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They’re only rock and roll, but I like them: George’s top 10 Rolling Stones tracks

November 25, 2012

Old gold: in a career spanning 50 years, the greatest rockers in the West (alias Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie, among others) have turned out some truly top tunes, but what are this blog’s all-time 10 best?

The Rolling Stones, eh? They’re everywhere right now, aren’t they? On the radio; in UK and American venues; even opposite toothy lovely Alex Jones on The One Show sofa the other night. Yup, you can’t move for the promotion and celebration of their 50th year in The ‘Biz (I don’t know, precious stone jubilees; they’re all the rage this year – Her Maj, James Bond and Melton Mowbray pork pies. All right, maybe not that last one).

Having said all that, though, Mick and Keef and co. have always been everywhere really. First the ‘dark alternative’ to The Fabs, then the ’60s-into-the-’70s survivors and then the ever ageing rockers who still couldn’t get no satisfaction (they’ve been in that incarnation most impressively for the last 30-ish years, actually).

Still, you might loathe them, but I love ’em. At their best, their bluesy, down-at-heel, genuine, quality rock is what made them enormously popular in the beginning – and what ensures they’re even more popular the whole world over as each year passes. And to mark their 50th anniversary in this wee, little corner of The ‘Net, please put up with me as I indulge you with my 10 favourite Stones tunes. Yup, someone wake up Keef, ’cause here we go…

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Paint It, Black (Album: Aftermath/ US release, 1966)

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Why I love it: Kicking-off the list with perhaps The Stones’ bleakest song, it is itself a list of dark, depressive things the narrator’s mind seems to have fixated on, but is driven along by an irresistible bass line, Charlie Watts’ crashing percussion and the tragically late Brian Jones’ oh-so ’60s sitar.

You’ll know it from: The closing credits of both Stanley Kubrick’s equally bleak paean to the darkness of the Vietnam experience Full Metal Jacket (1989) and, er, The Devil’s Advocate (1998).

Did you know?: It was originally recorded as something of a comedy track; the lyrics – written by Jagger – were apparently about a girl’s funeral.

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Let’s Spend The Night Together (Album: Between The Buttons/ US release, 1967)

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Why I love it: Perhaps my all-time favourite Stones tune… perhaps. I find it’s rolling piano and driving rhythm utterly infectious. And its constant building and building towards Mick’s “Well, m-m-m-ma“s is all kinds of wonderful. Plus, its (nowadays) almost innocent, nudge-nudge sauciness of anticipation of casual sex – deemed as outrageous back in the day – is rather delightful.

You’ll know it from: Hundreds of provincial pubs’ jukeboxes.

Did you know?: During the ‘break’ around 1:40, the percussion is provided by two policemen’s truncheons, whose owners had turned up at the recording studio because the front door had been left open.

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She’s A Rainbow (Album: Their Satanic Majesty’s Request, 1967)

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Why I love it: Seriously, who doesn’t love She’s A Rainbow? The album from which it comes is wilfully psychedelic p*ss-take nonsense, but the tune itself is as patently beautiful as anything the Stones have ever turned out. Its sprightly piano, use of mellotron and tambourines make one believe the band’s taking peace and love et al seriously… well, for about four minutes at least.

You’ll know it from: Recent adverts for Apple and Sony products, as well as earlier this year Kristen Wiig’s final few moments on Saturday Night Live.

Did you know?: Led Zeppelin band member-to-be John Paul Jones arranged the song’s strings.

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Sympathy For The Devil (Album: Beggars Banquet, 1968)

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Why I love it: An infamous classic, this one became instantly controversial for ‘confirming’ The Stones as devil worshippers in the minds of some whom felt the ever social liberalising of the ’60s was getting out of hand. With its samba-like rhythm, it’s an almost hypnotic listen, punctuated by brilliant hard guitar riffs and Jagger’s impressive lyrics.

You’ll know it from: Footage from the Altamont Speedway Free Concert in California in December 1969, at which 18-year-old Meredith Hunter died owing to heavy-handed tactics from Hells Angels, who’d been bizarrely hired as security (she, in fact, died during the performance of Under My Thumb, not this song).

Did you know?: Jagger’s lyrics were inspired from reading French writer Baudelaire and possibly Russian literary figure Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master And The Margarita (1937).

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Gimme Shelter (Album: Let It Bleed, 1969)

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Why I love it: Possibly The Stones’ coolest song – and, ergo, one of the coolest ever recorded – Gimme Shelter is a mid-tempo rocker that slowly pulls you in and won’t let you go, not least because of Keef’s almost brass-like blaring guitar flourishes. Yet, it’s a dark piece of work. All rather apocalyptic-suggestive with guest female vocalist Merry Clayton’s continual delivery of the line “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away… just a shot away” only somewhat tempered by her and Mick’s later line “Love, it’s just a kiss away… a kiss away“.

You’ll know it from: The 1970 Rolling Stones documentary film of the same name, the Scorsese films Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1996) and The Departed (2006) and a clutch of UK TV car adverts.

Did you know?: Merry Clayton experienced a miscarriage when she returned home following her work on the track, many claiming it was because of the effort she put into her performance on it.

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Happy (Album: Exile On Main St., 1972)

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Why I love it: A simple, slight, real rocking, Keith Richards tune it may be, but this primarily Keef-written and -sung effort, is indeed a truly happy, smile-inducing one. The blaring brass additions ain’t at all bad either.

You’ll know it from: Any Stones concerts you’ve seen on the box – it’s the one that always comes on around halfway through and for which Keef steps forward to croon.

Did you know?: The whole thing was pretty much conceived, performed and recorded in just four hours at Richards’ Nellcôte mansion in Southern France where the band notoriously recorded Exile On Main St.

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Let It Loose (Album: Exile On Main St., 1972)

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Why I love it: Long, langurous, epic and almost theatrical like the much better known You Can’t Always Get What You Want (1969), this tune – perhaps because it’s from the raw, awesome Exile On Main St. – feels more genuine and not at all contrived, despite being an obvious gospel inspired anthem. It’s slow, builds beautifully and is serenaded by soulful supporting voices and rising brass. It’s simply a thing of beauty.

You’ll know it from: Again, it features on the soundtrack to Stones fan-and-a-half Martin Scorsese’s multi-Oscar-winning movie The Departed (2006).

Did you know?: Some of the song’s lyrics come directly from American folk song Man Of Constant Sorrow; The Stones have never performed it live.

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Angie (Album: Goat’s Head Soup, 1973)

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Why I love it: An out-and-out acoustic ballad from the best rockers around, this really is a hell of a ballad, with beautiful guitar work from Richards and Mick Taylor, as well as Nicky Hopkin’s invaluable piano playing and an excellent, heartfelt vocal from the one, the only Mick Jagger.

You’ll know it from: Possibly German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s CDU party’s 2005 election campaign (its use for this was far from endorsed by The Stones), as well as on almost every radio station under the sun.

Did you know?: Many have speculated on whom the ‘Angie’ of the title and lyrics is, from David Bowie’s first wife Angela to film star Angie Dickinson and even Keef’s daughter Dandelion Angela. However, in his autobiography Richards revealed ‘Angie’ was in fact heroin and the song (which he almost entirely wrote himself) about his attempt finally to kick its habit.

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Fool To Cry (Album: Black And Blue, 1976)

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Why I love it: An unquestionably gospel-ly offering from The Stones again, this one’s so relaxed it’s positively horizontal, a far (ahem) cry from much of their output a decade earlier. Still, it’s quality stuff, pretty irresistible and gets rather funky towards the end.

You’ll know it from: Possibly the vastly under-seen, certainly underrated film drama Beautiful Girls (1996), starring Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Timothy Hutton and Natalie Portman.

Did you know?: Testament to how slow-paced a track this in the band’s repertoire, Keef fell asleep while performing it on stage in Germany in ’76.

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Mixed Emotions (Album: Steel Wheels, 1989)

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Why I love it: Far from The Stones’ best and far from a great rock tune, this still is a fine ’80s pop/ rock song that, for me, has something truly infectious about its chorus. The sort you’ll find yourself surprisingly humming or singing under your breath hours after you last heard it. It’s also testament to how these veteran rockers could still come up with a decent tune nearly 30 years after they first came together.

You’ll know it from: Most likely on the compilation albums Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones (1993) and Forty Licks (2002).

Did you know?: It was the band’s last single to reach the US charts’ top 10.

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