The Rolling Stones = Rock & Roll. It doesn’t get any cooler than Mick Jagger strutting around while Keith Richards—cigarette hanging from his mouth—nonchalantly riffs like a king. The Stones always had the attitude, but were firmly in the Beatles’ wake for the early portion of their career. It took bucking psychedelic trends and embracing the sleazy British white boy country/blues/R&B they perfected for the band to find its footing. Who would have known back when they started out as practically a covers band that Jagger/Richards would become such a force? While unquestionably the leaders of the band, each era of Jagger and Richards’ band can be defined by the second guitarist. Brian Jones’ versatile experimentation, Mick Taylor’s heavy Gibson virtuosity, and Ron Wood’s second-rate Keith Richards impersonation break up the Stones career in three distinct chapters. With 15 years separating their first and last classic album, Jagger, Richards, drummer Charlie Watts, and bassist Bill Wyman (plus one) were the rock and roll institution of the 20th century. The Rolling Stones bill themselves as “the greatest rock & roll band in the world,” and well, it doesn’t get any more rock & roll than that. Below are my top 10 Stones studio albums.
1. Exile on Main Street (1972)
You can really feel Keith’s imprint on this one, a suspicion pretty much confirmed by Mick’s unenthusiastic remarks about the album. If it is to be believed that, at this time, the band was divided into drug-addicted and somewhat clean factions, it is clear who had control. My favorite side, side two, consists of “Sweet Virginia”, “Torn and Frayed”, “Sweet Black Angel”, and “Loving Cup”. It is incomprehensible to imagine four songs like that ever lining up again. As a double album, this is surprisingly the most cohesive work of an awe-inspiring career.
2. Sticky Fingers (1971)
“Moonlight Mile” is my favorite Stones song. “Wild Horses” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” aren’t far behind. Mick Taylor’s influence is felt immediately, particularly on the extended drug infused break on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” A well-balanced classic with an anthemic single to kick it off, some great ballads, a few rockers and perhaps their best faux country song in “Dead Flowers”. Love, it’s a bitch.
3. Beggar’s Banquet (1968)
When the Stones really started to come into their own. Their first true classic came at the end of Brian Jones’ run. I love the bluesy, country feel all over this album. “Dear Doctor”, “Parachute Woman”, “Prodigal Son”, and “Factory Girl” all sound authentic rather than imitation. “No Expectations” might be the best track on the album.
4. Let It Bleed (1969)
You can pretty much flip a coin to pick numbers one through four on this list. As to why I have Let It Bleed in the fourth slot, I wish they left “Honky Tonk Women” intact as the single version and cut out the choral opening of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. I really don’t get it. Nevertheless, how can you go wrong with “Monkey Man”, “Love In Vain”, and “Gimme Shelter”?
5. Some Girls (1978)
The best album of the Ron Wood era and a five-star classic in its own right. After releasing some really sub-par albums prior, Some Girls proved the Stones still had it. Whether with disco (“Miss You”), driving riff rock (“When the Whip Comes Down”), or a ballad for the ages (“Beast of Burden”), the Stones outclassed the burgeoning punk scene.
6. Tattoo You (1981)
Possibly the most under-appreciated album in their catalog (It’s either this or the next on the list). Tattoo You ROCKS. “Start Me Up”, their last classic single, doesn’t get old. “Little T&A” just might be Keith’s shining moment behind the mic. “Hang Fire”, “Slave”, and “Neighbors” kill. The second side of ballads is no slouch either with “Tops” being my favorite. If the Stones continued to make wonderfully executed hodge podge albums like this, they would have aged more gracefully.
7. Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)
The mono mix of this is cool as hell. This album was and has been unfairly maligned as a half-hearted attempt at psychedelia, a Sgt Pepper knock-off. Maybe so, but containing songs like “Citadel”, “2000 Man”, “She’s a Rainbow”, and “2000 Light Years From Home”, Their Satanic Majesties Request has its share of songs that blow the Beatles’s contemporaneous “All You Need Is Love” out of the water.
8. Between the Buttons (1967)
No matter how much hype the early albums get, particularly Aftermath, I just don’t think they were anything more than top-heavy solid sets. Between the Buttons is my favorite of the bunch with side one being all killer. A few filler sounding tracks on side two like “Miss Amanda Jones” knock it down a hair.
9. Aftermath (1966)
I simply don’t believe this stands up to the four-album classic run, or even to late period gems like Some Girls and Tattoo You. The simple reasoning is it contains “Goin’ Home”, an 11-minute snooze fest. I am bored by some of side two as well (“Flight 505”). That’s not to say half of the album isn’t absolutely magnificent. Brian Jones lends an iconic sitar line to “Paint It Black”, arguably implementing the instrument more organically than the Beatles did. “High and Dry” is my favorite song on the album and a true jewel in the Stones body of work, a sleazy prototype for Beggar’s Banquet. Released between the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver (and it certainly sounds that way), Aftermath was the first strong collection of original material the Stones made
10. Black and Blue (1976)
All Music Guide’s review characterizes this album as such: “There are times that you listen to the Stones just to hear them play, and this is one of them.” This perfectly sums up Black and Blue. jam heavy. Great guitar interplay on tracks like “Hot Stuff” and “Hey Negrita”. Black and Blue is the world’s greatest rock band taking it easy and having some fun in the sun.