In the 1960s, the Stones were often the anti-Beatles, with even more raggedy hair, a slouchy, don't-give-a-crap demeanor and snarl in the music, notably in Jagger's singing (and on his face).
Behind the scenes, they were hard workers, balancing hit-making pop sounds with their love of American blues and R&B records. We know how that worked out for them: They're still putting out hit records in 2010. The just re-released 1972 tour de force "Exile on Main St." hit #1 on Britain's album charts.
No. 2: "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
This song is the perfect example of the Stones' mix of their blues influences - the swagger in the rhythm section - and their growing pop sensibility, with the endlessly ripped-off Richards-written lead guitar riff driving the tune. Jagger's angry, half-shouted, half-sang lyric is his reaction to his first experiences with America's consumer culture. It's a hummable piece of disillusionment and a perfect example of the Stones' attitude in 1965: Smart, cocky and a little subversive.
Richards has told the story many times of how he wrote one of the most famous riffs in rock: He was asleep, dreamed the riff, woke up, grabbed a guitar and a pick and hit play on a tape recorder he had next to the bed. He played the riff once but didn't hit the stop button, so the tape runs out with him snoring.
No. 32: "Sympathy for the Devil"
This heavy rock song started as a gentle folk number based on a novel that Mick Jagger was reading around the time of its recording. Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard made a documentary film about the Stones that captured them recording this song as it went from an acoustic number to the classic it became. Then-bassist Bill Wyman always gets credit for the way he played the maracas.
No. 38: "Gimme Shelter"
The violent end of the 1960s fueled this horrific tale of apocalypse inspired by Vietnam that gets into your head and stays there.
The Stones were having a rough time themselves in 1969: Founding Stone Brian Jones had been fired for drug use and Keith Richards' abuses were escalating. (Jones died after the recording of this song was begun but before it was completed.)
Singer Merry Clayton sang the line, "Rape, murder, it's just a shot away." Charlie Watts' drums, buried in the mix by producer (and fellow drummer) Jimmy Miller, are felt more than heard, along with the percussion.
No. 101: "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
The epic closer from "Let It Bleed," which also featured "Gimme Shelter," opens with a boys' choir and French horn solo before settling into a festive groove played by producer Jimmy Miller because Charlie Watts reportedly couldn't get the feel the band wanted. Miller is also "Mr. Jimmy" in Mick Jagger's bittersweet lyric.
No. 116: "Honkey Tonk Women"
The first thing one thinks of when hearing the title of this song is the opening clinking cowbell, which has become possibly more iconic than the song itself. This tune features Brian Jones' replacement Mick Taylor on guitar.
Arguably the best line in the song: "She blew my nose and then she blew my mind," a not-so-subtle reference to drugs and sex that was typical of the Rolling Stones. A countrified version of this song, "Country Honk," is featured on "Let it Bleed" with altered lyrics and a great fiddle part.
No. 125: - "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
How many songs can inspire a bad Whoopi Goldberg movie? Hopefully just this one. Richards was getting into open tunings when he wrote this riff (and these days, he's pretty much only an open-tunings guy) and the Stones tore up the studio version. Rolling Stone magazine says the band debuted this song live during Brian Jones' final performance with the Stones.
No. 176: "Paint It, Black"
Not long after the Beatles first put sitar on a pop record, the Stones offered up this song with Brian Jones picking the melody on the Indian instrument. Charlie Watts has a great one-bar solo in the middle of the song when he smacks his hi-hat three times before the band comes back in with him.
No. 301: "Street Fighting Man"
The story goes that Jagger wrote the lyrics to "Street Fighting Man" about British Pakistani Tariq Ali. Rolling Stone magazine says he wrote it about a march on the London embassy. Whatever the case, his lyrics are more political than anything he wrote again until "Undercover of the Night" in 1983. The drums are cavernous on this song and the guitars churn.
No. 310" "Ruby Tuesday"
One of the few Stones ballads that holds up well year after year, "Ruby Tuesday" features Brian Jones on a recorder and a pleading Mick Jagger vocal. The song came together quickly during sessions for "Between the Buttons."
No. 343: "Wild Horses"
If you heard "Wild Horses" on the radio today for the first time ever, the only way you'd know it's from the early '70s is because it has that country twang the Stones gave to many songs during that period. It's a song, quite simply, about not wanting to leave your surroundings. Another pleading Jagger vocal.
No. 433: "Tumbling Dice"
The lyrics to this song are so garbled that they're hard to make out. There's something about gamblers, deuces being wild and, of course, women. This classic from the 1972 gem "Exile on Main St." has great harmony vocals. Charlie Watts' rolling drums struggle to propel the beat forward in this otherwise sluggish and boozy number.
No. 443: "Beast of Burden
The Stones had just about been written off when they released the "Some Girls" album in 1978. After the not-so-good trio of "Goat's Head Soup," "It's Only Rock and Roll" and "Black and Blue," the Stones rebounded well. "Some Girls" had rock, disco and this slower number, not really a rocker but not a ballad, either. The intertwining guitars are intoxicating.
No. 495: "Brown Sugar"
This seems like a harmless, sweat-drenched rocker with a timeless guitar riff, and it is. Then you listen closely to the lyrics and realize it's about slavery and interracial sex. Only the Rolling Stones could make such incendiary topics huge hits. It went to #1 in 1971.
No. 498: "Miss You"
The Stones' first and best stab at disco is this #1 single from "Some Girls." They hesitated to call it disco but drummer Charlie Watts plays a four-on-the-floor pattern (straight quarter notes on his bass drum), making it disco whether they liked it or not. This song was so successful as a dance number that it was remixed it into an 8-minute version for clubs.