Classic tracks that defined the greatness of The Rolling Stones.
Bitch – Sticky Fingers (1971)
It all begins with Keith’s simple but killer riff while Charlie and Bill dutifully follow Keith’s funky groove with their typically understated but cool rhythm section aplomb, and we’re off and running with one of the coolest, sexiest, absolutely badassed tunes the Stones ever recorded. Mick sounds cocky and shit-kicking mean, the pale English whiteboy acting black for over a decade who—almost—finally pulls it off on this killer track. Producer Jimmy Miller then tosses in the fucking superb brass section of sax man Bobby Keys and trumpeter Jim Price to literally embarrass all the “jazz rock” shit by bands like Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Ides of March. Like, come on, you silly cats, rock like this, motherfuckers. You can’t ‘cos you ain’t got Keith, bitches. You ain’t got Mick Taylor either. Game, set, and match. This is one of the greatest Rock & Roll songs you’ll ever hear, breathtakingly confident and cool, swaggeringly sexy like a motherfucker, and utterly fucking groovy, The Stones at the height of their power and glory as the self-proclaimed greatest Rock & Roll band in the world. A decade later while I was in college, we’d spin this record at parties to get the girls feeling dirty and decadent on the dance floor. Fuck yeah. We’d follow this with Prince’s Uptown to crank up the funky-sleazy factor and shit would get wild fast. It’s only Rock & Roll but I love it.
Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) – Goats Head Soup (1973)
Billy Preston kicks off the first four bars of this killer track with a gorgeously funky clavinet intro that informs folks that the Stones means business and to put down whatever you’re doing, shut the fuck up, prick up your ears, and listen. Yeah, sure, the Mickster gets all socially conscious and shit, and lays down one of the best vocal performances of his long career, but what drives this song is the brilliant interplay between Preston’s clavinet and Keith’s wah-wah guitar strumming. Keith also laid down the funky bass line just to tart up the whole thing. The bands sounds weary and dragged down by dope and decadence and life and all the misery on the streets they witness from their limousines, and Mick reminds us all how fucked up everything seems, yet the song still gets your ass shaking to its downright dirty nasty groove. With the producer Jimmy Miller at the helm since Jumping Jack Flash, the Stones went on a sonic binge from 1968-1973 that defined their career as Rock & Roll grand masters. Miller always brought out what made the band so great, and when he was unceremoniously fired after this album, the band never rose back to this unbelievable level ever again, though Some Girls and Tattoo You had their moments; however, let’s be honest, after 1973 the Rolling Stones basically became a tribute band to their past greatness. They weren’t cool any more.
Tumbling Dice – Exile on Main Street (1972)
Legend has it that Mick was incensed that the record company used the wrong mix for the album version of this song, and that it took Jimmy Miller and the band over 150 takes to get anything decent on tape, but who gives a fuck, this is such a sleazy, dope-and-booze-soaked boogie-woogie classic that no one cared once it blasted through speakers in living rooms, cars, jukeboxes, clubs, and everywhere else in 1972. Drummer Charlies Watts was throughly incapable of playing the coda on this song right, so Jimmy Miller came from behind the console and pounded the fuck out of the skins to drive the groove with a dirty, nasty, sexy raunch that turned this into a classic. Of course, the greatest backup singers in Rock history, the divinely awesome Clydie King, Venetta Fields, and Sherlie Matthews, bring the sass and sexy attitude and ebullient black church chorus that keep fingers snapping and asses wiggling throughout this roadhouse romp. Yes, this song is the grand mess of a doped-up and ragged jet-set rock band in the throes of an out-of-control superstar lifestyle where no one told them no, but what a fucking glorious mess, eh? Bands like Aerosmith and Guns-n-Roses made a career of sounding like this even down to copying Keith’s majestically decadent but abjectly destructive lifestyle. But they never sounded this great. They didn’t have Keith. Or Mick Taylor. Or Jimmy Miller at the console.
When the Whip Comes Down – Some Girls (1978)
The Stones were well aware that Punk and Disco had usurped all the fire and glory from all the tired old 1960s rockers who were now mostly drug-addicted millionaires safe inside their limousines clutching massive record contracts despite the fact their music was rapidly descending into uncool piles of shit. Sure, the old guys sold out arenas and still got more than ample airplay on American FM radio, but none had any street cred in New York or London, where the Punks reigned supreme and garnered all the best press accolades. In 1977 nothing was more uncool than The Who, Stones, and Pink Floyd to the kids who mattered and now dug the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, and Talking Heads. Mick and Keith had always had their ears to the ground when stealing source material, beginning when they were young lads glomming the sound and style of the American bluesmen they worshipped. Mick lived in New York in 1977 and clearly saw that the nutty and frenetic kids at CBGB’s made him and his band look old and uncool. Or that Disco music had now become the cause célèbrere among his champagne-sipping jet-set celebrity clique. No one was digging The Rolling Sones in 1977. Not even the Stones. So Mick got off his ass and took charge of the band while Keith wallowed in a heroin haze, and the result was a “comeback” album, Some Girls, that ripped off both cool trends of the time, Punk and Disco, but with the typical Rolling Stones unapologetic swagger, and, lo and behold, for a brief moment the band was cool again. It didn’t last and they never made another fully end-to-end great album again, but Some Girls evoked some of the old magic. Yeah, the Stones were cool in 1978. Even some of the Punks grudgingly agreed on that. And the Disco fans loved Miss You like a motherfucker because it was superb dance music. So all was well again in the Big Lips-Wagging Tongue Land.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)
The Summer of Love and all it’s silly hippie-dippie fluff and psychedelic horseshit fell flat when the Stones tried it on Their Satanic Majesties Request. The band that invented the whiteboy-wannabe-black-bluesmen swagger with Satisfaction now tried to go all Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper’s, and the result was a gigantic pile of embarrassing shit. It could have been curtains for most Rock bands, but Mick and Keith smartly hired the hottest producer in London, the American Jimmy Miller, who’d recently helped Little Stevie Winwood and his band the Spencer Davis Group sound almost black and cool like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave, though not quite, let’s be honest. Miller’s genius was how with soul-rhythmic interplay and rock grooves he could turn a simple pop-rock song into a goddamn almost-Stax-sounding soul hit. Listen to Winwood’s Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man, and, hot damn, I am sure Wilson Pickett smiled when he heard them. With the Stones, Miller already had a band that could riff and jam, but all they needed was strong push back to their roots and what they did best. He restored their confidence in making copycat black blues music, but with their uniquely cool English flair. Keith wasn’t Muddy fucking Waters, but he also wasn’t moldy cheese; he was a pretty cool cat in his own right. And no one would ever confuse Mick with Little Richard, but Mick had star power nonetheless and decent chops. Moreover, Mick & Keith, in spurts, had proven to be fantastic songwriters with amazing pop sense. Both just needed a musical mentor who could make them sound cool again. Jimmy Miller deftly remade The Rolling Stones into The Rolling Stones v.2, and it led to a glorious 6-year, 5-album run that proved overwhelmingly that they were, indeed, the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band. And it all started with this song. Hello, Rolling Stones v.2. Honor was restored. The bad boys were back from their failed LSD trip. Even James Brown admitted these whiteboys were cool.
Waiting on a Friend – Tattoo You (1981)
My generation came of age in the late 1970s early 80s, and to us the Stones were old dudes our older brothers and sisters dug. Our bands were The Clash, Prince, U2, Elvis Costello, Run-DMC, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, Beastie Boys, Def Leppard, Guns-n-Roses, R.E.M., Duran Duran, The Smiths, et al., young, new, fresh bands that pushed the limits of where Rock could go beyond the Classic Rock of the 70s that had grown stale and overplayed. And yet these old fucks still put out songs that made us smile, like this chill motherfucker; okay, yes, The Stones were all right, man. The 80s were not kind to these geezers (or The Who, Pink Floyd, and Bowie for that matter), and they ceased being cool forever and turned into a tribute band for their former selves, but in 1982 MTV played the fuck out of this song and we all loved it. I saw them live in Louisville in early 1982 and they were fucking great. Mick & Keith & Ronnie and boys were cool dudes, no doubt. Sadly, ego, dope, and excess forever stole their creative juices, but in this glorious moment they still shined like the superstars they were.