“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” — Mick Jagger
As the enigmatic leader and singer of The Rolling Stones, alongside his Glimmer Twin Keith Richards, the everlasting Mick Jagger has rarely disappointed on stage or in the studio. While his performance is exemplary, his songwriting alongside Richards is often overlooked as cheap fodder. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Below, we look back at the ten best songs Mick Jagger (alongside Richards) ever wrote with The Rolling Stones. It makes for one incredible playlist and a reminder that Jagger isn’t all hips and lips, underneath he’s all musical bones and a rhythmic beating heart.
When bringing together the list, the real shock for us was how easily we could have extended this to Mick Jagger’s 20 best songs, and likely beyond that too; such is the vivacious wealth of talent involved.
Spoiler alert: If you’re here to listen to ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, you’re bound to be disappointed. Find below Mick Jagger’s ten best Rolling Stones and the full playlist beyond that.
Mick Jagger’s 10 best songs:
10. ‘Tumbling Dice’
One of the darker moments in a glittering career was Exile‘s murky power on Main St., and the drug-fuelled haze was spawned from.
The crowning moment of the record came on ‘Tumbling Dice’ where Jagger and Richards, along with the rest of the band, confidently swipe the crown and escape the coronation with the mucky footprints of rock stars following them along the way.
9. ‘Midnight Rambler’
True to its name, the track is one of Jagger and Richards’ longest compositions and sees the song stretch out to a ten-minute opus during their live shows, with a particularly doff of the cap to the version on the live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
The song welcomes Jagger and the flames of rock and roll as they intertwine, desperately trying to conjure the spirits of the bluesmen of old.
It’s a corking contribution to Let It Bleed and one of the band’s best numbers made all the better by Jagger’s knowing yelp.
8. ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’
The beginning of The Rolling Stones’ dominance over rock and roll could easily be traced back to this racy and raring number from 1966, ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’.
Originally released as the B-side to number one ‘Ruby Tuesday’, the track was the Stones shedding the Delta Blues’ weight and going out on their own. They dropped the covers and instead covered everything they did in dangerous sexuality.
That danger would see the band have to censor themselves as they tried to play both sides of the game, providing flirtatious pop music but getting it played in the right channels.
7. ‘Start Me Up’
‘Start Me Up’ is largely seen as The Rolling Stones back on top form following a decade of exuberant and excessive behaviour. Starting life as a reggae track called ‘Never Stop’, the song rarely made it to air. It was ditched during the recording sessions for Some Girls and was saved for later use.
Richards commented: “It was one of those things we cut a lot of times; one of those cuts that you can play forever and ever in the studio. Twenty minutes go by, and you’re still locked into those two chords… Sometimes you become conscious of the fact that ‘Oh, it’s ‘Brown Sugar’ again,’ so you begin to explore other rhythmic possibilities. It’s basically trial and error. As I said, that one was pretty locked into a reggae rhythm for quite a few weeks. We were cutting it for Emotional Rescue, but it was nowhere near coming through, and we put it aside and almost forgot about it.”
It eventually ended up on the band’s 1978 LP Tattoo You and became one of the most iconic riffs of all time.
6. ‘Beast of Burden’
The song may well be less of Jagger’s writing and more about his performance, but the lyrics Jagger did contribute during the verses add extra weight to the 1978 Some Girls track. It resonates around picturing oneself as a workhorse labouring for love.
Jagger says: “Lyrically, this wasn’t particularly heartfelt in a personal way. It’s a soul begging song, an attitude song. It was one of those where you get one melodic lick, break it down and work it up; there are two parts here which are basically the same.”
The most common presumption is that the song is linked to Richards’ heavy heroin use throughout the 1970s and the burden this carried on the other half of The Glimmer Twins, Mick Jagger. He had to be the driving force behind the band during this period, with some speculating that this song is Keith’s way of appreciating Mick for keeping everything ticking over while Richards’ addiction got him caught in a chokehold.
This was somewhat inadvertently confirmed by Richards in an interview with Mojo in 2012 despite him not saying it explicitly: “Mick wrote a lot of it but I laid the general idea on him. At the time Mick was getting used to running the band. Charlie was just the drummer, I was just the other guitar player. I was trying to say, ‘OK I’m back, so let’s share a bit more of the power, share the weight, brother.”
5. ‘She’s A Rainbow’
One of the moments of pure brilliance on a below-par album sees ‘She’s A Rainbow’ take a spot on our list as a Kaleidoscopic joy. It may be on the cheesier side of the Stones output, but it acts as a shining moment of psychedelic pop on the band’s Their Satanic Majesties Request.
The song also featured Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on strings during his session days before joining the band. It’s a lush refrain from the band’s chaotic catalogue and is easily marked out as one of the most pretty and beautiful songs the Glimmer Twins ever composed.
One of the songs to find more favour with generations revisiting the Stones’ work, rather than a tried and tested favourite, ‘She’s A Rainbow’ sees the band use a delicacy often left untouched.
4. ‘Wild Horses’
Taken from their 1971 record Sticky Fingers, this track may be the furthest from traditional Rolling Stone fodder, but it still packs a punch beyond its seemingly stripped-back arrangement.
Instead, Jagger’s lyrics cut through the atmosphere and provide one of the band’s most vulnerable moments. It’s been a song heavily covered by other artists, and that is entirely down to the connection Jagger lays out for all to feel.
In the 1993 Rolling Stones compilation album Jump Back, Jagger states of ‘Wild Horses’: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.”
Richards later said of the song, “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Wild Horses’ was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.”
3. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’
The medal of honour on ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ is most certainly around the neck of Keith Richards for that ungodly riff that conjures every member of the family on to the dancefloor. However, the track was a monumental moment for the band as they moved away from psychedelia and Brian Jones and instead followed Jagger and Richards’ powerful sound.
Keith Richards revealed while speaking with Rolling Stone in 2010 that Jack is actually a real person, called Jack Dyer who was his gardener at the time, he explained how Dyer inspired the band to write the song: “The lyrics came from a grey dawn at Redlands. Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside, and there was the sound of these boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.’”
He then added: “I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.”
2. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’
Another Glimmer Twin masterclass the track from 1968’s Beggars Banquet is a powerful and effervescent number that builds from deep down in your belly into something uncontrollable. As they weave through Lucifer’s narrative without ever mentioning his name (perhaps a little worried about being censored) Jagger takes us through the with a vocal that comes from the pits of Hell.
In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger said: “I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire’s, I think, but I could be wrong.”
The ‘Brown Sugar’ singer added: “Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can’t see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song.”
1. ‘Gimme Shelter’
This may be a slightly controversial choice but we couldn’t avoid placing this iconic moment in music, the everlasting brilliance of ‘Gimme Shelter’. The controversy lay at the feet of Merry Clayton, the dynamic singer who elevated the backing vocals, and the song’s connection with the tragic events at Altamont.
Yet nothing can come close to the Stones’ power on this song. It’s the band at their fiery best and it saw them produce a song that would signal the end of free love and creativity in the sixties and welcomed the dangerous drug-drenched seventies. It served as one of the best songs on the band’s iconic record Let It Bleed.
“Well, it’s a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War,” Jagger said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Violence on the screens, pillage, and burning. And Vietnam was not ‘war’ as we knew it in the conventional sense. The thing about Vietnam was that it wasn’t like World War II, and it wasn’t like Korea, and it wasn’t like the Gulf War.
“It was a real nasty war, and people didn’t like it. People objected, and people didn’t want to fight it … That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.”