Ask Marty. You know, Martin Scorsese. He knows. There is simply no overestimating the importance of the Rolling Stones. Formed in 1962 and performing ever since, this “hardest working band in show biz” has turned music on its ear for over half a century. An English band that puts out rock n’ roll and Chicago Blues with equal aplomb, this group also experimented with other genres including disco and gospel. Their output? 30 studio albums, 25 compilation albums, and 24 live. All deserve a hearing. But since time is limited, here are our top ten studio LPs picks. Let the debate begin.
10. Between the Buttons (1967)
The Stones take on a tinge of psychedelia here, mixing the arcane with the iconic thereby yielding an LP that is both of its time and of endless appeal. Where else would the defiantly horny “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the mournfully melodic “Ruby Tuesday” keep company so effectively?
9. Out of Our Heads (1965)
The Stones’ first number one album on Billboard is what put them on the map. And while their R&B covers prove a signature element, the biggest hits are originals that find Mick Jagger and Keith Richards perfecting their “bad boy” struts with “The Last Time” and “Satisfaction.”
See Related: “The Rolling Stones Aren’t Just Bluesy, They’re Glam”
8. Tattoo You (1981)
A comeback of sorts, this album has an infectious, deliberate messiness. Mostly a compilation of unreleased tunes from earlier studio sessions, Tattoo You delivers a raw freshness with a series of classics from its opening track, the mojo-building “Start Me Up,” on through the quirky “Little T & A” and the touching down-tempo “Waiting on a Friend.”
7. Some Girls (1978)
Thanks to reams of airplay for “Beast of Burden” and “Shattered,” this critical triumph also becomes a huge seller even as it nods to disco (“Miss You”) and never skirts away from acknowledging NYC in its darkest days. The band’s return to grit also happens to be encased in one of the most unusual examples of die-cut cover art of all time.
See Related: “The Rolling Stones and 7 Stellar Assists”
6. Aftermath (1966)
A relatively early entry, this is the first LP made entirely of Jagger/Richards compositions. (Co-founder Brian Jones relegated himself to playing dulcimer, marimbas and the koto thereby giving some extra flavor to the tracks). Still, Aftermath maintains that Chicago Blues feel, with an expansive album length of 50 minutes. Credit that to “Goin’ Home,” their first track to clock in at over 10 minutes.
5. Goats Head Soup (1973)
Maddening, melancholy, mysterious, Goats Head Soup follows the seminal Exile on Main Street and tops Billboard charts, lifted by that most memorable track “Angie.” And the cover art with Jagger channeling Kate Hepburn in The African Queen? Genius!
4. Beggar’s Banquet (1968)
The last album released during Brian Jones’ lifetime, this universally beloved album is a near-flawless display of what the Stones do best – defiant rock with a blues edge. Each LP side opens with a timeless tune: “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man.” This one justly remains a much-discussed creative triumph.
3. Let It Bleed (1969)
A stunning artistic masterpiece that still had Brian Jones’ artistic fingerprint, Let It Bleed is a musical time stamp marking the unrest of the era. The wide offerings reference gospel (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Gimme Shelter”), country (“Let It Bleed,” “You Got the Silver”), and the blues (“Midnight Rambler”). These tracks are poetic tours de force that continue to thrill.
2. Sticky Fingers (1971)
The Stones’ first album of the 1970s (and the first without any input from Jones) is nearly their most compelling. Jagger goes all out with his inimitable vocals on the eclectic tracks. “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” “Sister Morphine” (with writing credit to his good friend Marianne Faithfull”), and “Sway” (which displays the chops of new guitarist Mick Taylor). This one would’ve summed up their legacy except for…
1. Exile on Main Street (1972)
Picture Keith Richards and a band of strung-out brilliant creative souls, cranking out this virtuoso double album in a rented villa in Nellcôte, France. Frankly more Keith than Mick in its flavor, this album has not only gained in stature over the years but is considered by many to be the ultimate Stones’ release. With tunes like “Happy,” “Rocks Off” and the transcendent “Tumbling Dice,” (among many others), this LP certainly ranks as one of the very finest rock albums of all time.
Photo: The Rolling Stones l-r Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Brian Jones. 23rd April 1964 (Photo by Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Agree with most, but I have never been able to get into Between The Buttons. I like 4 tunes on that one, mostly leaves me cold.
I will always be a big fan of the first four studio albums. For most of us it was the first time we had heard their Blues covers and sent us off to the record store searching for the originals. I will always be thankful to them for that. Why isn’t Blue and Lonesome on the list?
My faves: December’s Children, Aftermath, Between The Buttons, and (yes, I know I’m probably almost alone in this) Their Satanic Majesties Request. After Brian Jones, not so much…
Add 12 X 5, Its Only Rock N Roll and Bridges to Babylon. Lose Tattoo You, Some Girls and Decembers Children. Raise Between The Buttons into the top 5 and all is good.
Nice article and nice list. I just don’t understand the reverence that people attach to Exile on Main Street. I agree it has several good songs but the murkiness of the sound makes it hard to enjoy and to label it not only the Stones best but one of the very best rock albums of all time mystifies me. And even if the sound has been cleaned up the songs just aren’t as strong or memorable as most of their albums. I guess I’m in the minority here. I just wish someone would explain it to me. Better than Sticky Fingers? Beggars Banquet? Some Girls? Let It Bleed? Why is it better? Someone explain to me so I can understand. Thanks.