Paul Westerberg may have a lyric that says he never goes far without a little Big Star, but I don't go anywhere without having the Rolling Stones nearby. More than any artist - and yes, that includes Bruce, Aretha and Al - I've lived the full range of my life to the Stones - I've listened and conjured with them; fallen in love to them; discussed, advocated and argued for and about them; danced, fucked and partied my ass off to them; and, most importantly, formed many, if not most of the seminal relationships in my life through them. Bruce and Aretha may reach into a deeper, more solitary and spiritual dimension of my soul, but the Stones hit pretty deep, and Bruce and Aretha haven't been there when I've been hanging out with a beautiful woman at 3am. For that kind of peak life experience, there is nothing like the music of the Rolling Stones.
The timing of this list is fortuitous, given the media blitz surrounding the re-release of the Greatest Album Of All Time, Exile On Main Street, but it's not deliberate. I've been working on this list for a while, and there are some guest contributions coming in the next segments.
I have little patience for those who hold opinions that are dismissive of the Rolling Stones. Actually, I have plenty of patience - it's just that I'm not very interested in them. If you don't like the Stones, I'm probably not going to be very interested in anything else you do like. As Robert Christgau has written,
Only rock and roll? The Stones are the proof of the form. When the guitars and the drums and the voice come together in those elementary patters that no one else has ever quite managed to simulate, the most undeniable excitement is a virtually automatic result. To insist that this excitement doesn't reach you is not to articulate an aesthetic judgment but to assert a rather uninteresting crotchet of taste. It is to boast that you don't like rock and roll itself.
60. “Emotional Rescue” (1980, from Emotional Rescue)
“I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true,” sings Mick in a falsetto borrowed from Al Green and a handful of other soul singers. And while it’s hard to imagine that bastard Mick coming to anyone’s rescue, emotional or otherwise, the bridge is so beautiful that you’re desperate to believe every word out of his mouth. Of course, he has to let you know that he’s totally full of shit at the end of it, with that absurdly sung “I’ll be your knight in shining armor” line. Bitch, please. You probably sang that buttoning up your pants as you were walking out the door.
59. “She Said Yeah” (1965, from December's Children (And Everybody's))
Yeah, the Clash may have sang “no more Elvis, Beatles, or Rolling Stones,” but they loved the Stones, especially Keith. And with this buzz saw piece of proto-punk from ’66, you can hear how important the Stones, in both sound and attitude, were to the formation of punk rock. And given that the version they covered was by American R&B artist Larry Williams, you can see the link between R&B and punk, a link that unfortunately, not enough people see or recognize.
58. “Beast Of Burden” (1978, from Some Girls)
What makes “Beast Of Burden” so great is how wonderfully every single member of the band plays on it. There’s another member of the “Keith Richards Opening Riff Hall Of Fame”; Charlie’s laid back swing, with subtle patterns on the hi-hat that reveal his love of jazz, specifically Count Basie drummer Jo Jones; the deceptively simple throb of Bill Wyman’s bass; the guitar weave of Keith and Ronnie Wood and finally, Jagger’s vocals, in which he unveils his full arsenal – from aggressive growl to the sensually effeminate falsetto. And the lyrics are unusually tender - and believable.
57. “Heart Of Stone” (single release 1964, from Big Hits (High Tide & Green Grass) released 1966)
From Smokey Robinson, Leiber and Stoller and other great R&B songwriters, Jagger learned early on of the value of putting subtle twists in his lyrics, which, for an ironist like him, was less a clever writing device than an expressive necessity. The song seems like another early piece of “Jagger-as-Cad,” but when he finds that girl who doesn’t fall for his bullshit, he of course is smitten. An early piece of Rolling Stones irony. There would be much more.
56. “Cocksucker Blues” (Unreleased, 1972)
Weary of battles galore at the turn of the 70’s – with the British government, who wanted 90% of their money, with manager Allen Klein (who won the rights to their pre-1971 recordings) and with policemen everywhere – Jagger sings it like he’s being bent over and taking it; getting fucked for sure, but making sure his antagonists get no satisfaction.
55. “Memo From Turner” (1970, credited to Mich Jagger solo, written by Jagger-Richards)
The sound of mixing drugs – hallucinogenics, heroin, and lots and lots of cocaine – with amoral sexuality (or is it the other way around?), thereby making emotionaly and psychological breakdowns inevitable. Recorded for Jagger’s role in the film Performance, it’s said that Mick and co-star Anita Pallenberg (Keith’s girlfriend) fucked on set while Keith stewed in his Rolls outside, which led to communication breakdowns that probably still haven‘t resolved between the twins of Glimmer. Putting in on forty years later, you can still smell the coke.
Saw the video for this when I was 13 and thought it was absurd – Jagger in a white suit, wearing a pencil mustache - and I was right. But the song has had a longer shelf life then could have been imagined back then. The groove remains monstrous and the riffs sound like they were scraped from a crucible – boiled to the essence, rock hard and true. And the song itself has enough fear and loathing to make it one of their best – a little sexy and a little scary.
53. “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (1967, from Between The Buttons)
Let’s get this straight: The Stones were at their best taking from R&B and making it something of their own. They weren’t as great ripping off white rock artists (white country artists being another matter entirely). So this little Beach Boys-esque ditty is from a period where the Stones didn’t really rock all that hard, but Jagger makes it triumph with a searing vocal coming out of the bridge into the final verse that presages the many triumphs of 1968-1972 to come.
52. “Time Waits For No One” (1974, from It's Only Rock And Roll)
It’s Only Rock And Roll is far from a great album, but “Time Waits For No One” serves as a gorgeous last gasp for the Mick Taylor version of the Stones, the version that created much of the band’s greatest work. Jagger’s vocal is unusually uncertain; he must have known how much time he was wasting in the midst of a lousy marriage, a partner temporarily lost to heroin and a band going through the motions. But it’s Taylor who shines brightest; his solo winds and ascends, as if the Yellow Brick Road went high into the air instead of further down the road. Knowing how it all turned out, for both Taylor and the Stones, you can’t help but be a little sad.
51. “Luxury” (1974, from It's Only Rock And Roll)
One of my favorite lines from a record review is Robert Christgau’s review of The Harder They Come: “The Rolling Stones would have killed to make this album.” Indeed. And here, the Stones make their best reggae ever, filled with humor and a little wistfulness.