As I told Lawr when he suggested I make out a top 10, taking a dive into the Rolling Stones catalog is more like wading in the kiddie pool to the rest of you guys. But what the heck, it’s a fun exercise no matter what the degree of difficulty.
I’m going with the Stones because the thing that differentiates them from the Beatles in my mind is that their songs conjure up much more iconic memories for me than Beatles tunes, which always seemed to be here, there and everywhere. At least in my case, you listened to the Beatles. But you experienced the Stones.
Now, on with the countdown …
R.S. 10 Extra: Honky Tonk Women always makes me smile because of the intro where Charlie Watts does the tink-tink-tink. When I was working at a radio station back in the day, we had a fake commercial produced to coincide with Mick’s 44th birthday for “Mick’s Formula 44” cough medicine. (Fake Mick: “When I’m on stage hackin’ me lungs out, I get me a spoonful of Mick’s Formula 44.”) At the end he hits the spoon on the bottle to make his point — tink-tink-tink — and says, “Hey, that gives me an idea” as the song starts in the background. Yeah, we were easily amused back then.
10. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker). I’m not a lyrics guy. It’s always the rhythm, the melody, the harmony and the tune that make me like a song way before any lyrics. With this one, the intro is really catchy and the lyrics jump out at you from “the PO-lice in New York City” and slap you around like a crooked cop. I’m also a sucker for horns in rock n roll, and this one is a great example.
9. Shattered. This one always reminds me of Beach Week in high school. The Stones were quite prolific during those years with Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You all out in a four-year period. Some Girls was the one we kept coming back to. The rapid-fire lyrics here may have been Mick’s nod to rapping (“what a mess/this town’s in tatters/I’ve been shattered/my brain’s been battered/spread it all over Manhattan”). Fun to sing with a group of others who’ve also had a few beers along the way. The cold ending caps everything perfectly.
8. Sympathy for the Devil. This song reminds me of a youth event at church during high school when we had 3WV, Charlottesville’s album rock station, cranked up in the fellowship hall while we were setting up for something. This song came on and those of us familiar with it didn’t really know how to react to the irony of the situation. So we sang the “Woo Woo!” part really loud. And no one really paid any attention, except to shake their heads at those silly kids.
7. Torn and Frayed. Everything on Exile on Main Street is fantastic, so this tune serves as a representative of that album and the Stones’ ability to do country-roots-rock with the best of ’em. It also gets extra points for Phish covering it the first time I saw them live. What an unexpected treat that was.
6. Under My Thumb (live version, from Still Life). I didn’t like the studio version of this one at all, but the live version has so much more oomph. This was a staple of my listening rotation in college. Friday afternoon … crank up some live Stones.
5. Just My Imagination (live). Same deal here with the Temptations cover. Mick substitutes “strictly” in the line “To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.” And as was the case with so many of those parties in college, the song perfectly describes my chances of hooking up with one of those beautiful girls.
4. Monkey Man. I couldn’t tell you what the hell this tune is about, but it’s incredibly haunting and it kicks ass. The slide guitar stuff on Let It Bleed like this one and Midnight Rambler is great. When Mick starts screaming like an actual monkey, you can’t help but picture him strutting around on stage. And maybe needing to be caged.
3. Brown Sugar. The Stones at their rockin’ best. Love the guitar interplay. Throw in the horns and the sax solo. Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo! This could easily have been No. 1.
2. Jumpin’ Jack Flash. You can have Satisfaction; this is my pick for the definitive Stones guitar riff of all time. It’s meatier with the chords and dramatic pauses before the hook kicks in. The bass line also gets plenty of love here too. Unlike some of their biggest hits, I never get tired of hearing this one.
1. Gimme Shelter. I’m not alone in giving this one top billing. It has everything from soulful vocals (with an incredible guest performance), a memorable chorus, head-bopping drums, classic Keith on guitar and lyrics that make a powerful statement, even to a non-lyrics guy.