The Rolling Stones Albums
The Rolling Stones were the first rock band that matters. Their template of wild and raucous music is what most of what came after is based on, and their template is as immortal as music gets. Their sound is based in Rhythm and Blues, Country, Folk, and Rockabilly, and it fused all of them together though the intricate guitar licks of Keith Richards and the uncontrollable rants of Mick Jagger. Compared to the other bands of the early 1960’s, The Rolling Stones were easily the most fearsome. They pushed rock music into the future by overcoming their influences but constantly being of the times as well: each new album whether it be 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, is of its time and also timeless. It is kind of fun to discover that it took the band a while to find their now signature sound (the most persuasive argument for the beginning of that is 1968’s Beggars Banquet) but it’s true that it was always there to some extent, perfected on the dual album masterworks Stick Fingers (1971) and Exile on Main Street (1972). The band pressed on and are the longest lasting act of rock music (as of 2016 they are still touring though most band members are in their 70’s), though they never again surpassed those dual masterpieces in terms of influence and stylistic range. The adjective “hard” was added to the word “rock” when the Rolling stones made their first record.
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals
Keith Richards – Lead Guitar/Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums
Brian Jones – Keyboards/Arrangements (1963-1967)
Mick Taylor – Guitar (1968-1973)
Ronnie Wood – Guitar (1974-present)
Ian Stewart – Keyboards (1963-1985)
Biggest Influences: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo, Buddy Holly
Best Albums: Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street
1964 – (2.5 / 5) – England’s Newest Hitmakers
1964 – (2.5 / 5) – 12 x 5
1965 – (3.5 / 5) – The Rolling Stones Now!
1965 – (4 / 5) – Out of Our Heads
1966 – (4.5 / 5) – Aftermath
1967 – (5 / 5) – Between the Buttons
1967 – (3 / 5) – Their Satanic Majesties Request
1968 – (4.5 / 5) – Beggars Banquet
1969 – (5 / 5) – Let It Bleed
1971 – (5 / 5) + – Sticky Fingers
1972 – (5 / 5) + – Exile on Main Street
1973 – (2.5 / 5) – Goats Head Soup
1974 – (3 / 5) – It’s Only Rock n Roll
1976 – (1.5 / 5) – Black and Blue
1978 – (4.5 / 5) – Some Girls
1980 – (3 / 5) – Emotional Rescue
1981 – (4 / 5) – Tattoo You
1983 – (2.5 / 5) – Undercover
1986 – (1.5 / 5) – Dirty Work
1989 – (4 / 5) – Steel Wheels
1994 – (2.5 / 5) – Voodoo Lounge
1997 – (2 / 5) – Bridges to Babylon
2006 – (4 / 5) – A Bigger Bang
England’s Newest Hitmakers – (2.5 / 5)
Made in 1964, at a time when the Rock n’ Roll album was at its infancy. Almost entirely cover songs, which was the norm in that year, it’s a decent collection of their influences of the time: Slim Harpo, Chuck Berry, Wille Dixon, Buddy Holly. “Tell Me” is the first Jagger/Richards composition on an album.
Greatest Tracks: Tell Me, Route 66
12 x 5 – (2.5 / 5)
Still mostly covers (a fact I am just stating, not a negative thing) the band’s second album of 1964 was almost identical to the first in sound and style. Better than your average cover band because of their energy and lack of restraint. “Time is on My Side” written by Jerry Ragovoy is their best cover tune to date, and their best original composition is “Congratulations”, it shows a maturity that most bands of the time lacked and also a defeatist, depressed attitude that was new for rock music. Another Chuck Berry cover as Keith Richards shows off his guitar chops and is perhaps his biggest/greatest disciple.
Note: This was originally a 5 song Ep called 5×5. It was expanded to 12 songs for the US market, who were confused by what EP’s were.
Greatest Tracks: Congratulations, Grown Up Wrong, Time is on My Side.
The Rolling Stones Now! – (3.5 / 5)
With the band’s 3rd album, they finally create something that is cohesive and stands the test of time. A collection of songs for sure like the previous two, but this time there is a mood of angst that prevails throughout and adds power to the recordings (credit the albums producer Andrew L. Oldham). “Heart of Stone” is their first great original song on a record, a ballad that is American blues in tradition but displayed with guitar and attitude that is totally British and largely new; anguish, heartbreak, sensitivity, all in one song. Other highlights of Jagger/Richards songs are “Off the Hook”, which shows a rare silly side to the band, but also a much needed melodic passage. A Chuck Berry (surprise!) cover also stands out, “You Can’t Catch Me”, and Arthur Butler’s “Down Home Girl” and especially the tribal frenzy of Ellas McDaneil’s “Mona” are exceptional covers (nice descending rockabilly guitar in the latter). Brian Jones does get his chance to shine on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster”, with a slide guitar track throughout. The less traditional the album is, the better it is, as a number of blues standards add nothing to the album and hold it back from greatness (“Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”, “Down the Road a Piece”, “Oh Baby We Got a Good Thing Goin”). The covers and the originals do somewhat blend on RS Now, as the band’s style is finally coming to light. If “Heart of Stone” is the lead single example, the band is capable of future greatness.
Greatest Tracks: Heart of Stone, Mona, Down Home Girl, You Can’t Catch Me
Out of Our Heads – (4 / 5)
With the band’s 4th album, they made their first minor masterpiece. While it may start off with a couple of covers and sound like the previous records, by the 3rd track, the immortal “The Last Time”, a magical combination off blues guitar riffs and primitive shouting is finally born. There is something very majestic about the Rolling Stones sound in later 1965, displayed to perfection in one of the greatest rock songs of all time- “Satisfaction”. The song outshines anything that the band or ANY band of the time had done to that point, and drivers their theory of repetitive melodic guitar lines home like discovering a new scientific theory on how to write music. The backbeat of the tune is played effortlessly by Charlie Watts and held together by Wyman’s bouncing bass, while the subversive lyrics (“I can’t get no girl reaction”, “Hey hey hey/that’s what I say”, “He can’t be a man ‘cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me”) and singing of Jagger redefine what is possible with musical instruments. It tackles teenage frustration as well as an anti-corporate statement about the danger of commercials. A cover of Roosevelt Jamison’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” is completely remade in the Stones image, and a live track (“I’m Alright”) is added to the middle of the record containing screaming girls in the background and keeping alive the energy that the record has in the middle.
The album also is half original compositions this time with the above mentioned songs as well as almost the entire second side of the record: “Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” is more melodic fantasy as blues song, like the previous records “Off the Hook”; “Play With Fire” is a haunting ballad, with an almost Celtic folk vibe; “The Spider and the Fly” has more playful lyrics and some great vocal acrobatics by Jagger; “One More Try” closes out the record in a great fashion, shows timeless rock bands of the future how to do so with class and style. Out of Our Heads is one of the few albums that stands out in 1965, its peers would be The Who’s My Generation and Bob Dylan’s dual releases Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home. While not every song is perfect, it is very consistent for its time and it shined bright so that rock music afterwards would never be the same.
Greatest Tracks: Satisfaction, The Last Time, That’s How Strong My Love Is, Play With Fire
Aftermath – (4.5 / 5)
Most widely known as the first album the band did of all original compositions, it is also important because it is the band’s first great album. It is as fearsome as their singles, perhaps more so, as the band is allowed to be the more vile then they have ever been on songs such as “Stupid Girl” (“look at that stupid girl, the way she powders her nose, she’s the worst thing in this world”), “Under My Thumb” (“under my thumb, a squirming dog who just had her day), and “It’s Not Easy” (“gotcha running like a cat in a thunderstorm”), all about Mick Jagger’s ex-girlfriends. These kind of songs have their roots in the r&b of the early sixties but also point towards something new with the way th band lays down the melodies. The band also really thinks out of the box instrumentally, with Brian Jones adding a variety of background sound effect to “Paint Ii Black” with sitar and Indian influence, marimba to “Under My Thumb”, slide guitar to “Don’t Cha Bother Me”, etc.
The most important thing that Aftermath finally gets right about the group is that they can balance these hard rocking tunes with moments of pure beauty such as the dulcimer driven “Lady Jane”, the somewhat generic but still entertaining “Think”, and the hidden pop gem “I Am Waiting”, which is one of the most underrated songs from the band’s entire catalogue. Only “Flight 505” and “High and Dry” ring false notes and are skippable. Last but not least, the album ends with an eleven-minute blues ditty called “Going Home” which is a durable tune despite its extended length. This song sets a precedent for longer songs on albums from 1966, as like-minded musician’s from all over the world were experimenting with longer song lengths: The Seed’s “Up in Her Room”, Frank Zappa’s “Monster Magnet”, Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, Love’s “Revelation”, The Who’s “A Quick One”, and “Paul Butterfield’s “East West”. In all, Aftermath set a new standard for how to make a rock album and it never gets old.
Greatest Tracks: Paint It Black, Going Home, I Am Waiting, Under My Thumb
Between the Buttons – (5 / 5)
Arriving in in the early spring of 1967, Between The Buttons was a step forward once again from the genius Aftermath into an album that tried to encompass more than any and of its time. The range of styles attempted by the band on this record HAS to be attributed mainly to Brain Jones, who pulled all of this diversity off with a subtle and almost invisible presence. There are nods to The Beach Boys harmonies the bridge of “Yesterday’s Papers”, the flute solos of “Ruby Tuesday” (that rare pop ballad that stops time and makes you bask in all of its glory) which owe something to Love’s Da Capo album, sputtering bass and shuffling piano chords on “Connection”, organ (no guitar!) on the heart-breaking ballad “She Smiles Sweetly”, circus sound effects (kazoo!) and ragtime era sounds on “Cool, Calm Connected”…..did I catch them all??? I’m certain I didn’t. This is a band that knows how to use a studio full of instruments to beautiful and timeless effect, and the production is unpolished and all the better for it. Beyond that, even more so than Aftermath, this is an ALBUM where each song is strong and flows from one to another.
The Rolling Stones were different than many major English bands of 1967 (Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, The Who) in that they did not quite have a style of their own by this point honed down to a science. Some bands start off with a sound, some bands constantly change, and some bands just take a while to define themselves; the Rolling Stones are in that third category. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter because if the songs are strong throughout an entire record, it will stand the test of time just fine. Stones classics like “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” are mostly on the first half of the record, but things are still interesting on the second side of the record- “All Sold Out” is a solid old school style 1950’s rock tune, with angry lyrics from Mick Jagger about an old flame; “My Obsession” is an odd, brooding and spooky song that is the first of its type and found the band in a rare depressed state, again made interesting thanks to the interplay of drummer Watts and the master of slithering bass licks Bill Wyman; “Complicated” rings out as the most reminiscent of the early Stones but it is still a great rocker. Even the lesser songs I didn’t mention are pretty good, meaning that this is the first album the band has done without a song I would skip. It is also the most diverse, covering a plethora of futuristic sounds and effortlessly blending them into the Rolling Stones unique blues rock.
Greatest Songs: Ruby Tuesday, Let’s Spend the night Together, She Smiled Sweetly, My Obsession
Her Satanic Majecties Request – (3 / 5)
The confusion of this record is somewhat legendary, as it was the Stones final foray into psychedelic rock. The problem is, they were not very good at the types of music they attempted here as this play kind of like a b-sides to the far superior Between the Buttons (both released I 1967). There is a good chance the band was thinking more about cashing in on a psychedelic type hype created by The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts club band or the just the psychedelic scene in general. The results are far from bad, in fact songs such as “In Another Land”, “The Lantern”, and “Citadel” are quite effective at capturing the sounds of the time with their studio effected phaser vocals and lack of percussion at times. At least two of the tunes are classics: “2000 Light Years From Home” is pure psych; “She’s a Rainbow” is a very melodic trumpet line and a beautiful piano intro and verse, while uttering the line “She Comes in colors everywhere, she combs in hair/ she’s like a rainbow.”
The problem with even the best songs on here is that they could have come from any British or American band in the psychedelic rock scene at the time, in particular Los Angeles oriented band Love, who’s own “She Comes in Colours” was released prior to Her Satanic Majesties Request and the Stones song just bares too much of a resemblance to in title and lyrical content (not musically it should be said, the melody and music are not stolen from the Love song). The less said about the other four songs (“Gomper”, “On With the Show”, both versions of “Sing This Altogether”) the better, as they really drag the album down in between the good songs and are awful attempts at psychedelic rock music. Again, there is a reason that this album is often referred to as the Stones worst 1960’s record because it is uncharacteristic of their ascension found on every other album up to this one. There are plenty of good tunes here, but it is a challenging listen that I would only wish upon die-hard Stones fans.
Greatest Songs: She’s A Rainbow, 2000 Light Years From Home, The Lantern, In Another Land
Beggars Banquet – (4.5 / 5)
Perhaps because of Brain Johnsons departure, Beggars Banquet is the start of The Rolling Stones with a blues rock undertone and basically set the standard for their entire career. Anyone getting into the band for the first time might be confused upon listening to anything from before Beggars Banquet/before 1968. That does not mean it is their best album though, as they are still finding their style within their style, as it were. The album is defined by it’s two powerful lead singles, each one a beginning track on each side of vinyl (track 1 and track 6 on any other medium): “Sympathy for the Devil”, the groove based rock to end all other groove based rockers with it’s infectionous bongo beat and cheerfull woo-woo” chant throughout the last half of the song (not to mention one of the greatest Keith guitar solos of his career) and “Street Fighting Man” with it’s rebellious lyrics and unique maxed-treble guitar tone. Through the record there is a old fashioned, country music vibe exemplified best on “Prodigal Son” and “Parachute Woman”, as songs that sound like traditional folk ballads remixed by the new version of the Rolling Stones. Other great tunes include album closer “Salt of the Earth”, sung by Richard’s with an uplifting structure that adds more and more layers each time, and “Stray Cat Blues” which exemplifies the new blues rock template RS are laying down on this record along with the two previously mentioned lead singles.
There are some tunes that don’t work as well, like “No Expectation” and “Dear Doctor”, which are good but perhaps too stuck in a kind of limbo that fails to be improved upon by the band. Even more so, the album is held back from true greatness (to me) with the songs “Factory Girl” and “Jigsaw Puzzle” which both fail to maintain my attention for their track length. I am just trying to point out why the record is not a personal favorite for me here, because there is still plenty to love among the records greatest songs. It’s not a record I listen to as much as some others but I do believe that it was a tunig point for the band as it is the first album that truly has the classic Rolling Stones sound that they keep to this day.
Greatest Songs: Sympathy for the Devil, Stray Cat Blues, Street Fighting Man, Salt of the Earth
Let It Bleed – (5 / 5)
From the opening guitar licks of “Gimme Shelter, you know you are listening to a classic Stones record. Whereas Beggar’s Banquet hailed in a remarkable classic roots rock sound that as unique to this at the time, the style is mixed even better and some would say “perfected” on Let It Bleed. What the album lacks in consistent tone or flavor, as it does jump from awe-inspiring epic rock songs to backwater country ditties several times, it more than makes up for in great songs. On first listen, this can make for a confounding; do the Rolling Stones want to be a pure country band or a straight up blues rock outfit? Again, this was the same contradiction that was fascinating on Beggar’s Banquet and it is still present here, perhaps nowhere more than the version of “Country Honk” placed toward the beginning of the record. Most newer RS fans are used to another version of this song, the more rousing arena ready “Honky Tonk Women”, which was released a s single around the same time as this album (and is a way better version of the same song). This kind of range and variety is what makes the Rolling Stones music hold uo so well though, and proves the band could do almost anything well with this incarnation of Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
Onto the music though: title track “Let It Bleed” and “Midnight Rambler” are lyrically repetitive but emotionally rousing tunes, the latter being one of the band more dynamic uses of a roots rock jam so far in rock music circa 1969. Opener “Gimme Shelter” is one of the band’s defining tunes in a sea of a band with defining anthems, at least in the top 10 Rolling Stone songs of all time by any fan’s list; the way Merry Clayton joins Mick Jagger in singing the chorus and the call and chant of “It’s just a shot away!” is completely immerses the listener in a wave of furious flames. Astonishingly, closing tune “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” does the opposite and repairs any damage done to your soul and uplifts you to heaven with a huge gospel chorus. Those were the singles of course, but as well as RS succeeded at that aspect of their music their album tracks are the reason the band has lasted so long. The country shuffle of “Love in Vain”, the worn-out western feel that “You Got the Silver” puts into Keith Richards soul searching vocals, the hidden gems of the record that are the flat-out rocking bass and drum workout that is “Live With Me” and the demonic howling Jagger displays on “Monkey Man”, these are the heart and soul of Let It Be the album. All of it become part of you as you are swept away by each passing moment, and each song builds upon the last like no other Rolling Stones album had to this point. Let It Be summed up the feeling and all of the facets of the Rolling’s Stones of the 1960’s perfectly and signaled the band was at it’s peak.
Greatest Songs: Midnight Rambler, Gimme Shelter, Monkey Man, Live With Me
Sticky Fingers – (5 / 5)+
Starting a new decade of recording with an album that is miraculously a breath of fresh air (even though it is their eleventh album), The Rolling Stones continue to impress and outshine all other contemporaries. The Beatles are the obvious comparison being the other main British heavy in terms of popular rock bands, and they broke up at the beginning of the decade! The Rolling Stones managed to press on into the 1970’s, and they have never sounded better than they do on Sticky Fingers. The perfect balance of raw emotion (“I Got the Blues”, “Wild Horses”), streamlined pop song craft (“Brown Sugar”, “Bitch”) and magnificent improvisation (their longest song yet at over seven minutes and one of their supreme masterpieces, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”) is present on the band’s tightest collection of tunes ever. Attribute this to a new openness of lyrical insight by Jagger, on songs such as “Sway” with the not-so-subtle chorus: “It’s just that evil life that’s got you in its sway.”
Song after song, Sticky Fingers perfects the Rolling Stones sound as blues rock with a dangerous edge. Single ready tunes meet beautiful romantic ballads, like the Gram Parsons-esque country elegy “Wild Horses” and album closer “Moonlight Mile”, which almost invents a new genre with its stadium ready psychedelic-blues hybrid, reminiscent of The Doors in their prime. There is also a humor present in “Dead Flowers”, which mocks country music and aging hipsters with the chorus, “take me down little Suzie take me down/ I know you think you’re the queen of the underground.” The album was recorded in many locations, most famously Muscle Shoals, Alabama (my hometown!) and songs such as “Bitch” and “I Got the Blues” make wonderful use of their world renowned studio musicians with their fabulous horn section. “Sister Morphine” is a rambling tune that has a genius slide guitar part in the latter half and ebbs in and out of coherency to the point that the listener feels that they are on a bad drug trip in the back of a taxicab. The sound of Sticky Fingers is a testament of a band in complete control of what they sound like, and the album has not aged a single day since 1971. It is that rare gem: a perfect record in tone, consistency, and execution.
Greatest Songs: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Bitch, Moonlight Mile, Sway, Brown Sugar
Exile on Main Street – (5 / 5)+
There is something magical about every single song on Exile on Main Street, which stands as The Rolling Stones magnum opus and greatest achievement in an almost thirty album career. It is hard to describe in words but whether you are putting the album on your vinyl record player for the first time or simply playing your entire collection at random while streaming music online, each time a song comes on from this album it just feels special. I don’t know what the band was doing right at the time (or WRONG considering all the drugs going on), how exactly it was mastered and mixed, or if the band was just at some kind of “peak” songwriting ability, but the album is as close to perfect as any collection of songs over an hour has been before or since. I can see how purists could have a problem with the record because this is not the same band that existed in the 1960’s; they have evolved. Unlike many bands who would be deteriorating by this point, The Rolling Stones continued the success they had the year before with Sticky Fingers and made an album with 18 songs as opposed to 10, which nearly doubled the length and doubled the perfection. Simply mind blowing.
That being said, Exile on Main Street is The Rolling Stones most ambitious album. It’s one of the most ambitious albums I have ever heard actually; at times one can hear the band trying so hard it seems as if they are jumping out of the stereo. This ambition fuels Exile on Main Street to be long and deep in musical content and make it a true double album worth hearing all the way through. By 1972 the double album style had become somewhat of a gimmick but Exile on Main Street could be the best example of how to do it right even through present day. One could definitely pick out a favorite tune or say that certain songs outshine others, but the point is it has a flow to it that surpasses almost all other albums.
The first three songs on the album represent what a monumental band The Rolling Stones are at this phase of their career: “Rocks Off” venting fury in every direction with miraculous glee, “Rip this Joint” basically laying the groundwork for the punk rock breakthrough of the mid-seventies (lyric sample: “Gonna raise hell at the funeral home! Wham bam Birmingham / Alabam’ don’t give a damn/ Ahhhhhhhh! Oh yeahhhh!”), and “Shake Your Hips” proving to be yet a another ace cover song (Slim Harpo) as viewed through the filter of the world’s greatest rock n roll band. “Torn and Frayed” and “Let It Loose” present another band entirely, one that is casual in its approach to melody and is content to drift along in the ether of a gospel band along the stairway to heaven. “Casino Boogie”, “All Down the Line”, “Tumbling Dice” are the anchors to the classic Rolling Stones blues rock template proving that this is the same band we have always loved.
If “Shine a Light” seems like a perfect, soothing closer to the album, the actual finale “Soul Survivor” figuratively rips one’s expectation into shreds by one-upping it. “Sweet Virginia” and the Keith Richard’s sung “Happy” are full of love and humor as well, providing a much needed contrast to the bombastic fury that engulfs the listener in a tidal wave of emotions. “Ventilator Blues”, the only song in The Rolling Stones catalogue to have a Mick Taylor writing credit, is perhaps the greatest moment of the band’s career: an epic guitar riff with a threating vocal performance by Jagger that sends chills down the spine and destroys any sort of notion of control to your senses. After a repeating chorus that is the epitome of “dynamic”, a simple refrain is repeated over and over until the listener’s ear drums are beaten into submission; “Ventilator Blues” is the possibly the greatest rock n’ roll tune of the 1970’s and it is buried in the second half of Exile On Main Street.
These songs have true passion that proves that rock and roll is the greatest music on Earth… who can deny the power of this classic album? No one really, this album has the ability to move souls and transform lives. It is one of the few albums I put on loud in the car or with headphones and just sit there and listen in amazement. I will admit that my opinion of it has changed over the years as I at first thought I liked about half of the album and thought half was just decent, then I loooved about ¾ of it and thought there was slight filler, but after a couple of dozen listens the whole thing has sucked me in. Even songs that are easy to describe as filler or simple minded – I am looking at you “Turd on the Run”, “I Just Wanna See His Face”, and “Stop Breaking Down”- I would now defend, saying they add a much needed ambience to the record. Exile on Main Street is a journey through the evolution of rock and roll by the ones who do it the best and set the bar high, The Rolling Stones.
Greatest Songs: Ventilator Blues, Tumbling Dice, Soul Survivor, Rip This Joint, Torn and Frayed, Let It Loose
Goats Head Soup – (2.5 / 5)
A disappointing follow up to the previous 2 albums, but no one can fault them for running out of steam. They should have just saved the three or four good songs for the next record. Hindsight and all that. Van Morrison’s influence is felt pretty strongly on the albums good songs. There is a lot of hilarious dated 1970’s sound effects (“Doo Doo Doo Doo”) and it does not sound timeless the way Exile on Main Street does.
Greatest Songs: Star Star, Angie, Winter, Silver Train
It’s Only Rock n Roll – (2.5 / 5)
A further step down the decent into mediocrity.
Greatest Songs: It’s Only Rock n Roll, Fingerprint File
Black and Blue – (1 / 5)
Their worst album, do not listen to or purchase this.
Greatest Songs: I guess “Hand of Fate” but even that one is not that great
Some Girls – (4.5 / 5)
Some Girls was not only a comeback in terms of quality and artistic success, it was a complete invigoration of their raw and visceral style. On the surface, the stuff of legends was still present, as “Miss You” and even more so “Shattered” represented an embrace of the emerging disco sound. The other popular trend of the time was more on the underground side, but the emerging punk scene would never have existed without The Rolling Stones, so tunes like “Lies” and the even more successful “Respectable” are great plays on that. Keith Richards shines perhaps brighter than ever, on his classic lead vocal for “Before They Make Me Run”, a great country rocker that is infused with punk energy. Then there is the classic ballad that the band seems to pump out like hit machines, “Beast of Burden”, which honestly could have existed on any RS album prior as well.
There are some lower moments that keep it from being as absolute classic, as the “Dead Flowers” wanna be “Far Away Eyes” fails at being a mock-country ballad or even a respectable one. The cover of “Just My Imagination” and mid-tempo jam “When the Whip Comes Down” are kind of Stones-by-numbers and while still interesting, kind of leave one wondering if the band still has a grip on reality as they come so close to the beginning of the record. The song that surely is most divisive among fans is the title track “Some Girls”, which plays as Mick Jagger’s ultimate tirade against the female gender. It is fitting to anyone who has truly listened to the band over the years, but the level of misogynist comments that he relays (“some girls give me children/ I never asked for”) could correctly be labeled as offensive. Of course it works as rock n roll, because being offensive are what the Rolling Stones are BEST at, so I love it! Some Girls is still an album that the Stones should be proud of though and easily their best since Exile on Main Street back in 1972. The consistency of the hit singles, the strength in unity of the album flow and the album tracks that actually trump the hit songs are what prove the Rolling Stones are truly the kings of classic rock music.
Greatest Songs: Respectable, Before They Make Me Run, Miss You, Some Girls
Emotional Rescue – (3 / 5)
As a follow up to Some Girls, the Rolling Stones supreme comeback album after a whole slew of mediocre and awful records, Emotional Rescue is a disappointment. However, in context of all of their recordings it fares better and has many of the band’s hidden gems. Again, the opening track seems to embrace disco to an even great extreme on a track simply called “Dance pt. 1”, and it’s not a bad tune at all. “Summer Romance” is even better, getting the same kind of nervous energy as many of the new wave bands of the era (The Cars, Talking Heads, Blondie). “Where the Boys Go” and the even better “Down in the Hole” are old fashioned blues romps that also capture the magic of classic Rolling Stones and prove that the band is still relevant, the former even incorporating a girl choir at the end (perhaps an apology for “Some Girls”?). “All About You” is a little schmaltzy, but it an effective ending ballad. I dig it.
The faux-reagee is back on tunes such as “Send it To Me” and “Indian Girl” is a bland ballad that has no effect other than to pad the running time, while other simple minded rockers (“Let Me Go” and “Emotional Rescue”) kinda limp along and do nothing to improve the band’s sound. If ever a song should have been left on the cutting room floor, it’s “She’s So Cold”, as it plays like a parody of the band. So! I can see why there is hate for this record, but I still feel like hate is too strong of a word, as half of the album is really good.
Greatest Songs: Down In the Hole, Summer Romance, All About You, Dance pt. 1
Tattoo You – (4 / 5)
Tattoo You is a great collection of the usual Rolling Stones rockers and ballads. There is not too much to say at this point (almost twenty years deep in the band’s career and most of these songs were 1970’s album b-sides) except that some songs work better than others. The first half of the record contains the blistering rockers: ”Start Me Up” being that same kind of simple to play tune that “Brown Sugar” was, kind of like a sequel to that great single; “Little T&A” has an awesome rock groove and “Hangfire” is a little dated in tone but still very moving with that kind of magical Rolling Stones quality; “Slave” is the masterpiece of the record, proving that the band is best when they keep it simple and it is one of the band’s longer tunes as well, with a saxophone jam at the end of the song that brings to mind “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”.
The albums second half contains the ballads: “Heaven” is a pure psychedelic groove, proving that the band can still hit the right notes that they did in the late 1960’s and the vocals are ghostly and haunting. “Waiting on a Friend” is a subdued ballad, more effective then something like “Angie” to me because of the way that the laid back attitude of the vocals fits the melancholy mood of the lead guitar and it’s another good usage of echo on the vocals. “No Use In Crying”, “Worried about You” and Tops” are all quite lame though, and drag the second half of the record way down. The same could be said for the final tunes on the first half of the record, “Neighbors” and “Black Limousine”, while not bad songs they kinda just drift by harmlessly and are not as effective as the albums best songs. The album as a whole plays like a miniature version of Sticky Fingers, as many of the notes and atmospheres are the same. It simultaneously proves that sometimes an album full of rehashed ideas form the past 10 years can actually exceed expectations AND that it is nearly impossible to achieve the magic of Sticky Fingers twice. Still, a fine effort, and far better than Emotional Rescue, Black and Blue, and Goat’s Head Soup.
Greatest Songs: Slave, Little T&A, Start Me Up, Heaven
Undercover – (2 / 5)
Greatest Songs: Too Much Blood
Dirty Work – (1.5 / 5)
Greatest Songs: Winning Ugly
Steel Wheels – (4 / 5)
Steel Wheels feels like a return to form for the group, and it is perhaps underrated in the bands discography because it is so normal for the band. It sounds like The Rolling Stones have always sounded: confident arena ready, simple yet catchy, overly emotional. It is one of their best albums, regardless of the time it came out. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the songwriting duo, can’t write songs while they are fighting with each other and they did that for most of the late 1980’s. But they sound more unified than ever on this record, and it shows on tracks like “Heart for Sale”, a blues rocker to end all blues rockers; a song perhaps about their temporary break up, “Mixed Emotions”; old fashioned country-blues tunes such as the voodoobilly “Break the Spell” and the lyrically complex “Terrifying”, lyric sample: “I’m faithful as a swan /darker than bat / friendly as a bear but tougher than a rat”.
Another fascinating thing about Steel Wheels is the depths the band goes to be unconventional. Towards the end of the album, “Almost Hear You Sigh” shows an influence from the late 80’s Peter Gabriel school of African influenced tribal soul. “Continental Drift” flirts with the music of John Hassell and Brian Eno, reaching a kind of haunting eclipse of primitive emotions. There is no normal structure to the song, it is pure avant-garde madness and proves the Rolling Stones are not done experimenting with their sound. There are a couple of generic rockers in the middle section of the record (Blinded By Love, Rock and a Hard Place”, Can’t Be Seen”) but it doesn’t hold back what is a very solid record overall. If ever there was a reason to listen to every single record a band puts out in a 50+ year career, it is to discover treasures like Steel Wheels. Truly, a good 1980’s Rolling Stones album!
Greatest Songs: Hearts for Sale, Break the Spell, Almost Hear You Sigh, Continental Drift
Voodoo Lounge – (2.5 / 5)
Greatest Songs: Love Is Strong, You Got Me Rocking, Suck on the Jugular, Moon Is Up
Bridges to Babylon – (2 / 5)
There are some interesting detours sonically by producer Don Was like the song “Might as Well Get Juiced” that has a digital production, but mostly the band sounds pretty lost and it is far too long.
Greatest Songs: Might as Well Get Juiced, Saint of Me, Thief in the Night
A Bigger Bang – (4 / 5)
The two albums of the 1990’s that The Rolling Stones produced were some of the worst of their career, mainly because they refused to focus the good ideas into something coherent. One can easily look at the band’s best albums of the 60’s and 70’s and see where most of the later albums of the last couple decades went wrong, and a lot of this is still present on the band’s final record, A Bigger Bang. The record’s major negative criticisms are not incorrect as it’s overlong at 16 songs and an hour plus length and many of the lesser tunes are either lame ballads such as “Streets of Love”, Biggest Mistake” and “This Place is Empty” or retreads of this band’s other familiar hits. “Sweet Neo Con” is a political rant against President Bush that feels tired. However, here is the clincher: if you look at this album as a summation of rock n roll up to the year it came out (2005), it totally works. Does “Rough Justice” sound like “Brown Sugar” and does “Look What the Cat Dragged In” sound like INXS? Well yeah, but this band started so many of rock’s trends that it should be allowed that they can sound like whoever they want, as long as the songs are good!
There are also plenty of killer tunes here that often get overlooked: “She Saw Me Coming” is a hilarious play on words and one of the group’s most enjoyable tunes ever; “Driving Too Fast” and “Dangerous Beauty” are fierce, threatening rockers as per usual; “Infamy” is one of the best Keith Richards songs ever and fine way to close out their career; “Rain Fell Down” and “Laugh I nearly Died” are very effecting serenades that hold their own against past ballads. Mick Jagger’s lyrics can be hit and miss at the stage in his career, but he is one of the best lyricists of all time so he can be given a couple lapses in quality. With say, eleven songs instead of sixteen, this would be a great record instead of merely a good one, but for true Rolling Stones fans it is easily their best since 1989’s Steel Wheels. It might be bewildering to purchase this as your introduction to the band, but I am positive any diehard fan of the band’s throughout the years will find something to like on this spiritual successor to Exile On Main St. A Bigger Bang is a misunderstood record overloaded with ideas, but unlike Voodoo Lounge or Bridges to Babylon, it is very much worth your time to obtain and enjoy.
Greatest Songs: She Saw Me Coming, Infamy, Driving too Fast, Dangerous Beauty, Rough Justice