Supercharging their beloved blues music with rock’n’roll swagger and a complete disregard for the rules – of both music and the authorities – The Rolling Stones laid the template for all rock’n’roll outlaws to follow. The best Rolling Stones 60s songs trace their evolution from bratty upstarts to voices of their generation, throwing down the gauntlet to anyone else who dares challenge their claim to the throne. Think we’ve missed one of yours? Let us know in the comments section, below.
Best Rolling Stones 60s Songs: Tracks That Set The Rock Template
20: Parachute Woman (1968)
Though The Rolling Stones started off performing songs written by other people, they soon began crafting their own material. By the end of the 60s, Jagger and Richards had established themselves as significant songwriters. An example of their ability to write raw blues was “Parachute Woman,” which appeared on Beggars Banquet. They performed the song live for the first time at The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus, a special all-star concert filmed in London in December that year, featuring The Who, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton.
19: Under My Thumb (1966)
When Mick Jagger was forced to defend “Under My Thumb” in the late 1990s – looking back on a 1966 song that he co-wrote with Keith Richards for the album Aftermath – the singer described it as “a bit of a jokey number, really… a caricature,” which was penned following a bad relationship. In “Under My Thumb,” Jagger sang about a girl who has been “tamed,” and how a “squirming dog who’s just had her day” had been turned into the “sweetest pet in the world.” The music remains potent – especially the marimba chords played by Brian Jones, Jagger’s confident vocals and Richards’s subtle guitar playing – but the lyrics are now a relic of a different age.
18: Get Off Of My Cloud (1965)
“Get Off Of My Cloud” was a strong follow-up to the massive hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The Jagger-Richards song, dealing with the band’s frustrations about the downsides of celebrity status, was a funky, catchy success. Recorded in Hollywood, the single was included on the US-only album December’s Children (And Everybody’s), and Jagger said that the final uptempo version replaced his original idea, which was to have a version that was “like a slow Lee Dorsey thing.”
17: Out Of Time (1966)
The first version of the popular song “Out Of Time” was recorded for Aftermath and featured Brian Jones playing a marimba part. Jagger later produced a version by Chris Farlowe that went to No.1 in 1966. There have been numerous covers of the song, including versions by Bee Gees, Ramones, and Manic Street Preachers.
16: Mother’s Little Helper (1966)
“What a drag it is getting old,” sings Jagger in the opening line to a song about the tranquilizing drugs (“little yellow pills”) that were reportedly popular among stressed housewives at the time. As well as being an interesting piece of social commentary, the song, from the Aftermath album, has some musically interesting features, including Richards’ solo, on a 12-string guitar, and Bill Wyman’s bass riff.
15: She’s A Rainbow (1967)
Nicky Hopkins plays piano on the sweet love song “She’s A Rainbow,” a favorite of advertisers ever since its release. The psychedelic song appeared on the Stones’ 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, and features lush production with string arrangements by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. The lyrics (“She comes in colors everywhere/She combs her hair/She’s like a rainbow”) are some of the most straightforwardly romantic that Jagger and Richards ever wrote.
14: Midnight Rambler (1969)
“Midnight Rambler,” from the Stones’ 1969 album, Let It Bleed, was loosely based on the life of the real Boston Strangler. Richards called the song “a blues opera” and insisted that his unique collaboration with Jagger was such that “nobody else could have written that song.” The pair wrote it during a holiday break in Italy and said that somehow being in the beautiful, sunny hill town of Positano gave them the creative spark to write a dark song about a serial murderer “pouncing like a panther.” “Midnight Rambler” was a favorite at live gigs, where Richards would let loose with thrashing guitar solos. It was also the last song Brian Jones recorded with the band.
13: Time Is On My Side (1964)
“Time Is On My Side” was written by songwriter Jerry Ragovoy – using the pen name Norman Meade – and was first recorded in 1963 by the great jazz trombone player and composer Kai Winding. The cover version recorded by The Rolling Stones in Chicago (with Richards’ guitar solo replacing Ian Stewart’s organ introduction, as heard on the original British take) reached No.6 on the US pop singles chart, becoming the group’s first Top 10 hit in the States.
12: Street Fighting Man (1968)
Mick Jagger joined actress Vanessa Redgrave and 25,000 other protestors in March 1967 for an anti-war protest at the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square. The march against the Vietnam War inspired the song “Street Fighting Man,” which was recorded for the Beggars Banquet album in 1968 and produced by Jimmy Miller. Richards’ layered guitar parts are compelling and the use of unusual instruments for rock music – Brian Jones played the sitar and Dave Mason, of Traffic, played a double-reed shehnai – added to the energy of one of The Rolling Stones’ most political songs.
11: Let’s Spend The Night Together (1967)
“Let’s Spend The Night Together” was one of David Bowie’s favorite Rolling Stones songs, and in 1973 he recorded his own version of this Jagger-Richards collaboration. The clever arrangements on the Stones’ original meant that the backing singers were essentially vocalizing the piano chords. Among the instruments credited on the song are truncheons: Jagger used the weapons provided by two policemen who called in at the studio in London. The singer wanted them for a “clattering sticks sound” in the beat.
10: It’s All Over Now (1964)
The Rolling Stones’ version of “It’s All Over Now” quickly eclipsed the original. The Stones “raved” about the version by The Valentinos (the Womack family band with Bobby Womack as lead singer and the song’s co-writer); they heard it the day they arrived in the US, in June 1964, at the WINS radio station, when DJ Murray The K played it for them, and recorded their own version at Chess Studios in Chicago, a little over a week later. Though Womack was perturbed at the time, he changed his mind when the Stones’ cover hit No.1 in the UK and the royalty cheques started rolling in. Womack then supposedly told Sam Cooke that Jagger could have any song he wanted after that. Bruce Springsteen said that Richards’ guitar work on the song was one of his biggest inspirations as an aspiring young musician.
9: 19th Nervous Breakdown (1966)
The four-minute classic “19th Nervous Breakdown” was inspired by a throwaway line uttered by Jagger during their manic tour of America in 1965: “We had just done five weeks’ hectic work in the States and I said, ‘Dunno about you blokes, but I feel about ready for my 19th nervous breakdown.’ We seized on it at once as a likely song title. Then Keith and I worked on the number at intervals during the rest of the tour. Brian, Charlie, and Bill egged us on – especially as they liked having the first two words starting with the same letter.” Wyman’s bass lines are infectious and the pulsating single was a hit in the US, reaching No.2 on the Billboard charts.
8: Ruby Tuesday (1967)
Keith Richards wrote the stirring lyrics to “Ruby Tuesday,” which remained one of Jagger’s favorite songs. “That’s a wonderful song,” the singer said in 1995. “It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.” In his autobiography, Life, Richards said the song was about a former girlfriend called Linda Keith, who had taken up with Jimi Hendrix and allegedly became involved with drugs. According to Richards, she turned her life around and went on to raise a family in New Orleans.
7: Honky Tonk Woman (1969)
“Honky Tonk Women” has one of the more unusual openings of a Rolling Stones song, as it starts with producer Jimmy Miller playing a beat on a cowbell. The song has been a staple of live performances for decades, and Jagger would sometimes introduce it as a song “to open your lungs to.” This classic example of raunchy rock was written by Jagger and Richards while they were on holiday in Brazil, and refers to the name given to a dancing girl in a western bar. “Honky Tonk Women” was a No.1 hit in the UK and the US, and was performed by Elton John and Joe Cocker in their concerts.
6: Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)
The distinctive guitar riff alone makes “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” one of the Stones’ best songs. Brian Jones described it as “getting back to the funky, essential essence” of the band, following the psychedelia of Their Satanic Majesties Request. The song’s unusual name supposedly came about in reference to Richards’ aging gardener, Jack Dyer, who woke Jagger one night when he was walking around in his rubber boots. When he asked Richards about the noise, the guitarist replied, “Oh, that’s Jack. That’s Jumping Jack.” It reached No.3 in the US and was later covered by Aretha Franklin.
5: Paint It, Black (1966)
“Paint It, Black” deals with depression, and though the song seems ahead of its time, when it was released Jagger played down talk of its originality, remarking, “I don’t know. It’s been done before. It’s not an original thought by any means. It all depends on how you do it.” The execution of the song was innovative, too. Bill Wyman brought an interesting touch by playing the Hammond B3 organ (“Bill’s playing made it,” said Richards) and it was the first Stones song to feature the Indian sitar in its arrangement. “Paint It, Black” was a No.1 hit in the US.
4: You Can’t Always Get What You Want (1969)
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which started its life as a small ditty Jagger devised on the acoustic guitar, ended up being an iconic musical statement – the closing song on Let It Bleed, the Stones’ final album of a momentous decade. As well as having a memorable melody, Jagger said it resonated with the public because it was a message everyone could identify with. The song was recorded at London’s Olympic Studios; when choral arranger Jack Nitzsche suggested using the London Bach Choir for backing vocals, Jagger replied, “That will be a laugh.” The singer ended up pleased with the final blend of this slightly tongue-in-cheek masterpiece.
3: Sympathy For The Devil (1968)
The opening track on Beggars Banquet is quintessential Rolling Stones. Featuring Ginger Johnson’s African Drummers, who appeared with the Stones at Hyde Park in 1969, it was mainly recorded in June 1968 at Olympic Studios and was originally called “The Devil Is My Name.” Bryan Ferry said that it was his favorite Stones song. “I recorded a version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ on my first solo album in 1973,” he later recalled. “It is a really outstanding song, it’s lyrically surprising and it gets going and grooves along. The percussion is great on the Stones’ version, that was what really stood out to me first. Jimmy Miller produced it and he always liked lots of maracas and tambourines going. I added women’s voices singing the ‘hooh hooh’s, whereas they just did it themselves, but it’s very effective like that. We had horns and lots of things going on, quite a big band, fun times. Still, I much prefer their version to mine.”
2: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)
The title was inspired by a line in the 1955 Chuck Berry song “30 Days” (“I can’t get no satisfaction from the judge”) and the memorable riff came to Richards when he was laying sleepily in bed in a hotel in Florida and experimenting with licks. He had left his tape recorder on and the iconic sounds were captured. A couple of days later, the Stones recorded the song at RCA Studios in Hollywood and it became a global hit. “‘Satisfaction’ was the first song to define the Stones and what they meant to the 60s,” said guitarist Johnny Marr. “It’s a bratty riot that showcases a true punk guitar riff and stomping drum beat. As if that wasn’t enough, Mick Jagger’s vocal performance takes the whole thing to another level altogether. His performance is outrageous. No one before him really seized that role as a rock band frontman, and his style pretty much became the archetype for every US garage band from then on. ‘Satisfaction’ is as perfect a Stones record as it gets.”
1: Gimme Shelter (1969)
The wailing vocal and the compelling groove are the backdrop to one of the most impassioned songs of the 60s. “It’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that,” said Jagger of the opening track on Let It Bleed. The whole album deals with the violence of the Vietnam War and US society. Richards’ guitar playing is dark and entrancing, and Jagger sings forcefully, in tandem with the brilliant gospel singer Merry Clayton. “Gimme Shelter”, which was recorded at Elektra studios in Los Angeles, came out on 5 December 1969, just prior to the Stones’ performance at the infamous Altamont Festival, and seemed to capture the darkness at the end of a decade of war, riots, and assassinations.
Looking for more Rolling Stones lists? Check out our best Rolling Stones songs of the 70s list here.