The Rolling Stones is one of the biggest rock-and-roll bands of all time. They’ve been around since 1962, and for six decades, they composed some of the most popular songs today.
While their lineup changes now and then, it does not change the fact that the band itself is one of the highest-paid artists in history. They’ve also won countless awards, including three Grammys, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
If you’re getting ready for your next Rolling Stones marathon, here are some of their best songs that you should listen to.
Best Rolling Stones Songs
1. “Mother’s Little Helper”
If this song was released today, The Rolling Stones might end up under fire from countless people from the internet. But then again, they’re also known for their cynicism and unconventional takes on a lot of issues, so maybe they could get away with it.
“Mother’s Little Helper” is about a suburban housewife who tries to get through the challenges of everyday life by abusing her prescription drugs. Yes, the “little helper” is drugs.
It’s also one of the band’s few songs where Keith Richards played a 12-string guitar. Additionally, it’s also one of the first pop songs to use a sitar, with The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” being the first.
2. “Gimme Shelter”
This is one of the most popular songs from The Rolling Stones. It was written at a time when Charles Manson, racism, riots, and the Vietnam war were all over the news. It was the Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards, who wrote the majority of the song.
“Gimme Shelter” talks about trying to find shelter from the storm, with the storm being the global turmoil a lot of the people are suffering from. Despite being a very popular song, it didn’t reach the music charts. However, that’s only because The Rolling Stones didn’t release “Gimme Shelter” as a single.
The eerie sounds you hear from the beginning and throughout the song are caused by using multiple layers of overdubbing and worn-out amplifiers.
3. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Did you know that the first-ever draft of this song includes Keith Richards snoring? It was after one of the band’s performances in their US tour in 1965. There was a commotion between a couple of hundred fans and the police officers, which led to The Rolling Stones performing only four songs.
As you can imagine, everyone was so stressed and tired in the aftermath, and they all went back to sleep in their hotel. Richards woke up in the middle of the night with the riff and the main lyric of the song; can’t get no satisfaction. He immediately recorded it and went back to sleep, which ended up recording his snores as well.
Believe it or not, Richards thought the song wouldn’t be a hit because it was too basic. Well, it ended up being one of the most popular songs from the band, reaching the #1 spot in US music charts.
4. “Get Off My Cloud”
The Rolling Stones’ next song that reached the #1 spot in music charts is “Get Off My Cloud.” Ironically, you could say that the band wrote the song out of spite, in some sense. It was right after their song “Satisfaction” became a huge hit.
Almost immediately, people are asking them for another single, despite the fact that they wanted to sit around for a bit and think about gigs and events. So, this song was literally their response to everyone pressuring them for another single; get off my cloud.
It was written by Mick Jagger, with the melody composed by Keith Richards. It’s their message to everyone to stop bothering them for stuff and let them enjoy their victory over “Satisfaction.” Well, if you’re a rock-‘n’-roll band like The Rolling Stones, you could say anything you want without a worry in the world.
5. “Love in Vain”
The Rolling Stones went a bit mellower with their song “Love in Vain.” It starts with acoustic guitars, making you think that it’s a ballad, but as soon as Mick Jagger sings followed by Keith Richards’s guitar riffs, you’d know it’s still from the classic rock-‘n’-roll band.
It’s originally a song from Robert Johnson, a classic blues musician, and one of Richards’s inspirations. Jagger and Richards both loved the song and they wanted to record it as some sort of tribute to Johnson. However, they also didn’t want to copy the entire style of the musician, which is why they decided to make it sound like a rock country song.
6. “Ruby Tuesday”
This song is about a groupie, which is very prevalent in the 60s up until the 80s, especially in rock-‘n’-roll bands. While the lyrics of “Ruby Tuesday” is about a groupie, it was inspired by a breakup.
Keith Richards wrote it after a heartbreak with his girlfriend, Linda Keith. He said that it’s one of those songs where you’re experiencing immense emotions and all you have left is a guitar, a piano, and, well, a pair of panties. He even went on to say that songwriters are like that; you break their heart and suddenly there’s a great song that comes out of the experience.
Richards wrote it with Brian Jones, one of the original members of the band, and was initially called “Title B.” It’s one of Stones’ songs that showcased Jones’s musicality, with him playing the recorder. However, Jones struggled with drug addiction, and he also wanted to be the leader of the band.
He was then removed from the band in June 1969. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 27 after an accidental drowning, a month after exiting the Stones.
7. “Beast of Burden”
The idiom beast of burden refers to an animal used by man for benefit. You might think that The Rolling Stones has a tendency to make controversial statements or songs about women, but their song “Beast of Burden” says otherwise.
It’s a song that encourages people to treat women as equals. Yep, as early as 1978, The Rolling Stones was already singing about women empowerment. They spontaneously came up with it while in the studio. Everyone was jamming and suddenly, they were able to get a groove going.
While doing so, Keith Richards was writing some of the lyrics, but Jagger also contributed some lines so that they’d fit in the rhythm. Because of this, some of the lyrics are not as meaningful and can be rather repetitive.
On the other hand, it’s also allegorical, talking about how Jagger carried the band while Richards was struggling with drug addiction.
8. “We Love You”
In 1967, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones were arrested on drug charges. That’s why the first few seconds of the song suggest an ambiance of jail. After the controversy, the trio wrote “We Love You” to thank the fans of the band for their support throughout the entire ordeal.
It’s also their way of saying thank you to bands like The Who, The Beatles, and the newspaper London Times for speaking up in favor of The Rolling Stones. You can also hear Paul McCartney and John Lennon singing the backup vocals to the song. Jagger further repaid them by singing on The Beatles’ song “Baby You’re a Rich Man.”
9. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”
In this song, you can hear how The Rolling Stones experiments with their sound by using a multitude of different styles. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” is actually seven minutes and 14 seconds long, but Mick Jagger is done just under the three-minute mark.
The rest of the song features various artists like Billy Preston playing the organ, Bobby Keys on the saxophone, and Rocky Dijon playing the percussions. It’s best to just focus on the instruments when listening to the song. The lyrics are a bit confusing, and Jagger even said he doesn’t know exactly what he was writing about.
10. “No Expectations”
This song is sort of like a premonition of what was about to happen to the band. “No Expectations” is the last song where Brian Jones made a significant contribution to The Rolling Stones. It was before he succumbed to drug addiction and eventually met his fate.
The group was playing around with their instruments while seated on the floor with their microphones recording. They kept jamming until they were able to write a song, which led to the development of “No Expectations.”
When Jones died, the lyrics “Our love is like our music, it’s here and it’s gone,” took on a whole new meaning.
11. “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”
As with a lot of The Rolling Stones’ songs, “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” enlisted the help of many artists. It came about when Mick Jagger was having a music session with Willie Weeks, David Bowie, Kenney Jones, and Ron Wood, Faces’ guitarist who would eventually become part of the Stones.
A few weeks after this session, Keith Richards got hold of the recording. He then began plotting his guitar riffs onto the song, but he also made sure to leave Wood’s 12-string guitar work. The song eventually reached a whole new level of stardom, with The Cranberries, Spice Girls, Natalie Imbruglia, Emmylou Harris, and Eurythmics covering it and releasing their own versions.
12. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
As the title suggests, this song is about trying to find happiness but facing difficulties doing so. Additionally, it also talks about how people seem to always want more despite having a lot.
There are two theories as to how this song came to be. The first one is that it was written by Mick Jagger about The Rolling Stones’ former producer, Jimmy Miller. That’s because, in the third verse of the song, there’s a line that goes “I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy, and man, did he look pretty ill.”
The next theory is more interesting. It’s about a local character in Excelsior, Minnesota, where The Stones played their first tour in the US back in 1964. This local character is called Mr. Jimmy. He’s suffering from some sort of mental disability and often talks to himself.
One day, Jagger was trying to purchase a Cherry Coke in a local drug store with Mr. Jimmy behind him in line. Upon finding out that the store didn’t have Cherry Coke, Mr. Jimmy uttered, “Well, you can’t always get what you want.”
13. “Sympathy for the Devil”
Early in their careers, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were being perceived as somewhat similar, having been formed in 1960 and 1962 respectively. However, as soon as the Stones released their song “Sympathy for the Devil,” it became clear that they’re not the clean-cut boy band everyone thought they were.
This song was inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s book called The Master and Margarita. Mick Jagger owned a copy of it after his then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, gifted it to him. A lot of people assumed that this song is the Stones’ subtle message that they engage in the occult and that they celebrate Satanism.
However, Jagger explained that “Sympathy for the Devil” is actually about the darkness that resides within every man.
14. “Play with Fire”
This song was initially called “A Mess of Fire.” It’s basically about Mick Jagger coming face-to-face with a rich woman, and the former telling her that he’s not intimidated by her wealth.
It was composed after one long session with the band. After the rest went to sleep, Jagger and Richards stayed and they went on to record the song. Phil Spector was the one to play the bass, and Jack Nitzsche filled in for the harpsichord.
Jagger and Richards felt that there was still something missing, and they wanted to add another voice, but there was nobody else awake at the time. So, a janitor from the studio filled in a sang the backup vocals.
15. “Waiting on a Friend”
Billie Joe Armstrong, the frontman of the punk-rock band Green Day, said that “Waiting on a Friend” is the best song to ever come out from The Rolling Stones. he even said that he wants it to play at his funeral.
This song is literally just about waiting for a friend, as the music video suggests. Mick Jagger stands in a doorway waiting. Keith Richards then comes along and the two of them head to the bar where they meet the rest of the band.
16. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo”
Otherwise known as “Heartbreaker,” this song is about how life is in urban America. While it’s not based on a true story, it still tells the tales of what Americans encounter every day.
“Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo” is divided into two stories. The first one is about a young man who died after getting shot by the police, but he was actually just mistaken for someone else. The next one is about a ten-year-old girl who dies after overdosing on illegal substances.
17. “Start Me Up”
“Start Me Up” is actually one of The Rolling Stones’ first attempts at coming up with a reggae song. However, after recording it 70 times in 1977, they didn’t like the results, so they shelved it. In 1981, however, they needed another song for their album Tattoo You, causing them to revisit the recording.
While sorting through the numerous takes, they found that Charlie Watts and Keith Richards actually tried to play it in rock and roll once, something even the two of them had forgotten about. Upon hearing the rocker version, they saw the potential and recorded it as a rock song.
18. “Miss You”
There are two versions of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” One is three minutes and 33 seconds long, while the other lasts for eight minutes and 36 seconds. It was inspired by the disco scene in the US back then. Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger frequented these places, leading them to write this song.
In fact, the eight-minute edition of the song has the follow-up title (Special Disco Version), with the drums, horns, and bassline giving it a more disco-feel. However, the band thought it was more R&B than it is disco. It was recorded on the same day that they came up with “Start Me Up.”
19. “Paint It, Black”
The Rolling Stones was once again under the scrutiny of the public eye after they released this song. A lot of people thought that it’s about race, and the Stones were ordering a person of color to paint because of the comma in the title, “Paint It, Black.” However, this was actually just because of a clerical error, which is rather frequent back in the 60s.
“Paint It, Black” is about the death of a lover, albeit it’s not based on a true story. The persona in the song is depressed and all the things he can see are colored in black. Furthermore, he also wanted everything to turn to black. The twangy sound you hear all throughout the song is from a musical instrument called a sitar.
The Stones were in Fiji the time it was written, and everywhere, you could see stores making all sorts of equipment with Indian influences. When they got hold of the sitar, they brought it back to the studio and tried fitting it into the song which worked perfectly.
20. “Midnight Rambler”
Never one to shy away from controversy and gloomy artistry, Mick Jagger writes “Midnight Rambler” while imagining himself as a serial killer, preying on his next victim. The song was released in 1969 and was likely inspired by the Boston Strangler, a real-life serial killer from 1962 to 1964.
This is because of one line in the song that goes, “Well, you heard about the Boston..” He was then cut off by an instrumental stab before he could finish the sentence. When they would play this song in their concerts, it becomes more than just a song. It’s a performance.
The entire band would create a morbid atmosphere on stage and they would use a special light rig for enhanced theatrics, which would then shine a bright red light on Jagger in climactic parts of the song.
21. “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
The title of this song pretty much sums up what it’s about. “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is about making love with a lady. That’s why we can see lines like “satisfying her every need.” The song got a bit controversial, considering how conservative some radio stations were back in the day. Some stations did not play the song on-air, while others had to censor the word “night.”
Because of this, The Rolling Stones would sometimes play this song to various TV shows while changing the lyrics to “let’s spend some time together,” causing Jagger to roll his eyes in dismay while singing the line.
Instead of relying heavily on Keith Richards’s guitar skills, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” showcases Jack Nitzsche’s keyboard skills. He wasn’t part of the band, but he regularly contributed to their songs like “Paint It, Black” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
22. “She’s a Rainbow”
The Rolling Stones doesn’t always sing about women in a sensual and dark light. In their song “She’s a Rainbow,” they showed that they can also write and sing love songs for the ladies. While it’s not the typical Stones sound with heavy rhythm and rock-‘n’-roll vibes, this song became a fan favorite.
The string section in the song was arranged by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, a couple of years before he officially became part of the band. The song was used in numerous commercials including Apple’s iMac computers in 1999, Acura’s RDX SUV in 2018, Dior’s Joy with Jennifer Lawrence in the same year, and Adobe’s Photoshop in 2020.
23. “The Last Time”
The last song on our list is “The Last Time.” This was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and was one of the earliest songs from the band. It was inspired by a gospel song from The Staple Singers back in 1955 called “This May Be The Last Time.”
While the gospel song is uplifting and spiritual, the Stones modified the meaning and turned it into some sort of an unfriendly message to a girl. “The Last Time” served as Richards’s and Jagger’s gateway into songwriting, having only performed cover songs before.
Next: Top 25 Songs About Time
The Rolling Stones is arguably the most enduring rock band in the industry. They are about to celebrate their 60th anniversary by going on a European tour this summer of 2022.
If you have any plans of going, make sure that you can sing along to some of their best songs. You can begin that by listening to the various songs on this list.