Best Tracks: “Paint It Black,” “Under My Thumb,” “Flight 505,” “I Am Waiting” While the other four albums here are widely agreed upon, there’s a lot of controversy regarding this fifth spot: many cast their vote for Some Girls’ disco rock, others prefer the odds and ends approach of Tattoo You. And there’s another camp, which casts a vote for the Stones’ first collection of entirely original material, Aftermath. Obviously, we fall into the last category. On this album, the Stones finally came into their own lyrically, even if they’ve become maliciously misogynistic (“Stupid Girl,” “Under My Thumb”). There’s also a recurring theme of travel and long distance love (“Flight 505,” “I’m Going Home,” “It’s Not Easy”), which make this an excellent driving record. Look for a sleeper classic in “I Am Waiting,” with its gently pleading folk.
4 Beggar’s Banquet
Best Tracks: “Sympathy for the Devil,” “No Expectations,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Salt of the Earth” Beggar’s Banquet might not rock like later (or earlier) albums, but its Delta-blues flavor ensure its place as a Stones classic — especially since it marked a return to their roots. And, let’s face it: if you want to hear anything from the Stones, you want it to be rolling, right? Well, this album delivers that in spades. Opener “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” are the two most traditional rockers on here. “Jigsaw Puzzle” sounds like heroin withdrawal, and “Stray Cat Blues” and “Parachute Woman” have echoing swagger to spare. But it’s the acoustic heartbreakers, “No Expectations” and “Salt of the Earth,” that will haunt you the longest.
3 Sticky Fingers
Best Tracks: “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “Moonlight Mile” Song for song, Sticky Fingers probably has the densest concentration of outright classics on any one Stones album. When you start off with “Brown Sugar,” you’re already in the running for that crown. The album actually manages to get better from their though: the aching country of “Wild Horses” melts into the brash blues and cool jazz of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Listen to “I’ve Got the Blues” again. Go ahead, I’ll wait. *Unzips album cover* Totally a forgotten powerhouse, right? And with the sweeping, mellifluous “Moonlight Mile,” you might feel like you’re floating away into an ethereal blues dream.
2 Let It Bleed
Best Tracks: “Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Monkey Man,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Another very eclectic album from the Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed finds them tempering their standard blues-riff approach with folk, country, and soul. The result is a freewheeling record that goes a thousand different places at once, yet never loses focus. “Gimme Shelter,” one of their darkest songs, features some of the most underrated guitar playing of all time. And it’s pretty much the only time you want to sing along with someone saying, “Rape! Murder!” “Midnight Rambler” features great slide and harmonica work from the band, for the blues purists out there. By the time “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” fades out, you’ll feel moved.
1 Exile On Main St.
Best Tracks: “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Loving Cup, Happy,” “Let It Loose,” “Soul Survivor” It’s just an undeniable record: one of those rare moments in the history of rock’n’roll, when a shambolic heap of boozed-out guitars and horns was the only thing that made sense. To summarize, rock’n’roll saving rock’n’roll. Forced out of their home country by rising taxes, the Stones recorded this double album at Keith Richards’ French châteaux. It serves as a simultaneous love letter to the country they called home and the American blues and R&B that inspired them to revolutionize music. If you listen to every song, you can hear that each has established its own subgenre of blues music — from rockabilly to gospel to funk to honky-tonk. The album touches every corner of the band’s sound, and rocks all the way through. But our favorite is still “Tumbling Dice,” with lopsided verses and growling guitars that serves as a microcosm for the rest of the album.
So, there you have it, the five best albums by the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world. Memorize these classics, and you will no longer be living in exile. But, as always, any band that’s been releasing albums for sixty years is going to have more than five great albums. Although this list is flawless, we’d love to hear you beggars plead your case. But, before you go throwing stones, gimme a little shelter with these honorable mentions.
Some Girls — Stones finally hit one out of the park with Ronnie Wood in the line-up. Dig the double-stop solo on “Shattered.”
Tattoo You — Apologies to Ron Wood, for leaving both of his great albums off the list. “Start Me Up” officially made the Rolling Stones relevant to two generations of listeners.