It’s hard to put into words just how pivotal The Rolling Stones were in the advent of pop music as we know it today. While they’re continuously compared to their Liverpudlian counterparts, it remains true that The Beatles arrived with a wave of parent-approved Beatlemania but The Rolling Stones were the dark and dangerous choice of the sixties. They provided a searing array of singles and had their fair share of landmark LPs. Below, we’re gathering ten of our favourite full-length records from one of the longest-running bands of all time.
We’re not going to pretend that The Rolling Stones albums have progressed with age. Unlike songwriters such as Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan, whose canon only grew with quality over the years, the Stones’ back catalogue only used the sheer quantity of albums to bolster their repertoire. In truth, much of the band’s best work was done during a short window across the sixties and seventies. Now, we know that two decades doesn’t often cover the term “short period”, but this is The Rolling Stones after all, and their near six decades at the top of the rock pile is unfathomable in today’s landscape.
Those few short decades hold the key to much of The Rolling Stones’ success. The band were perennial performers and never turned their back on the stage. Instead, they used it to inform what they would write for the studio. With Keith Richards and Mick Jagger largely in charge of the songwriting but with added contributions from Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Brian Jones, the band were always destined for great things. Soon enough, Jones would leave the group to be replaced by Mick Taylor and then Ronnie Wood. The point is that the band were so packed with expert musicians and over-qualified party starters that their destiny as one of the greatest live bands of all time was all but guaranteed.
It was the same energy and disturbingly danceable rock tunes that they brought into the studio with them. While the band have never been regarded in the same breath of LP maestros as their counterparts The Beatles, they have, on many occasions, shown that their work can transcend the fury of a three-and-a-half-minute fumble on the dancefloor, no matter how alluring such a transient prospect often is, and become full-length behemoths.
Below, we’ve picked out our ten favourite albums from one of the greatest bands to have ever walked the earth.
The Rolling Stones’ 10 greatest albums of all time:
10. Goat’s Head Soup (1973)
Though it struggled to receive the rightful recognition it deserved upon its release in 1973, Goat’s Head Soup is now being revered with a revisionist’s rose-tinted spectacles. Whether it’s because time has passed and the idea of this album landing as a dud after a run of landmark LPs has diminished, or fans are reconnecting with the material, the record is now rightfully considered one of their best.
So much so, in fact, that the album enjoyed a reissue last year and even came equipped with a previously unreleased song, ‘Scarlet’ featuring Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. The album catches the band in transition as they try to shake up their rock clique they surrounded themselves with. It means there are foot stompers like ‘100 Years Ago’ and ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo’ mixed in with more emotional moments like ‘Angie’. All in all, it makes for a killer record.
9. Blue & Lonesome (2016)
There aren’t many inclusions on the band’s “greatest ever” lists that will include many entries from the 21st century. The band were at their peak creatively in the sixties and seventies and have endured plenty of hits and misses in the decades that followed. One of their rare modern hits came from the 2016 effort Blue & Lonesome.
The band had been so consumed by the stage, so deliberate in their desire to be crowned the undoubted kings of the road, that across the years their studio albums resembled something far more basic than what appeared under the spotlight every night.
Thankfully, they got it together for this record and delivered one of their standout moments.
8. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out (1970)
Now, we wouldn’t normally include a live album in a rundown of the greatest records a band or artist has ever produced, but to not acknowledge The Rolling Stones in the rightful home — on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans — and ignore 1970’s landmark record Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, would be a crime against rock ‘n’ roll.
While the band have made their name on the stage, in fact, they just about scratched their name into every stage across the land, there aren’t many live albums form their plethora of releases that come anywhere close to matching their first.
Capturing a show at Madison Square Garden as the Stones’ fame peaked, the album represents a zenith of culture and creative crossroads for the band that makes this an essential record — studio or otherwise.
7. Aftermath (1966)
Like many bands of the day, when The Rolling Stones first launched themselves into mainstream media with a swashbuckling brand of rhythm and blues, they did so borrowing the work of the great bluesmen that had come before them. But, by the time they released Aftermath in 1966, the album was completely made up of Jagger/Richards compositions for the very first time.
The record arrived during, arguably, the peak of pop music as both The Beatles’ Revolver and The Beach Boys seminal record Pet Sounds both landed that year, not to mention Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Though perhaps not eclipsing those releases, this was the album that proved The Rolling Stones were a match for any artist around.
Classic songs like ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and ‘Under My Thumb’ found a home on the album and made good on the promise that the Stones had shown.
6. The Rolling Stones (1964)
One of the greatest debut albums of all time, The Rolling Stones may well have broken through the door as part of the British Invasion, but the band were quick to show themselves as something different when they did. The Stones’ debut record was fully pulsating with rhythm and blues power and relied on the heroes of the past to showcase the stars of the future.
As well as keeping the tributes to their idols, such as a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Carol’ and Bo Diddley’s ‘Mona’, the band also showcased their songwriting attributes with ‘Tell Me’. Not that the song necessarily matches up to their later work, but it did provide a platform for their attitude and demeanour to find yet more admirers.
The beginning of it all, the band were setting themselves up for a career like no other.
5. Some Girls (1978)
The seventies was a dangerous time for those acts who had sharpened their output during the swinging sixties. Punk and disco were here to rip up and throw away the legends of old and replace them with some more high octane material. There’s a good reason that all of those searing singers of the past suddenly died away after the punks got their feet under the table.
However, The Rolling Stones kicked the trend and delivered not only one of their best records in years but one of their greatest ever.
Some Girls from 1978 sees the band welcome back their riff-driven sound of the past and allow a newly refreshed Keith Richards the chance to shine once more. Emboldened by the encouragement, the band delivered buzzsaw track after buzzsaw track with ‘When the Whip Comes Down’ and their number one single ‘Miss You’ both providing stonking reasons to love the album. However, their song ‘Beast of Burden’ has had the greatest lasting effect on the band’s iconography.
4. Sticky Fingers (1971)
1971 could have been a potentially difficult year for the Stones. The band had just survived the sixties and a new decade beckoned, yet the group were still stricken with the same old problems. They were constantly toying with remaining relevant, and even a few years after they had found their dangerous niche, the group always had the potential to implode with mediocrity. It’s why they paid such close attention to their Sticky Fingers release.
As well as being adorned with one of the greatest Andy Warhol covers of all time, the LP was an experimental one. There’s a great deal to pack into one album, and the band were clearly happy to explore some further reaches of their musical landscape. It meant as well as having the bass-heavy jab of ‘Bitch’, there was the unbridled beauty of ‘Wild Horses’.
This album proved that The Rolling Stones were a determined outfit — one that couldn’t be shaken off so easily.
3. Let It Bleed (1969)
1969 will be a year that The Rolling Stones never forget. Not only did they release their seminal album Let It Bleed but, the following day, the group took charge of a free concert at Altamont Speedway that would go down in the history books as one of the worst concerts of all time.
Plagued by violence and permanently marred by the death of an audience member at the hands of the group’s security team comprised of Hell’s Angels, the event outshone much of the band’s musical work.
Amid all the headlines, which also included the expulsion (and subsequent death) of Brian Jones from the group, the band were hitting their creative peak. On Let It Bleed we get huge songs like ‘Midnight Rambler’ and ‘Love in Vain’ as well as ‘Gimme Shelter’ and the archetypal Stones number ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. It’s an album full of beautiful moments and bristling energy.
2. Beggar’s Banquet (1968)
Buoyed by perhaps one of Keith Richards’ greatest riffs of all time in ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, the 1968 album Beggars Banquet confirmed that The Rolling Stones were a different entity entirely. Though 1967 and their failed attempt to mirror The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper with the equally trippy Their Satanic Majesties could have dented the band’s confidence, the following year they arose triumphant with one of the greatest rock albums ever made.
Many of the albums on our list are pulsating with the kind of singles that The Rolling Stones have dined out on for years.
Beggar’s Banquet, however, not only had those big imposing singles but also worked as a singular piece of work too. Resting on the country blues that Richards had so keenly adopted, the Stones showed they could it all. The album contains some bonafide classic such as ‘Street Fighting Man,’ ‘No Expectations’ and perhaps the band’s greatest ever song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.
1. Exile On Main St (1972)
Exile on Main St. received mixed reviews when it first came out. The British invasion was well and truly over, and the Stones had started to find it difficult to move on musically. So, while others tried to evolve and find creative divinity, The Rolling Stones took it back to basics and hit us with a double-barrel shot of purified rock and roll so strong it would even give old uncle Keef a rush.
The album is a classic record; it contains frequently performed concert staples and was a top-10-charting album in a dozen countries, reaching number one in six, including the UK, US, and Canada. The album spawned the hit songs ‘Happy’, a rare song that featured Keith Richards on vocals, country music ballad ‘Sweet Virginia’, and the world-wide top-ten hit ‘Tumbling Dice’.
The album was mostly recorded in a villa in Nellcóte, France, as The Rolling Stones escaped Britain as tax exiles. It was one of the most chaotic recording sessions in history and saw the band transfer their free-loving and wild brand of living on to record.
It’s largely what makes Exile on Main St a bonafide classic. As house guests and musical meanderers made their way to the villa as a pilgrimage, it meant that the band’s line-up was as changeable as the French weather. It allowed the album to be imbued with a previously unheard looseness for the band that felt both dangerous and alluring.