Best Rollings Stones Songs

The Rolling Stones are one of the greatest and most influential bands in rock and roll history. The band’s career is long and varied, featuring forays into multiple genres. Most working musicians have been influenced directly or indirectly by the Stones.

But you’re here for the band. Here are the best Rolling Stones songs ever.

1. “Gimme Shelter”

Song Year: 1969

Rolling Stone magazine named “Gimme Shelter” the 13th greatest song of all time, and with good reason.

“Gimme Shelter” covers heavy topics, inspired largely by the political unrest when Keith Richard and Mick Jagger wrote the song. Jagger specifically cited the Vietnam war and the protests surrounding it as inspiration.

While the lyrics are powerful, Merry Clayton’s scorching vocals elevate the song to greatness.

“Gimme Shelter” features prominently in many movies and television shows, most notably in three classic Martin Scorsese movies.

2. “Paint it Black”

Song Year: 1966

“Paint it Black” finds the Rolling Stones at their dark, moody best. The song was a meteoric artistic leap forward for the Stones, finding the musicians experimenting with genre and instrumentation.

The lyrics describe feeling hopeless after losing a loved one, using color as a metaphor.

The Rolling Stones expanded their instrument stable with “Paint it Black,” adding sitar, castanets, and Hammond organ.

While critical reception to “Paint it Black” was initially tepid, the song is now treated with universal acclaim.

3. “Sympathy for the Devil”

Song Year: 1968

“Sympathy for the Devil” captures the mischievous spirit of the Stones. The song has a wry sense of humor, as Mick Jagger sings in first person as Satan, detailing his exploits across historical tragedies and ruin.

Jagger took inspiration for the lyrics from the poet Baudelaire and Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece, The Master and Margarita.

The song incited controversy, causing critics to accuse the Stones of Satanism. But all press is good press, and “Sympathy for the Devil” ended up on several best-of lists.

Guns N’ Roses notably covered the song in 1994, giving “Sympathy for the Devil” a second life.

4. “Wild Horses”

Song Year: 1971

“Wild Horses” moves us from existential horror into quiet melancholy. The song’s lyrics discuss the angst of being on the road and longing for something permanent and fixed.

“Wild Horses” has a stunning chorus that begs listeners to sing along. The song seems made for barrooms, two drinks before the last call.

“Wild Horses” performed well on the charts upon release and earned the Stones more representation on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time list, coming in at number 334.

The Sundays recorded a notable cover of “Wild Horses” used in several popular media pieces and introduced the song to a new generation.

5. “Under my Thumb”

Song Year: 1966

“Under my Thumb” makes up for its challenging lyrics by being absurdly catchy. Mick Jagger’s lyrics revel in turning the tables on a female partner who had previously dominated him.

The song is tongue-in-cheek, celebrating the ways the singer keeps the woman under his thumb.

While some listeners may take umbrage with “Under my Thumb”‘s gender politics, Jagger himself didn’t take the lyrics particularly seriously, describing it as jokey.

Unfortunately, “Under my Thumb” is bound to the tragedy at Altamont. The Stones were playing the song when Alan Passaro stabbed Meredith Hunter.

6. “She’s a Rainbow”

Song Year: 1967

Ted Lasso dedicated an entire episode to “She’s a Rainbow,” The Rolling Stone’s prettiest song. The song is a lovely and poetic ode to the singer’s beloved.

“She’s a Rainbow” has a psychedelic structure, featuring bright piano and the Mellotron. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones created the song’s string arrangement.

“She’s a Rainbow” performed well for the Rolling Stones, charting in Canada, multiple European nations, and the United States.

7. “Angie”

Song Year: 1973

“Angie” draws listeners in with its story about heartbreak and the end of a relationship. The Mick Jagger penned lyrics address the titular Angie, telling her they tried their best to make their love work, but both partners were unhappy.

Keith Richards has cited multiple inspirations for the song’s title, ranging from Angie Dickinson to Richards’s daughter, Angela.

“Angie” performed well for the Stones, charting globally.

8. “Satisfaction”

Song Year: 1965

Mick Jagger’s failure to achieve satisfaction brought the Rolling Stones one of their biggest hits.

Jagger’s lyrics talk about the frustration of both a commercial and sexual nature. The singer laments the way the modern world keeps trying to sell him products he doesn’t want. He also suggests he’s having some trouble with the ladies. Both sentiments caused an uproar among older audiences.

“Satisfaction” was a massive hit, rocketing the Stones to international stardom. Rolling Stone ranked it 31st on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

9. “Honky Tonk Women”

Song Year: 1969

“Honky Tonk Women” finds the Rolling Stones departing from their traditional sound and taking a turn into outlaw country territory.

The song would sound at home in any country western bar. “Honky Tonk Women” sings the praises of the various women the singer acquaints himself with in bars and pubs.

Musically, “Honky Tonk Women” sounds like a Hank Williams song turned up a notch. The fun song performed well, charting in multiple countries.

10. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Song Year: 1969

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a profound song with a powerful message. The song features a choir adding depth and nuance to the composition.

Mick Jagger’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” lyrics discuss classic themes like love, drugs, and politics. The song has an uncharacteristic optimism, however. The chorus assures listeners that even if they don’t get what you want, they may get what they need with a little effort.

The Stones wrote “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as a reaction to the Beatles’ opus “Hey Jude.”

While the song was only a moderate success upon release, Rolling Stone has since ranked it 100 of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

11. “Waiting on a Friend”

Song Year: 1981

The 1980s found a softer, gentler Rolling Stones. “Waiting on a Friend” doesn’t rage the way many early Stones songs do; it’s a simple ode to the desire for genuine human connection.

Mick Jagger’s lyrics shirk casual sex and alcohol abuse, looking instead for authentic friendship. Saxophone legend, Sonny Rollins, provided “Waiting on a Friend”‘s iconic horn solo.

The song was a moderate success, landing on seven charts.

12. “Ruby Tuesday”

Song Year: 1967

“Ruby Tuesday” is a rare Rolling Stones tune that’s penned entirely by Keith Richards. The song is dreamy and romantic, with an undertone of melancholy.

Richard wrote the song about his girlfriend, Linda Keith. The lyrics talk about the difficulty of tying a free-spirited woman down. “Ruby Tuesday” is a fond ode with a soaring chorus.

“Ruby Tuesday” performed well on the charts, giving the Rolling Stones their fourth American number-one record.

13. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”

Song Year: 1971

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” challenges the conventional lengths of rock and roll songs. The tune comes in at seven minutes and 15 seconds, featuring a lengthy jam session.

The lyrics are ambiguous but ominously discuss drug use.

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” features several guest musicians playing congas, organ, saxophone, and piano. Ultimately, it is one of the best Rolling Stones songs of all time.

14. “Get Off of My Cloud”

Song Year: 1965

“Get Off of My Cloud” found the Rolling Stones reacting to the success of “Satisfaction” and the many false friends the band made as a result.

The lyrics lament the hangers-on who only developed an interest in the band members after they achieved fame. “Get Off of My Cloud” is punkish and a little petulant. The song anchors its melody in an upbeat blues beat that contrasts the frustrating subject matter.

“Get Off of My Cloud” was a massive success, charting at number one in multiple countries.

15. “2,000 Light Years From Home”

"2,000 Light Years From Home"

Song Year: 1967

Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics for “2,000 Light Years From Home” from prison. The song reflects the feelings of isolation and alienation the singer felt during his drug incarceration in Brixton Penitentiary.

The Stones added the song to their live repertoire. “2,000 Light Years From Home” charted in Germany, but its powerful lyrics make it worthy of mention.

16. “I am Waiting”

Song Year: 1966

The Rolling Stones experimented with form on “I am Waiting,” a song that toggles between soft verses and chaotic choruses.

Mick Jagger’s lyrics are vague but ominous. Who precisely he is waiting for is never clarified. However, the verses suggest an air of paranoia and impending doom.

The Stones experimented with instrumentation for the song, including a dulcimer and a harpsichord.

17. “Rocks Off”

Song Year: 1972

The Rolling Stones moved away from more radio-friendly fare with “Rocks Off.” The song’s unusual mix submerges Mick Jagger’s vocals, making the song sonically disorienting.

“Rocks Off” breaks into a psychedelic jam, taking the listener on a unique journey through its 4 minutes and 32-second run-time. The lyrics detail feeling alienated in contemporary society.

“Rocks Off” wasn’t a commercial success for the Stones, but it earned them critical acclaim. Contemporary critics still sing its praises.

18. “Love in Vain”

Song Year: 1969

The Rolling Stones took Robert Johnson’s blues classic, “Love in Vain,” added some chords, and made it their own.

The Stones added a country twist to the blues song without betraying the essence of Johnson’s composition.

Johnson’s lyrics tell the story of a man discovering the hard way that his love was unrequited. She’s moving away, and he is prepared to go with her, only to learn she doesn’t want him to come.

19. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)

Song Year: 1974

“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” is a classic. The hard rocker finds the Stones in their element, sticking their tongues out at the establishment.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood wrote the song together. The band wrote the lyrics in reaction to journalists and critics who claimed each successive album failed to live up to the promise of the previous record.

The label bulked at releasing “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” as a single, but the Stones’ instincts proved correct. The song was a massive hit, charting in multiple countries and inspiring covers by artists as diverse as Weird Al Yankovic and Tina Turner.

20. “Mother’s Little Helper”

Song Year: 1966

“Mother’s Little Helper” is a song designed to stimulate conversation. The lyrics discuss the complicated themes of middle-class drug use and existential despair, unusual for a pop song.

Mick Jagger sings “Mother’s Little Helper” from the perspective of a housewife relying on valium and other narcotic aids to get through her days. The heroine becomes so dependent on the drugs she risks overdosing.

“Mother’s Little Helper” is a folk song with Eastern influences written in a minor key. The song performed well upon release, landing on many charts.

21. “Start Me Up”

Song Year: 1981

“Start Me Up” haunted the Rolling Stones for years before entering its final form. The Stones originally conceived the song as a reggae tune but eventually transitioned it to a rock song.

The song achieved its unique sound through “bathroom reverb,” a technique that is exactly what it sounds like. The Stones recorded parts of the song in the studio’s restroom.

The lyrics are relatively standard, discussing the many ways the singer’s partner lights his fire.

“Start Me Up” performed well for the Stones, landing on the charts of 13 countries.

22. “Miss You”

Song Year: 1978

“Miss You” is a disco departure from the Rolling Stones’ usual sound. The sultry song slinks along with assistance from a Wurlitzer electric piano and a tenor saxophone.

Mick Jagger laments an absent love and talks about how hard it is to wait to hear from her. His friends try to set him up with other women, but no one compares to his missing lover.

“Miss You”‘s danceable groove made it an instant hit. In fact, the song was the Rolling Stones’ final American number-one tune. The song charted across multiple lists and in many countries.

23. “19th Nervous Breakdown”

Song Year: 1966

The Rolling Stones wrote “19th Nervous Breakdown” while battling with success fatigue. The band had just completed their fourth North American tour and felt worn out.

The title reflected Mick Jagger’s mindset, but the lyrics focus on a poisoned love affair between the singer and a spoiled socialite.

The female partner was over-indulged but under-loved, and the problematic upbringing turned her nervous and challenging. The narrator isn’t sympathetic to her plight; instead, he taunts her about her impending breakdown.

24. “Out of Time”

Song Year: 1966

“Out of Time” has lived more lives than most songs. The Rolling Stones released three versions and featured it on four albums.

The song’s lyrics address a former lover who left the narrator. Things haven’t worked out well for her without Mick Jagger, and she returns to him, hoping to rekindle the flame. The narrator explains that she’s missed her chance and is “out of time.”

The song appeared on ten countries’ charts, reaching number one in the United Kingdom.

25. “Beast of Burden”

Song Year: 1978

Keith Richards claims most of the credit for “Beast of Burden.” The lead guitarist wrote most of the lyrics and music for the song, and Mick Jagger rounded out the empty spaces.

Richards claims he wrote it to express his gratitude to Jagger for shouldering much of the band’s weight while Richards struggled with addiction.

“Beast of Burden” is a relaxed, mellow song. The song is more upbeat than many Stones offerings, with vaguely hopeful lyrics.

“Beast of Burden” charted in eight countries and inspired a cover by Bette Midler.

26. “Street Fighting Man”

Song Year: 1968

“Street Fighting Man” is a powerful and playful call to arms. The upbeat Rolling Stones song ruminates on protests, observing and admiring from a distance.

Keith Richards claims the lyrics are ambiguous, while Mick Jagger is more definite about the intentions. France and the United States were experiencing a great deal of unrest, manifested as riots. The singer says his contribution to the revolution is the song; whether that’s sincere or tongue-in-cheek is open to interpretation.

Some Chicago radio stations banned the track, fearing it would inspire unrest at the Democratic National Convention. Despite the controversy, the song performed well, charting in many countries.

27. “Let’s Spend the Night Together”

Song Year: 1967

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” benefited from police interference. Two cops saw the studio door propped open as the engineers attempted to create a fitting percussive sound. The police suggested using their truncheons, and musical history was made.

Mick Jagger sings about his enthusiasm for his lady love and their evening together. The song is upbeat and enthusiastic, full of the excitement of young love.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” charted in nine countries and was covered by David Bowie.

Top Rolling Stones Songs, Final Thoughts

The Rolling Stones have recorded 422 songs, many of them hugely influential. The band helped develop the face of modern rock and roll by fusing genres and fearlessly experimenting with sounds.

These are the best Rolling Stones songs. The tunes range from love songs to protest songs, using a wide range of structures to create a unique soundscape.

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