After 15 years of diminishing returns, A Bigger Bang proved the Stones could still excel in the studio. Much of its magic derived from Mick and Keith’s closest writing relationship in yonks, Mick even briefly moonlighting on drums while Charlie underwent chemo for throat cancer. Laugh, I Nearly Died packs a Jagger vocal of mesmerising intensity, Keith’s country gem This Place Is Empty further distils what he learned from Gram Parsons, and Rain Come Down is their funkiest cut since Some Girls’ Miss You. “We’ve got a fresh arsenal; loads of new ammo,” boasted The Human Riff on the album’s release.
9. Goats Head Soup
Rolling Stones Records | 1973
If the tales of excess during Exile On Main St.’s recording are to be believed, then the comedown was always going to be a bitch. Not only was Keith Richards banished from nine countries because of his, erm, lifestyle (this follow-up album was recorded in Jamaica as one of the few “interesting” places that would still have him), but <em>Goats Head Soup</em> is scored through with a knowing melancholy. Jagger is on his best heart-shredded form, while Richards and Taylor’s guitars actually seem to weep as Winter and, of course, Angie attest. Then again this is The Rolling Stones… <em>in Jamaica</em> and the likes of Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) and Star Star ensure the broth simmers with a hazy swagger. Well, what doesn’t kill ya…
8. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
ABKCO | 1970
hey can still lay claim to being the world’s greatest live band, so imagine the Stones in November 1969, Honky Tonk Women still glowing from the forge. Wonderfully, Ya-Ya’s, makes imagining unnecessary, capturing a lean, hungry, self-assured outfit over two stunning nights at Madison Square Garden. The Altamont tragedy was just days away, but these gigs were triumphant, Mick Taylor ably replacing the late Brian Jones, and helping his new bandmates ignite versions of Midnight Rambler and Street Fighting Man. One of the best live records of all time.
7. Some Girls
Virgin | 1978
With the Mick-penned Miss You melding blues and disco, Ronnie settling-in for the long haul, and Keith facing (but ultimately escaping) jail time for heroin possession, it was all happening on Some Girls, a compellingly brash record that regained much of the ground lost by its part session guitarist-staffed predecessor, <em>Black And Blue</em>. Fraught inter-band relationships and the bête noire of punk only seemed to propel <em>Girls</em>’ hugely productive sessions, the Stones squirreling away Start Me Up (reworked for 1981’s Tattoo You) before filing a fine, New York City-inspired set that topped the US charts and reached Number 2 in the UK.
6. The Rolling Stones
ABKCO | 1964
They didn’t want to hold your hand – they meant to have you roughly, while rubbing your nose in the primal blues. Enter The Rolling Stones, a bratty, breathless nod to Willie Dixon and the rest that initially clocked in at well under 30 minutes, so eager were its creators to perform. On the last day of recording, a visiting Gene Pitney and Phil Spector produced cognac, then coaxed Michael ‘Blind Boy’ Jagger to help them reinvent Jimmy Reed’s Shame, Shame, Shame as Little By Little. Wham, bam, job done, with spontaneity and youthful gall coming up trumps.
ABKCO | 1966
The Stones? Bad-to-the-bone. It’s an overly simplistic characterisation, but listening to <em>Aftermath</em>, you can see why it gained further currency. For all its crafted pop suss, the Stones’ fourth album was a spiteful, venomous outing. Under My Thumb raised misogyny charges that pre-empted Jagger’s split from girlfriend Jean Shrimpton, while the bottleneck and harmonica-infused Doncha Bother Me told hangers-on to ‘do one’. But with its exotic splashes of marimba, sitar and dulcimer (all played by an increasingly estranged Brian Jones), the first album wholly comprised of Jagger & Richards originals was a classic.
4. Beggars Banquet
ABKCO | 1968
Without Banquet – a studio fire almost saw it go the way of King Alfred’s cakes – there would arguably be no Exile, no Let It Bleed, and no Sticky Fingers. It was the first of these albums to pair the Stones with former Traffic producer Jimmy Miller, and the US transplant’s downhome sound quickly became a trusted reference point. With Brian Jones much addled by drugs and booze, Keith handled most of Banquet’s guitars, the lion’s share of which are acoustic. The preternatural-sounding Sympathy For The Devil, part inspired by Mikhail’s Bulgakov’s satirical masterpiece The Master And Margarita, is the album’s stand-out.
3. Exile On Main St.
Rolling Stones Records
The setting, the fuck-you attitude – there was such an aura about Exile,” mused Joe Perry of Aerosmith. With dirt under its fingernails and a V-sign at the singles chart, this album upped the Stones’ credibility and mystique. Nailed, for tax reasons, during a six-month shindig at Richards’ rickety south of France villa, <em>Exile</em> is a loose-but-brilliant study in American roots music. Feel-laden grooves are the key to its class, Keith and Charlie near telepathic on Tumbling Dice and Rocks Off. Amazingly, Richards briefly considered trashing the album until extensive mixing sessions turned up gold.
2. Let It Bleed
ABKCO | 1969
With its spidery guitar riff, Gimme Shelter seduces like no other album opener, its ominous arrangement riding a zeitgeist scarred by the assassinations of King and Kennedy. Like the choir-bolstered You Can’t Always Get What You Want, it’s something of a cuckoo in the nest – much of Bleed is big on earthy country blues. But inadvertently or not, this stunning, visionary record carved a tombstone for ’60s idealism. With the mysterious death of Brian Jones still in the air, Let It Bleed hit stores on December 6, 1969, the same day that Meredith Hunter was murdered by Hell’s Angels at a Stones concert at Altamont Speedway.
1. Sticky Fingers
Virgin | 1971
When they started grooving around one in the morning it was unbelievable – I haven’t experienced anything like it since.” So said engineer Jimmy Johnson of sessions for Sticky Fingers, the most elegantly wasted Stones album of them all. Part recorded, with delicious grit and warmth, at Muscle Shoals in northern Alabama, its weed, bourbon and sex-infused tracks team strutting filth (Brown Sugar) with expansive, epic-sounding Americana (Moonlight Mile), while Keith’s forays with open guitar tunings learnt from Ry Cooder and Fred McDowell continue to pay dividends throughout. All this and the achingly tender Wild Horses, perhaps the most beautiful song the Stones ever recorded.