It’s hard to fathom just how influential The Rolling Stones truly are. When they arrived in the pop music world as the dangerous side of the new scene, the band quickly made a name for themselves. One of the most famous groups on the planet, and most certainly one of the longest-running, the Stones have gathered up quite the array of admirers over the years thanks to their uncompromising devotion to their art.
Another crucial aspect that has always put the band over the top when speaking with hardcore musos is their appreciation for the past. We bet that you wouldn’t be able to find a guitarist as devoted to his craft and the player of the past than Keith Richards. The juggernaut performer that keeps the band moving, Richards has routinely expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the blues guitarists that came before him. It meant when the band first formed and needed to fill their albums with songs, there was only one place to look; backwards.
Like most groups at the time, The Rolling Stones weren’t particularly ready to record their own songs. While The Beatles were quickly proving why that was so vital — offering their fans something their parents never enjoyed — The Rolling Stone operated in a different lane and instead became the British version of R&B.
The genre was seen as the dark and dangerous side of music at the time, and London was positively brimming with its sounds. It was the perfect way for The Rolling Stones to begin their journey.
With a plethora of covers from the Delta blues as their nucleus, the group began bringing Britain some of America’s finest sounds. It wouldn’t be long before the band started writing solely their own material and, in turn, bring the sounds of Britain to America. While the Stones’ issuing of cover songs has largely dwindled since the group have found time to include some potent covers across their years at the top.
Below, we’ve got 15 of our favourite covers from The Rolling Stones.
The Rolling Stones’ 15 best covers:
‘Little Queenie’ – Chuck Berry
There are few artists as influential in the making of The Rolling Stones as Chuck Berry. Not only was he the man kicking out the rock ‘n’ roll jams of the day, duck-walking his way into the hearts and minds of countless future guitar heroes as he did. But he was also the reason Mick Jagger and Keith Richards reconnected after Richards spotted Jagger holding some of the singer’s LPs.
He’s also the singer that the band have covered most often, invariably featuring the singer as part of their earliest recordings and live performances. The band’s very first single, ‘Come On’, was a Berry cover and shared renditions of Berry’s track ‘Carol’. But, for our money, the best cover of Berry from the Stones comes on their live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out with their performance of ‘Little Queenie’. Hearing Mick Taylor and Keith Richards trade Berry licks is about as good as it gets.
‘Good Times’ – Sam Cooke
Released as a single in 1964, Sam Cooke’s ‘Good Times’ is one of his most positively upbeat tracks — full of light, love and life as we know it. “It might be one o’clock and it might be three/Time don’t mean that much to me/Ain’t felt this good since I don’t know when/And I might not feel this good again/So come on baby, let the good times roll/We gonna stay here ’til we soothe our soul,” sings Cooke in what might be some of the most potent lyrics about rock ‘n’ roll that you’ll ever hear.
It was only a matter of time before the kings of the genre would take it on for themselves. A cover quickly appeared the following year as The Rolling Stones included a cover of the track on their US album release Out of Our Heads.
It’s positively brimming with all of the energetic joy that The Rolling Stones emanated on their first recordings.
‘Get Up Stand Up’ – Bob Marley & The Wailers
The Rolling Stones have always been integrated with reggae music. Though one might not instantly think of Jagger being able to dance to the genre’s slow and relaxed beat, he does a fine job of singing this classic track from Bob Marley & The Wailers.
Equally, Jamaica is quite possibly Keith Richards’ spiritual home, once residing there and often describing island life as his favourite way to live.
It makes sense then that the group would begin to incorporate their version of this classic track back in 2005 and it has become a key part of their set. Taken from the band’s 1973 album Burnin’, there aren’t many people who can resist the charm of this track and, it appears, neither can The Rolling Stones.
‘Sister Morphine’ – Marianne Faithfull
It seems fitting that an icon of the sixties, Marianne Faithfull, should find a place on this list. Not only was she involved with the band, a one-time Mick Jagger girlfriend, but she was also one of the most influential artists of her day. The singer’s classic style was even mirrored by Paul McCartney for one special Beatles song. But The Rolling Stones are taking charge of this one with a searing cover of her song ‘Sister Morphine’.
The track was originally recorded in 1965 when Faithfull was the talk of the swinging London set. But, by 1971, The Rolling Stones had rightfully affirmed their place at the top of the rock pile and with a new album due out, they needed a classic cover to complete Sticky Fingers. Luckily, they found one in their own canon.
Jagger and Richards had helped Faithfull pen the song back in 1965 and were keen to take it back on in 1971. While it’s dubious as to whether it can strictly be classed as a cover, the outcome is not so and we have one of the best songs on the album.
‘Like A Rolling Stone’ – Bob Dylan
“The Rolling Stones are truly the greatest rock and roll band in the world and always will be,” Dylan once famously said of his contemporaries.
“The last, too. Everything that came after them, metal, rap, punk, new wave, pop-rock, you name it… you can trace it all back to the Rolling Stones. They were the first and the last and no one’s ever done it better.” High praise considering Bob Dylan is likely the most influential artist of his day.
The Rolling Stones were well aware of that too and have often paid tribute to the freewheelin’ troubadour. But there’s not better showing than when they took on Dylan’s classic track ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and sent their fans into a fit of delirium.
‘Under the Boardwalk’ – The Drifters
Taking on other people’s songs wasn’t just an ordinary thing in the sixties, it was expected. It means that The Rolling Stones, while they were pursuing their dreams of pop star greatness, were more than happy to pick up a cover or two and it wasn’t all just covers of B.B King or Chuck Berry, sometimes they stepped out of their rock ‘n’ roll safe place.
Their cover of The Drifters’ Motown classic ‘Under the Boardwalk’ is about as crystalline an image of this that one can hope to receive. Relaxed and well measured, it’s early-Stones greatness. Released in 1964, this cover is imbued with a certain amount of class, charm and undeniable charisma. It’s got to be one of their best.
‘Not Fade Away’ – Buddy Holly & The Crickets
Naturally, as for many bands of the day, Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets, were a huge influence on The Rolling Stones and their song ‘Not Fade Away’ has gone on to become an iconic track for the Stones. It was the first song they performed on The Mike Douglas Show in the US and it helped to fully announce the band as contenders for the new pop music crown.
In the clip below we see the band slip into familiar territory. Keith Richards expertly plays his riffs with a sneaking smile, Brian Jones offers the thinking man’s lead performance with a wink while Mick Jagger begins to perfect the shaking hips that will dominate his career. It’s a piece of the group’s iconography that will be forever remembered.
‘I Don’t Know Why’ – Stevie Wonder
Having taken a young Stevie Wonder as the opening act of their tour in the early seventies, it’s easy to draw the line of appreciation between the two artists. Wonder told New York Times that the tour was something like he’d never experienced before, “No matter how many hassles we’ve had, the good vibes have more than offset the bad ones,” he said.
“Music is like a religion to me, you know, and the more sharing that takes place between the musicians and the audience the more spiritual the music becomes. I like to have a lot of time to stretch out — to get that spirit moving — and we only get to play for 30 or 40 minutes, but we’ve still managed to make a lot of people have soulful experiences.”
While their magnificent mash-up of ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Uptight’ is pure magic, this cover of Wonder’s brilliant song ‘I Don’t Know Why’ is equally pulsing with fervent musical joy.
‘Come Together’ – The Beatles
Yes, you read it correctly, The Rolling Stones may have had their issues with The Beatles before, though those were largely fabricated by the press, but they still know a good song when they hear one. Having jokingly covered ‘Eight Days A Week’ in their downtime before, they took this cover of John Lennon’s ‘Come Together’ to a far grander stage.
In 2016 The Rolling Stones were headlining the first night of Desert Trip and decided to break out a homage to the Fab Four with this naturally bluesy cover. It’s not the best cover version of The Beatles we’ve ever heard but it is certainly brimming with potential.
When you add to that the serious confusion the audience can audibly be experiencing in the clip below, it has to be remembered as one fo their best.
‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ – The Temptations
This cover of The Temptations classic is extra special as it also features the late, great Amy Winehouse, joining Jagger for the track. Faced with the vocal challenge of matching Mick Jagger’s energetic performance, Winehouse shows off why, at the time, she was one of the most sought after and talented singers in the world and why today she is still so sorely missed.
The two singers effortlessly work with one another, showing each other how to win the crowd over. While Winehouse is magnetic and captivating, Jagger does his best to guide her around the song and hold her hand whenever needed.
The Stones man had some real affection for the late singer and was heartbroken when she died. At least we have moments like the below to look back on and remember Winehouse as a legend.
‘Hitch Hike’ – Marvin Gaye
Originally released by Marvin Gaye in 1962 on the Tamla Motown label, the song was co-written by Clarence Paul and William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson and saw our protagonist out on the road in search of his girl, who he believed left him to “travel the world”.
It’s a classic premise for a Rolling Stones cover, and it featured on their 1965 album Out Of Our Heads. The song, as well as being one of the most pumping numbers on the record, also briefly inspired a dance craze after Gaye performed it on American Bandstand. We can’t imagine the Stones ever garnered such a reaction.
A couple of songs were inspired by the original, including The Velvet Underground’s ‘There She Goes Again’ as well as the guitar intro for The Smiths’ ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’, which Johnny Marr specifically cited as the Rolling Stones cover.
‘Johnny B. Goode’ – Chuck Berry
Like every other huge rock act of the sixties, The Rolling Stones were hugely inspired by Chuck Berry, with Keith Richards noting him as one of his favourite guitarists of all time. It seems fitting then that Richards and co. should pay tribute to Berry’s magnetic anthem, ‘Johnny B. Goode’.
An early cut from their tinny heyday, there’s a lot to be desired when considering the audio quality of the clip, but the sheer power and enthusiasm that emanates form the cover is blissful.
It screams youthful exuberance and unadulterated passion.
‘Love in Vain’ – Robert Johnson
The Rolling Stones wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the bluesmen like Robert Johnson. Johnson’s music exists as a very strain within the DNA of the Stones. It’s no surprise, then, that only The Stones could pull off a song like this.
It was included on their Let it Bleed record, and honestly, for a while, I thought it was their song. The Stones changed the arrangement quite a bit; Jagger mentions this: “We changed the arrangement quite a lot from Robert Johnson’s. We put in extra chords that aren’t there on the Robert Johnson version. Made it more country. And that’s another strange song, because it’s very poignant.
“Robert Johnson was a wonderful lyric writer, and his songs are quite often about love, but they’re desolate.”
‘Mr Pitiful’ – Otis Redding
The connection between Otis Redding and The Rolling Stones runs deep. The band have often shown their appreciation for Redding with Keith Richards even citing his version of ‘Satisfaction’ as the definitive recording, preferring it to the Stones original.
In a true collaborative spirit, The Rolling Stones made sure to cover Redding’s own classic ‘Mr Pitiful’ during their 2005 tour ‘A Bigger Bang Tour’ and landed it with the consummate ease of professionals.
They handle the track with a sincere degree of respect as well as the bombastic bounce they bring to everything they do.
‘Under the Boardwalk’ – The Drifters
Undoubtedly one of the most adored songs of all time, there’s a gentle innocence to ‘Under The Boardwalk’ that will always appeal to the masses. It turns out it also appealed to The Rolling Stones, who made The Drifters song a part of their early output.
Released on their 1964 album 12X5 the song has since reached reams and reams of generations, compelling them all to sing out loud and shuffle their feet to the music.
It’s a classic Stones cover as Jagger naturally skirts the line between being the boy next door and the man in the shadows. It would be a position he would find hismelf in for years to come.