shakespearean in its devotion, and it’s hard to believe that lines like “Have you seen her all in gold? / Like a queen in days of old / She shoots her colours all around / Like a sunset going down / Have you seen a lady fairer?” were coined by the same guys who would later write “Bitch.” To our delight, they were, and the result is beautiful and sweet. The track is practically synesthetic, a psychedelic love song whose orchestral fullness and lyrical poetry grants it a well-deserved spot in our top five.—MW

Album: Their Satanic Majesties Request
Released: December 8, 1967

3. “Sympathy for the Devil”
There’s no song quite like “Sympathy for the Devil.” I would like to note here that I was made to play electric guitar on this song during fifth grade rock-band camp, and my conviction towards its badassery has not waned since then. In this catchy, piss-taking ditty, Jagger cheekily embodies Beelzebub himself. He flounces through an ever-climbing series of historical atrocities with the casual air of a class-project recitation, a lyrical feat that actually led religious groups at the time to coin the Stones as satanists. Rhythmic, samba-inspired percussion and a rollicking guitar solo by Richards cement the song’s instrumentation as some of the band’s all-time best, and Jagger’s high notes are adrenaline-laced and addictive. One of the throughlines of the Stones’ greatest tracks is a deep-seated sense of self-awareness, and a willingness to poke at it without agreeing to change. This phenomenon is displayed in full swing on “Sympathy for the Devil,” and the results are utterly divine. —MW

Album: Beggars Banquet
Released: December 6, 1968

2. “Beast of Burden”
The fact that one of the greatest songs ever written is a sensual, groovy blues-rock song made at the apex of the disco-era is what will always set the Rolling Stones apart from everyone else. “Beast of Burden,” the second single from their career-resurrecting album Some Girls, is the bright, shining star of a tracklist loaded with them. Richards and Wood trade some of the most melodic riffs they ever wrote, while Jagger’s singing is off the charts. “I’ll tell you, you can put me out on the street / Put me out with no shoes on my feet / But put me out, put me out, put me out of misery,” he croons across the third verse. “Beast of Burden” might not have the immediate rock ‘n’ roll impact of a “Satisfaction” or a “Sympathy For the Devil,” but it is undeniably the catchiest track the Stones ever made—and that solo like from Wood will outlive us all. —MM

Album: Some Girls
Released: August 28, 1978

1. “Gimme Shelter”
Few bands in the world have ever been able to craft a song that not only defines their entire catalog, but the history of rock ‘n’ roll itself. The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” are some of the greatest instances, and the Stones are in that company with “Gimme Shelter.” It’s one of the most explosive, emotional and timeless rock songs ever composed, examining the brutality of war, murder and rape. The Vietnam War was at an apex, and bands in the US and the UK were writing incorporating anti-war protests into their work. None hold as much water as “Gimme Shelter,” which arrives with a piercing guitar performance from Richards.

But what has rightfully come to define “Gimme Shelter” alongside that violent instrumental is Merry Clayton’s vocal performance. Famously, her voice cracks in the final stanza. On older recordings, before Let It Bleed was remastered, you could faintly hear, if you listened close enough on the right soundsystem, Jagger saying “wow” in the background when Clayton’s voice nearly collapses as she belts out: “Rape, murder! It’s just a shot away!” Even now, almost 50 years after the Vietnam War concluded, “Gimme Shelter” feels as larger-than-life and personal as it did in 1969. It’s not just the greatest Rolling Stones song of all-time, it’s one of the greatest songs in music history altogether. —MM

Album: Let It Bleed
Released: December 5, 1969

Check out our playlist of these 30 Rolling Stones songs below.

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