The Rolling Stones are 50 years old and for about 40 of those years they’ve been called the “greatest rock and roll band in the world.” They earned that honor for releasing one hit record after another and being the best live act the world has ever known. This November you can see just how great the Rolling Stones are in concert when they visit New York City for a pair of shows at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.
While we wait for the Stones to take the stage and tear the roof off the place, Musicology-101 thought it would be a gas (as in “Jumping Jack Flash”) to look at their ten most “rockingest” rock songs. These aren’t necessarily their best songs, or their biggest hits, but up tempo tracks that are guaranteed to get everyone on their feet and dancing.
The following ten songs aren’t necessarily their best (or worst) but they define the genre of rock and roll. In other words, they’re loud, fast, and are usually about sex and drugs. If that’s not a good enough definition for you just forget it and enjoy learning more about ten of the greatest rock and roll songs of all-time. These ditties would make one hell of a mixtape if people still made mixtapes.
Ten “Rockingest” Rolling Stones Songs of All-Time
“Rocks Off” – Exile on Main St. (1972)
I’ve listened to this song literally hundreds of times and it’s still as exciting and raucous as it was when I first heard it. Keith Richards’ opening guitar riff grabs you and then the rest of the song never lets go. “Rocks Off,” which is about heroin use, has one of my all-time favorite lyrics: “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.” If this isn’t one of your favorite rock songs then something may be seriously wrong with you.
“Jumping Jack Flash” (1968)
One of the band’s most popular songs and one of their most important. The Stones had just released two psychedelic albums, Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. “Jumping Jack Flash” was their triumphant return to the blues. In fact, Jagger later said the song was about getting away from “acid” (i.e. the psychedelic). The name of the song came from Richards’ gardener. Bill Wyman claims he came up with the song’s distinctive guitar riff on the organ.
“Brown Sugar” – Sticky Fingers (1971)
Yet another Rolling Stones song with a riff that inspires you to pick up the guitar and learn how to play. Personally, this is my favorite Stones song although the lyrics are downright awful: “Scarred old slaver know he’s doin’ alright/Hear him whip the women just around midnight.” Jagger frequently changes the lyrics in concert to make the song less offensive. Leave it to the Stones to have a number one song about oral sex. The Rolling Stones first played “Brown Suger” live at the Altamont Free Concert.
“If You Can’t Rock Me” – It’s Only Rock N’ Roll (1974)
Most of the songs on this list are anchored by amazing guitar licks. This is no exception but the reason “If You Can’t Rock Me” is on the docket is Charlie Watts’ drumming. His work on this deep cut is simply awesome. Even Mick thinks so: “The band’s on stage and it’s one of those nights, oh yeah/The drummer thinks that he is dynamite.” When you play this song make sure the volume is all the way up.
“Live With Me” – Let It Bleed (1969)
I can’t omit a song with the lyric: “My best friend, he shoots water rats.” This rocking song begins with a bass riff but it’s not played by Bill Wyman. “Live With Me” is the first Stones song to credit Keith Richards as bass player. The song also contains contributions from the great Leon Russell. The lyrics to this song are why the London Bach Choir asked not to be credited for singing on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
“Respectable” – Some Girls (1978)
In 1978, The Rolling Stones were viewed by many as bloated and soft. Punk rock didn’t help matters either. In response, the band released Some Girls which silenced all their critics. On the liner notes, Jagger says “Respectable” is “punk meets Chuck Berry.” You really hear Berry’s influence in the song’s opening bars. The lyrics started out as Mick contemplating how the Stones had become a “respectable” band. Then the lyrics morphed into a story about a woman who had gone from rags to riches.
“All Down The Line” – Exile On Main St. (1972)
This rocker opens side four of Exile On Main St. and is played, if not at every Stones concert, at least an overwhelming majority of them. As well it should be. It’s a near perfect rock and roll song. Of all the songs on our list this probably has the best solo. Mick Taylor is on fire playing the slide guitar. In case you’re wondering the female voice belongs to Kathi McDonald.
“Where The Boys Go” – Emotional Rescue (1980)
This is a fun, upbeat, rock song and one of the few where Mick sings in his British accent. The song perfectly capsulate hanging out at the local watering hole on a Saturday night looking for, in the vernacular of the song, a “giggle and a laugh.” The best part about this track is towards the end when the female chorus belts out “Where the girls all go.”
“Bitch” – Sticky Fingers (1971)
The song is called “Bitch” but contains the line: “I salivate like a Pavlov dog.” That folks is what you call genius. This rocker has a great groove—it’s one of those grooves that could go on forever. Mick isn’t singing about a girl but how “love” can be a “bitch.” This line: “Sometimes I’m sexy, move like a stud/Kicking the stall all night” is followed by this line: “Sometimes I’m so shy, got to be worked on/Don’t have no bark or bite.” Oh yeah, it’s probably about heroin too: “Yeah you got to mix it child/Ya got to fix it…” No one said rock was pretty.
“You Got Me Rocking” – Voodoo Lounge (1994)
Like many of the songs on this list, “You Got Me Rocking” started out as a slow, bluesy number. Somewhere along the line, Mick and Keith realized it needed to be a straight ahead, pedal-to-the-metal, rock song. This driving track from Voodoo Lounge is one of the band’s more popular recent works. It’s also a response to their critics who constantly deride them for being old.