In the early 1950s, Mick Jagger met Keith Richards at Wentworth Primary School. They weren’t the best of friends then and according to most people, they aren’t the best of friends now. It doesn’t seem to matter. Theirs is one of the longest-lasting and most fruitful partnerships in the history of rock and roll. Together with the rest of the Rolling Stones, they’ve sold over 240 million records, won three Grammys, and produced some of the most enduring and timeless music of the last 100 years. Here are the 10 best Rolling Stones songs of the 60s.
10. Ruby Tuesday
The Rolling Stones don’t do low key that often, but when they do, they nail it. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ was written by Richards after being dumped by his girlfriend for Jimi Hendrix. It tells the story of a maverick woman with a carefree lifestyle and a habit of changing with every new day. Blessed with a lovely lyric, a gorgeous melody, and a stunningly melancholic recorder riff from Brian Jones, it’s a sublime piece of baroque-pop that ranks among the Stones’ finest songs.
9. Under My Thumb
Obviously, the lyrics to ‘Under My Thumb’ haven’t aged well. Listening to Jagger boast about taming a free-spirited woman into one who “talks when she’s spoken to” in 2021 is cringe-inducing. But if you can close your ears to the misogyny, this is a seductive song that speaks volumes about the Stones’ song crafting abilities. Richards’ low-key guitar, Jones’ irresistible marimba, and Jagger’s aggressive bravado come together to create something undeniably dark, but equally, undeniably beguiling.
8. She’s A Rainbow
If ‘Under My Thumb’ is an anthem for bad relationships, ‘She’s A Rainbow’ is a straight-up, sweet slice of psychedelic confection that celebrates the brighter side of love. It’s the simplest, most straightforward love song the Stones’ have ever released, with a childlike naivety that couldn’t have come from any other decade than the 60s. John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin adds to the production with some very lush string arrangements.
7. Honky Tonk Woman
Who doesn’t love a song with a cowbell? Originally intended as a straight-up country track, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ was later transformed into a hard-rocking belter with the addition of a drunken electric guitar, a pounding drumbeat, and, of course, that incessant cowbell. It’s a little bit seedy, a little bit debauched, and, thanks in no small part to the astonishing interplay between Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, magnificently enjoyable.
6. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Named as one of the 10 greatest rock songs of the 1960s by Eclectic Music Lover, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ apparently came about while Jagger was staying with Richards’ at his country house. After being woken one night by the sound of Richards’ aging gardener, Jack Dyer, walking around in his rubber boots, Jagger asked Richards’ who he was, to which he replied “Oh, that’s Jack. That’s Jumping Jack.” Everything else evolved from that one line. Funky, earthy, and with one of the most eviscerating guitar riffs to come out of the 60s, it’s essential listening.
5. Paint It Black
Released in 1966, ‘Paint it Black’ took the Stones to the top of the charts in both the US and UK. Coincidently, this was the time that Jones began to take a back seat in the band and Jagger and Richards took over as the primary songwriters. Jones’ contribution is still evident though, most notably in the lush sitar sound that, together with the relentless drums and guitar, adds an underlying sense of anger and frustration to this subliminally evocative piece of rock.
4. Sympathy For The Devil
The opening track of the 1968 album ‘Beggars Banquet’ is, as udiscovermusic.com notes, ‘quintessential Rolling Stones.’ Full of twists and turns, it has a danger and a power that hooks you in and keeps you hooked for the full 6:18 glorious minutes.
3. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The last song released by the band as the sixties closed also happens to be one of their best. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was written at a time when things had never been better for the band professionally, but never worse for them personally. Richards had succumbed to heroin addiction, Jagger’s girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, had just miscarried, and Jones was a lost cause. Jagger took all that anguish and distilled it into a witty four-and-a-half-minute exploration of disillusionment complete with a sumptuous arrangement, a soaring intro by the London Bach Choir, and a stunning contribution by Al Kooper on French horn. It’s glorious stuff.
2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Named by Rolling Stone as one of the 10 best songs of the sixties, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the track that turned the Stones’ from just another British invasion band into superstars. Despite his three-note guitar riff being quite possibly the best thing about the entire song, Richards was initially against it being released as a single. Fortunately, he got overruled. “He didn’t want it to come out as a single,” Jagger later told Rolling Stone. “It’s a signature tune, really, rather than a great, classic painting, ’cause it’s only like one thing – a kind of signature that everyone knows. It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kind of songs.”
1. Gimme Shelter
The sixties might be remembered as the decade of peace and love, but the gulf between the heady existence of the flower children of San Francisco and the lived reality of just about everyone else was vast. For millions, the sixties was a time of violence, revolution, and riots. War, as Jagger warned on the subliminal ‘Gimme Shelter,’ was only a shot away. This is an apocalyptic song, with a menacing brutality that kills the hippy dream with one curl of Jagger’s lips. Merry Clayton’s backing vocals soaring over Richards’ choppy riffs is one of the most exhilarating, haunting sounds committed to record. The Stones had never sounded better before, and they’ve never sounded better since.