The Rolling Stones symbolise a unique brand of rock ‘n’ roll. The band were at the very centre of the explosion of creativity that swept across the UK in the early 1960s, establishing themselves as pioneers in their field and one of the biggest bands on the planet. Only the Beatles rivalled them for their impact on the cultural landscape.
As you would expect of a band responsible for pushing a new genre into the mainstream, The Rolling Stones crafted numerous hit singles. Altogether, Mick Jagger and company released eight singles that landed the number one spot. In both the UK and the US, singles like ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ recieved an enormous amount of airplay and became instant classics.
Today, the Stones’ number one catalogue evokes an era in which rock music reigned supreme; when bands were given the freedom to experiment; and when the music industry was still so innocent that nobody had a firm grasp on what a hit single looked like. From ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ to ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, this roster of hits is incredibly diverse, featuring blues covers, gospel reworks and red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll anthems.
Here, we’ve pitched the Stones’ various hits against one another in an attempt to establish which is the ultimate number one single. With eight classic tracks to revisit, there’s everything to play for.
The Rolling Stones’ number one single ranked from worst to best:
8. It’s All Over Now (1964)
Originally written by Bobby Womack for the American R&B outfit The Valentinos, ‘It’s All Over Now’ was largely overlooked by white audiences until The Stones recorded it in 1964. Womack hated the Stones’ pared-back recording but softened when he started receiving royalty checks in the post. He would later appear as a guest star on the Dirty Work album.
When this track was released, the Stones were all anyone could talk about in England. The hunger for recorded material forced Mick Jagger and company to cobble ‘It’s All Over Now’ together rather hastily – and you can tell. It might have been The Stones’ first number one Single in the UK, but, with its jaunty rhythms and country twang, it simply doesn’t capture the imaginative brilliance of the band at this early stage in their career.
7. Honkey Tonk Woman (1969)
One of The Stones’ more provocative and controversial number one singles, ‘Honkey Tonk Woman’ hasn’t aged massively well. Based on a country song by Hank Williams called ‘Honky Tonk Blues’, the 1969 single sees Mick Jagger sing about his relationship with two “honky tonk” women. One is a “gin-soaked” prostitute; the other is a “divorcee in New York City.”
By the time Honkey Tonk Woman was released in 1969, guitarist Brian Jones, who had once been considered the group’s leader, was so drug-addled he was basically useless. After the Stones finished recording this track in June 1969, they drove to Jones’ house and informed him that he was fired. The same day the single was released, Jones was found dead in his swimming pool.
6. Little Red Rooster (1964)
When it comes to blues in Britain, few songs were as formative as The Rolling Stones’ 1964 single ‘Little Red Rooster’. The blues standard was originally written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. The track rarely diverts from the original recording, revealing a band still fearful of embracing their own style.
The Stones’ label, Decca Records, didn’t expect an American blues number like ‘Little Red Rooster’ to do well in the UK. However, on release, it shot to number one. Jagger would later recall that The Rolling Stones were so popular in the UK at the time that they could have released anything and it would have landed the number one spot.
5. ‘Get Off My Cloud’ (1965)
This particular single marked the Stones’ second number one single in the US after the release of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ that same year. According to Jagger, the song’s title was intended as a response to people continually asking the Stones for a follow-up to ‘Satisfaction’.
Following the success of that first US hit single, the Stones were foolish enough to believe they might be allowed a little time off. We thought, ‘At last. We can sit back and maybe think about events.’ Suddenly there’s a knock at the door and of course, what came out of that was ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’. Because within three weeks, in those days hey, they want another single. And we weren’t quite ready for that. So it was our response to the knock at the door: “Get off of my cloud.” However, it is the track’s celebration of adolescent self-introspection that has given ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ such enduring appeal. To this day, it’s one of the great teenage anthems.
3. ‘The Last Time’ (1965)
I’d personally choose Andrew Oldham’s orchestral version of this track (the one The Verve sampled in ‘Bittersweet Symphony’) over the 1965 single any day. Still, ‘The Last Time’ endures as one of the Stones’ most incantatory offerings.
Jones’ central guitar lick sings with the jangly chime of west coast psychedelia, giving this particular number one a distinctly summery tone. That might also have something to do with the fact that the track was based on an old gospel tune by The Staple Singers, leading some to accuse the Stones of stealing directly from their black heroes.
“At least we put our own stamp on it, as the Staple Singers had done, and as many other people have before and since,” Keith Richards wrote in According to The Rolling Stones. “They’re still singing it in churches today. It gave us something to build on to create the first song that we felt we could decently present to the band to play… The Last Time was kind of a bridge into thinking about writing for the Stones”
4. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ (1965)
A number one in both the UK and the US, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ is one of The Stones’ most beloved and frequently-played tracks. It was released in the US just a month after Keith Richards woke up with the iconic guitar riff fully formed in his head.
According to Mick Jagger, however, Keith Richards didn’t like the track initially, believing that it wouldn’t do very well on either side of the Atlantic because it was too basic and bore too much resemblance to ‘Dancing In The Street’ by the Vandellas. To ensure the track sounded like The Rolling Stones, Richards ran his guitar through a Gibson Fuzz Box, which helped create the sustained notes Oldham used as the framework for his horn section. Eventually, the Stones ditched the horn section altogether. Today, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ still shimmers with the vitality and optimism of the mid-1960s.
2. ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ (1968)
This classic slice of Stones rock riffery is the perfect example of how good Jagger and Co. could be when they were all on the same page. Recalling how the track came together one day in the studio, Bill Wyman explained that Brian, Charlie and himself began working on the song on their own after arriving at the studio early. “I just sat down at the piano and started doing this riff, da-daw, da-da-daw, da-da-daw, and then Brian played a bit of guitar and Charlie was doing a rhythm.”
After 20 minutes of jamming, Mick and Keith arrived. “We stopped and they said, ‘Hey, that sounded really good, carry on, what is it? And then the next day we recorded it. Mick wrote great lyrics to it and it turned out to be a really good single.” With its motoric beat, churning guitar and sloping vocal melody, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ is one of the most perfect encapsulations of The Stones’ pre-Ronnie.
1. ‘Paint it Black’ (1966)
‘Paint It Black’ takes the top spot largely because it could only have been written by The Rolling Stones. It features every band member doing what they do best. While Keth Richards’ drone-based guitar arrangements evoke the colours of Spain, the middle east and India, Richards’ maudlin lyrics perfectly capture the strain of darkness underlying the countercultural age.
Explaining how the track came together, Richards once said: “We were in Fiji for about three days. They make sitars and all sorts of Indian stuff. Sitars are made out of watermelons or pumpkins or something smashed so they go hard. They’re very brittle and you have to be careful how you handle them. We had the sitars, we thought we’d try them out in the studio. To get the right sound on ‘Paint It Black’ we found the sitar fitted perfectly. We tried a guitar but you can’t bend it enough.”
The 1966 offering also features one of the most rhythmically interesting drum performances Charlie Watts ever recorded. For all these reasons and more, it sits proudly at the top of our list.