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The 38 best Rolling Stones songs, chosen by 57 different musicians

Midnight Rambler

Francis Rossi, Status Quo: There were such fundamental differences between their live-y, rock-y shit and the singles that they put out. I saw them live on TV, and they are the masters of stretching out one song – they’d been on stage for forty-five minutes and had only played three or four tunes. 

Midnight Rambler is one of the songs that they really elongate. And they do it so expertly, better than anyone else I know – even some of the Yankee bands. Which make you think: “Jesus, let’s go home.” I once read an interview with Bill [Wyman] on their inner dynamic – this guy is doing something, another something else, a third one is behind the beat and fourth is asleep in the corner. He wondered how the fuck the thing doesn’t fall apart. Even the band don’t know, and that’s the magic of it. 

Gimme Shelter

James ‘JY’ Young, Styx: "It’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away" – those words capture the turmoil in the world and particularly in America during the year 1969. Just a short while before recording this song the Stones had just seen someone killed in front of them at Altamont. It was a shock for all fans of rock music. 

Having listened to the song for many decades, only in the last few years, when I looked up the lyrics to the song, did I realise that the previously unintelligible-to-my-ear first two words of every chorus were: ‘Rape, murder.’ They moderate the scary message at the end by saying that love is ‘just a kiss away’. For whatever reason, whenever I hear this song I end up fighting back tears. 

I love the way it sounds. The song is simple and sparsely orchestrated, but it has an otherworldly vibe to it. Merry Clayton’s astounding backing voice soars like an angel in heaven singing down heavenly words of caution, combining white male Chicago blues-influenced British rockers with American gospel singing. It works big for me.

John Mayall: That song resonates with me because it’s current to what was going on in the 1960s. The Stones were very focused on the social troubles of that era, and, sadly, the world hasn’t changed too much since then.

Philip Lewis, L.A. Guns: This song is dripping in atmosphere and attitude. In a lyrical sense, just like Sympathy For The Devil and Street Fighting Man, it’s quite scary. The guitar intro gets my attention from fifty yards, and the incredible screaming outro makes it a lyrical and sonic masterpiece.

Peter Garrett, Midnight Oil: You’ve got to admire the longevity, catalogue and bloody-mindedness of the Stones. And when they hit the sweet spot, boy do you know it. For me the tragedy of the Stones is that they remain infantile. The triumph of the Stones, too, is that they remain infantile. The two things go hand in hand. 

After refusing for many years to go and see them live, I finally did so not too long ago. I really enjoyed it when I closed my eyes. They’re a garage band, really, or in Aussie vernacular a pub-rock band – and they’re a bloody good one. When you stop looking at the lights, leotards and leopardskin guitar straps, you realise, wow, there’s something incredible happening here. They won me over. 

The Stones have a pool of around twenty great songs. Gimme Shelter has all the Stones’ mechanisms at play, and there’s harp [harmonica] all over it. It builds wonderfully, and fifty years later it still sounds great.

John Rzeznik, Goo Goo Dolls: Gimme Shelter. That is the song. That’s it. Probably one of the most powerful social commentaries. And another lighting-in the-bottle moment when Mary Clayton’s voice cracks and Mick goes: ‘Whoo!’ The guitar sound, too. It’s absolutely visceral.

Honky Tonk Women

Charlie Starr, Blackberry Smoke: For my money, Honky Tonk Women is the perfectly written song. I think it was the first of their songs written in an open-D guitar tuning to become a smash. After that open-D became Keith’s go-to tuning. I grew up playing hillbilly, bluegrass and traditional country music that I learned from my dad, but my mum liked the Stones, the Beach Boys, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. She owned a cassette of Hot Rocks 1964–1971, the double album greatest hits record, and she played it all the time. 

I was used to hearing all their hits from the mid-sixties, which were great. How could you not like them? But at the age of eleven my ears really started to open. Honky Tonk Women grabbed me instantly. It was sort of a revved-up, electrified country song when you get right down to it. It’s three chords and great harmonies. And that’s when it hit me. It’s the same thing as Hank Williams, just louder. Then it all started to make sense. That feeling never left me. To this day, when I hear the first crack of that snare drum, I’m hooked again and I can’t turn it off.

Graham Gouldman, 10cc: I was always more of a Beatles than a Stones man, but Honky Tonk Women is such a great record. I love the way it starts with the cowbell. The chorus is absolutely great and so is the lyric. I would imagine the words reflected exactly what went on to inspire the song. It’s like a serious song, but fun at the same time.

Brown Sugar

Jon Harvey, Monster Truck: Ah, man, give me a full album: Sticky Fingers! But if it’s gotta be one song, I’ll say Brown Sugar. It’s eight-track, it’s amazing, it’s perfect, it’s one of the least mixed-down tracks on any Rolling Stones record. But yeah, Sticky Fingers is the best album, Brown Sugar is the best song. But The Stones is a hard one. What about You Can’t Always Get What You Want? The first time I heard that, man…

Wild Horses

Ricky Warwick, Black Star Riders: When I heard Wild Horses for the first time, I played it solidly on repeat for about two days. It still gives me goose-bumps every time I hear it. If you’re going to write a ballad, then that’s the bench mark.

Geoff Tate, Operation: Mindcrime: The Stones are right at the top of the greatest bands in the world. I’ve seen them four times and they’re always fantastic. The side of the band I like best is when they touch on American country music. If I’m in a pub somewhere and people ask me to sing a song for them, Wild Horses is what I’ll usually go for. It’s just beautiful.

Lzzy Hale, Halestorm: Joe Hottinger [Halestorm guitarist] and I decided when we were nineteen to never get a normal job again. So we worked up a four-hour acoustic show to make ends meet. Wild Horses was one of the songs we performed every night, five nights a week. Then we’d book Halestorm gigs on the weekends. Other than addressing the loneliness of people that live out on the road, I don’t even know what the song is about, but for some reason it really connects with me. And now that I’ve thought of it again it’s going to be stuck in my head for another two days.

Bitch

Dave Mustaine, Megadeth: I had a brother-in-law who was a massive Stones fan. Led Zeppelin was my band, but I started to wonder what I was missing here. After some investigation, I had really began to appreciate Keith’s heritage and the style of his guitar playing. And then Sticky Fingers came out. 

When I learned how to play Bitch it rubbed off on my own guitar style. Those two notes together – the fifth and the octave – you bend them both at the same time. That’s why Keith did, and I do it myself a lot. It’s there on Reckoning Day and so many of my own songs. Keith is so important to me. My guitar style is unique because it’s a little bit of Bitch and a little bit of Stone Free [by Jimi Hendrix], and people probably don’t realise that. 

In the past I’ve joked around and said some not so nice things about Keith. When I found I was addicted to heroin, it was like: “Cool. I’m like Keith Richards.” But I believe that story was grossly misreported, and apparently he didn’t do heroin for that long.

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

Charlie Benante, Anthrax: My favourite period of the Stones is the late 1960s when they became that kinda dirty, funky sound, and Can’t You Hear Me Knocking is a prime example of that era. The opening riff is so catchy, and it brings you into the song. Then the other part of the song which I love is the end part, which goes on for a few minutes, with Mick Taylor kinda leading that whole jam section. It’s one of those songs that you never ever get tired of. 

I heard that the song has different meanings; it’s a drug reference, and it comes from Mick Taylor knocking, knocking, knocking. When the guys finally let him in, he said: “Can’t you hear me knocking?” I heard they wrote the song right on the spot. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s what I’ve always heard. Sticky Fingers – that period of the Stones is just one of the best.

Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters: I love the format of Bohemian Rhapsody and Stairway To Heaven and Band On The Run – those ‘journey’ songs that go from point A to point B to point C and point D, and end up somewhere completely different to where they started. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking is the Stones’ ‘journey’ song. It’s almost their version of prog rock, if you will. It takes you down this route that you don’t know where it’s going to end. And I’m not sure they did when they were writing it. 

I’m not sure who actually wrote it. [The writer credits] always say Jagger and Richards, but you never know who wrote anything in the Stones. It could have been the fucking guitar tech. But it doesn’t matter, cos musically it’s got it all. You’ve got Bobby Keys [saxophone], you’ve got that amazing Mick Taylor guitar solo, you’ve got Charlie Watts. I love Charlie’s drumming in it. Someone asked me the other day what makes him great. It’s because he’s got that unmistakable back beat. It’s got a rough elegance. 

I’ve seen the Stones a bunch of times live, and it’s always the same. They start, and it’s like they’re not even sure what song they’re supposed to be playing. But two or three songs in and it’s congealed into something amazing. Then for the next two hours you’re completely enamoured with what’s still the greatest living rock’n’roll band of all time.

Let It Loose

Slash: There’s a song that doesn’t get any love from anybody, and I think it’s brilliant. It’s from Exile On Main St. I’ve always been drawn to songs that were not the hits [for a particular band]. This is definitely one of those that falls into that category, and that most people should be familiar with. They’ve probably heard of it, but not actually heard it. It’s fucking great. It has a great vocal and some wonderful guitar.

Tumbling Dice

Rich Robinson, The Black Crowes: I’m probably more of a fan of their albums than of individual songs, but one of their very best would have to be Tumbling Dice. I love that whole record [Exile On Main St.]. Tumbling Dice is not only one of the band’s finest, it’s also right up there among the all-time great songs by any artist. When you hear it, the feeling that comes out of those speakers is just so joyful. 

Sometimes others, like the Faces and Ronnie Lane, could get a little melancholy, and there’s a place for that, but the Stones put that feeling on the back burner. It emits a sort of elation. And, just as important, the way it was produced, and the way the band project, it’s almost as if you’re right there in the studio with them.

Jonny Lang: It’s hard to quantify why I love this song so much. It seems to me that whenever the Stones set out to record something or to write a song, they didn’t take it too seriously, it just flowed right out of them. All those great records they made… To me, it feels like they didn’t need to try too hard.

Bernie Marsden: It had to be something from the Mick Taylor era. There’s a whole generation that doesn’t know how much he gave to those particular records. I’m lucky enough to have played with Mick recently, and I saw the Stones on the Goats Head Soup tour [in 1973]. I’d recommend anything at all from the Exile On Main St. album, but of course Sticky Fingers is also pretty bloody good.

Ginger Wildheart: To me, Tumbling Dice is not only the perfect Stones song, it’s also the perfect song, full-stop. Everything about it, from the opening guitar riff to the female backing vocals and the lyrics, also the harmonies, is perfect. It’s the Stones messing with country – always my favourite Stones combo – putting a bit of filthy rock’n’roll in with country and gospel. 

To me that song formed Aerosmith’s approach… There’s very little blues in Tumbling Dice, just like all my favourite Stones and Aerosmith songs. I don’t like it when things become a bad version of blues music. When I listen to Tumbling Dice now, I realise how many bits of it I’ve ripped off. Not consciously, of course, because that would be far too obvious, but some things you just can’t help. I’ve copied it a lot, although hopefully there are not too many people to guess where. But I know, and that’s enough.

Angie

Jeff Scott Soto, Sons Of Apollo: As a kid I grew up hearing this song on the radio. This was before I got into listening to and appreciating bands. I used to hear it all the time and I had no idea who it was by. I didn’t even know what a rolling stone was. To my surprise, when I began an appreciation of music I discovered that this emotive ballad had been recorded by them. Angie resonated with me as a kid and as an adult it still does.

It’s Only Rock ’N Roll (But I Like It)

Conny Bloom, Electric Boys: Although there are other Stones songs that I love just as much as It’s Only Rock ’N Roll, including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which has one of the best riffs ever written, this one will always have a unique place in my heart for being the first single that I ever bought. I was nine years old, and at the same time I bought Alice Cooper’s Killer album. 

Back then It’s Only Rock ’N Roll (But I Like It) made such an impact on my life, and listening to it now it’s still so on the edge. It sounds like everything’s falling apart, and in a way it is. But it’s perfect. The Stones were always the biggest garage band in the world. Apart from having such great songs, that’s always been their charm. Nowadays, just like when I hear an AC/DC song, this one makes me want to run to the bar and order a really, really big drink.

Fool To Cry

Doro Pesch: I ’m a fan of the Stones – big-time. Fool To Cry has such a magical atmosphere; it’s enchanting and magical. The organ is so sensual, and when Mick Jagger sings those lyrics… wow. When I was much younger I didn’t speak English, but I got what it was about. The first time I heard the song, it touched my heart. And it still has that effect, even though I’ve heard it a thousand times or more.

Miss You

Corey Glover, Living Colour: It’s bluesy, but it has an urban thing about it. I don’t know how they managed to place blues and disco within the same sphere, but I like the idea. Lyrically there’s a pathos of one person sitting around and waiting for another to call them – and they don’t. They want somebody to fill that space, and the person they’ve chosen is not going to do it. It’s a clever song. 

I got to spend some time with Mick Jagger in the early days of Living Colour. When he produced our first demos we had a lot of conversations about the blues. Back then I was listening to a lot of Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, and we had a long chat about that. The next day, he arrived in the studio and gave me this cassette; he’d gone home and made me a mix-tape – or maybe a Mick’s tape [laughs]. I’ve still got that cassette and I still cherish it. 

Working with Mick Jagger was surreal. Of course it was. When you’re in the studio and you look at the desk and he’s behind it, you almost have to pinch yourself. Being young and impressionable, looking at this man who’s forged such a career in popular music inspired a deep sense of gratitude from me. 

He told me how black music had given him his life. This was a kid from London, England, listening to these old blues songs and deriving resonance from that. And here I was, some kid from Brooklyn listening not only to that kid from London, but also the music that influenced him. It still inspires me that the Stones are still out there and rocking. It fills me with hope that I can continue doing this, and keep putting food on the table for my kids.

Beast Of Burden

Josh Todd, Buckcherry: I love so much about that song. It has such a great rhythm, and the words are so great, and as a lyric writer that really resonates with me. But best of all is the way that Jagger jives with the melody. We [Buckcherry] liked Beast Of Burden so much that we did our own version on our covers record, Covers: Volume One [in 2014].

Start Me Up

Tobias Sammet, Edguy/Avantasia: I wouldn’t call myself a big fan of the Stones, but I do like one song in particular, and it’s for a special reason. Every time I hear Start Me Up it makes me think of One Vision by Queen and I wonder where did they get it from? 

And then I listen to The Darkness’s I Believe In A Thing Called Love and realise that that was inspired by One Vision. Whenever I hear Start Me Up it leaves me wondering how many other songs it inspired. Maybe one day I will find out where the Stones borrowed it from.

Under Cover Of The Night

Steve Hogarth, Marillion: As well as the music, which is great, the political aspect of it appeals to me. It’s about what was going on in Central South America back then – and of course Mick was also married to Bianca [who was born in Nicaragua] then. That’s what the lyric was about: ‘All the young men, they’ve been rounded up/And sent to camps back in the jungle/And people whisper, people double-talk/Once proud fathers act so humble.’ 

I just love the sound of the guitars on it. There’s something really deep and malevolent about them. They turned me on when I first heard the song. After Under Cover Of The Night my other Stones favourites would be Sympathy For The Devil and Not Fade Away, in that order.

You Got Me Rocking

Phil Mogg, UFO: I saw the Rolling Stones play with Englebert Humperdinck in Walthamstow in London, but I must stress I was only ten years old. Jagger was in shorts at the time, too. You can’t beat that lyric: ‘I was a butcher cutting up meat/My hands were bloody, I’m dying on my feet’. 

When Pete Way [former UFO bassist] was in the band, and I used to ask him to play that one for me all of the time. I love the Stones, but the unfortunate thing with them is that you tend to forget they’re a rock band. There’s so much publicity, gossip and general hoo-hah about them, the fact that they’re an R&B-flavoured group can easily be forgotten. That’s a shame. Put the media circus aside and they’re one of the best white R&B bands this country has ever known.

Doom And Gloom

Joel O’Keeffe, Airbourne: I could've picked Jumpin’ Jack Flash or any of their other classics, and Doom And Gloom gets me up on the table just like all the rest. Whenever we play a show, that song is part of our warm-up music. You hear it backstage as you’re getting in the mood to go on, and it makes you think: “Fuck me, the Stones have still got juice in the tank."