30 Best Rolling Stones Songs of All Time, Ranked
The death of longtime Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts was a huge loss for the music world. After nearly six decades of music and countless hits, the world’s greatest rock and roll band won't be the same.
The Rolling Stones have been a part of our lives since they formed in London in 1962. Not everyone may be a fan, but everyone can probably name at least one of their songs. And when the Stones tour, their shows are the event of the season wherever they land.
While some of their songs were hits over half a century ago, they will continue to be well-loved long after we’re gone. That's why we ranked the best Rolling Stones songs of all time. Which are your favorites?
30. Mother’s Little Helper (1966)
In 1966, drug use among pop stars in Swinging London was becoming widely known, and the police and tabloids like the News of the World joined forces to "out" certain abusers. The Stones wrote "Mothers’ Little Helper" and turned the public’s perception of an addict on its head.
At the time, suburban housewives were the primary abusers of a prescription tranquilizer known as meprobamate, which is where the phrase, "mother’s little helper," came from. This sardonic, tongue-in-cheek track reached the top 10 in the U.S. and was one of the first pop songs to feature a sitar, courtesy of founding member Brian Jones.
29. Get Off of My Cloud (1965)
With the Stones coming off the success of "I Can’t Get No Satisfaction," expectations were high — too high, in fact, and the speed at which people expected them to produce was a source of frustration for the band. "Get Off of My Cloud" is the Stones’ response to their critics. Mick Jagger calls it a "stop-bugging-me, post-teenage-alienation song."
Charlie Watts’ precise, militaristic drumbeat underlying the band’s decadent, sexy swagger made "Get Off My Cloud" as big a hit as “Satisfaction” on both sides of the Atlantic.
28. Love in Vain (1969)
"Love In Vain'' is one of just a few covers the Stones attempted, but it remains one of their best. Written by legendary blues musician Robert Johnson, the song tells the tale of unrequited love through the analogy of a train departing a station: "When the train left the station / It had two lights on behind / The blue light was my baby / And the red light was my mind."
The Stones’ version stands out with a searing slide guitar solo by Keith Richards, and its popularity was such that the Robert Johnson estate sued the Stones — who believed the song was in the public domain — for copyright infringement.
27. Ruby Tuesday (1966)
"Ruby Tuesday" has been long alleged to be about a groupie, but according to guitarist Keith Richards, it was about his then-girlfriend Linda Keith, who had broken his heart after leaving him for Jimi Hendrix and forming a serious dependency on drugs.
Richards said, "[It’s about] some chick you’ve broken up with, and all you’ve got left is the piano and the guitar … and it’s goodbye, you know. And so it just comes out of that, and after that, you just build on it … and for a songwriter, hey, break his heart, and he’ll come up with a good song."
The B-side of "Let’s Spend the Night Together," the song became the Stones’ fourth No. 1 hit in the U.S. and was in the top three in the U.K.
26. We Love You (1967)
In 1967, the Stones — primarily, Mick, Keith and Brian Jones—were the subject of drug busts and under constant police scrutiny. "We Love You" served as not only a thank you to fans who supported them during that time, but it also allowed them to voice their anger and frustration toward the media and law enforcement, who were working together to silence the band.
The song features a collage of psychedelic sounds, including the footsteps of a perp walk, a jail door slamming shut, a Mellotron (think of it as an early digital sampler) and an anxious piano riff, courtesy of long-time Stones collaborator, keyboardist Nicky Hopkins.
25. Beast of Burden (1978)
"Beast of Burden" marks a transitional period for the Stones, which saw Ron Wood become a full-time member to replace Mick Taylor. When the "Some Girls" album became a stateside hit, "Beast of Burden" climbed up the singles charts.
Keith, who was returning to the band after getting off drugs, wrote the song for Mick Jagger, who kept things plugging along in his absence. He said: "When I returned to the fold after closing down the laboratory [his drug use], I came back into the studio with Mick to say, 'Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden' — that's why I wrote 'Beast of Burden' for him."
24. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ (1971)
At 7 minutes and 14 seconds, "Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'" is unusually long for any Stones track, but there’s never a dull moment. In an album full of iconic songs from beginning to end, "Knockin'" is the shining gem and one of the best Rolling Stones songs ever recorded.
It’s also one of the first songs to feature Mick Taylor (who replaced Brian Jones after his 1969 death). He states that much of its recording was a happy accident: "[The jam at the end] ... was never planned. ... I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling, and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again. ... It was a one-take thing."
23. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It) (1974)
"It's Only Rock 'n Roll" was a transitional LP, as it was the first to showcase the "Glimmer Twins" (Mick and Keith) as producers and the last to feature Mick Taylor. The title song was an ode to the band's frustration with being only as good as their last release.
Mick Jagger said: "I was getting a bit tired of [critics] having a go [with] all that, 'Oh, it's not as good as their last one' business. The single sleeve had a picture of me with a pen digging into me as if it were a sword. It was a lighthearted, anti-journalistic sort of thing."
The moment he finished writing it, he knew that this bluesy jam would be the instant classic that it is almost 50 years later.
22. No Expectations (1968)
This soulful, forlorn song from "Beggars Banquet" was never a single, but resonated with listeners due to its content — the loss of a relationship — and masterful slide guitar work from band founder Brian Jones.
With lines like "Our love is like our music, it's here and then it's gone,” the song’s meaning shifted in the public consciousness to be more a requiem for Jones after his untimely death at the age of 27 a year after its release.
21. Play With Fire (1965)
On the B-side of "The Last Time," "Play With Fire" may be the only song that doesn’t feature all of the Stones. Only Mick and Keith were present at its recording — the others were asleep, and their parts were recorded by Phil Spector and other session musicians.
The song’s narrator cautions a rich girl not to play with him, or he’ll end things with her right then and there: "Now you've got some diamonds and you will have some others / But you'd better watch your step, girl / Or start living with your mother."
In a 1995 interview, Mick called the song "amazing" and also said, "It’s a very in-your-face kind of sound and very clearly done ... You know, it’s very pretty."
We couldn’t agree more.
20. Waiting on a Friend (1981)
As a simple ode to friendship between bandmates, "Waiting on a Friend" from "Tattoo You" shows a more mature side of the band. Mick and Keith started writing the song together in the early 1970s, but it didn’t really gel until the MTV era, when they had the idea of packaging it together with a music video for the burgeoning cable station.
The video, which depicts Keith sitting on a New York City stoop (the same one on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s "Physical Graffiti") waiting for Mick, became an instant classic, and the song shot to the top of the charts.
19. Start Me Up (1981)
No list of the Rolling Stones' best songs of all time would be complete without this sexually charged rocker that was the first single from "Tattoo You" and brought the Stones to a new generation of fans who saw their music video in heavy rotation in the early days of MTV. It began life as a reggae song, entitled "Never Stop" during the "Some Girls" sessions, but the band was never happy with it.
According to Keith, a moment of inspiration in its initial recording was all it took to create the song we know and love, and the rest is history: "In the middle of a break, just to break the tension, Charlie and I hit [on] the rock and roll version ... right after that, we went straight back to reggae. We forgot totally about this one little burst in the middle until about five years later when somebody sifted all the way through these reggae takes."
18. The Last Time (1965)
One of the band’s earliest singles, "The Last Time" was one of the first Jagger/Richards compositions inspired by a Staples Singers’ gospel song, "This May Be The Last Time," from 1955.
The Stones sped up their version and changed its meaning from a spiritual one to a warning to a girl who does not appreciate her boyfriend. Phil Spector lent a hand on the production, and the "wall of sound" elements he was known for are somewhat evident here.
17. Midnight Rambler (1969)
When the Stones play "Midnight Rambler" live, it is a consistent showstopper. Mick narrates as a serial killer stalking his victim and was clearly inspired by Albert DeSalvo, the real-life Boston Strangler, who killed several women in the Boston area in the early 1960s.
Featured on "Let It Bleed," it is also the standout track on the band’s live album, "Get Your Ya-Yas Out." The live version is the one you usually hear on the radio — the band, particularly Charlie Watts, handles the song’s ever-changing tempo and shifting dynamics with the greatest of ease while keeping the intensity consistent throughout.
16. Paint It, Black (1967)
"Paint It, Black" is about a man mourning the death of his lover, but it has long been associated with the Vietnam War, particularly by those who fought it, as its themes of anger, desperation and alienation set the tone for the period.
Of the most famous Rolling Stones songs, it has resonated with fans for this reason and has been used in movies and shows about the war, such as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Tour of Duty," among others.
15. Time Is on My Side (1964)
Like other British Invasion bands, the Rolling Stones began their career covering the songs of blues and soul artists. "Time Is On My Side" is one such song, recorded originally by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his Orchestra, and later, soul singer Irma Thomas.
The Stones' version became the band’s first top 10 in the U.S. The song, about a boy who lost a girl but knows she’ll come back, captivated swooning teens from coast to coast, and the Stones became household names.
14. Let’s Spend the Night Together (1967)
This song appeared on the opening track of the American version of "Between the Buttons." It's about a young man’s attempt to conquer a woman, and it was a controversial hit due to its racy lyrics: "I'll satisfy your every need / And now I know you will satisfy me."
In fact, when the band appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" to perform the song, Mick was asked to change the lyrics to, "Let's spend some time together." He capitulated but showed his displeasure by rolling his eyes each time he said it.
No matter. The screaming audience didn’t mind, and neither do we.
13. Street Fighting Man (1968)
The 1960s, particularly the latter part of the decade, were marred by years of civil unrest around the globe, and the Stones, who were normally apolitical, found themselves in the fray with "Street Fighting Man." Mick based its lyrics on protests in London against the Vietnam War and how his celebrity was more hindrance than help to the cause: "But what can a poor boy do, 'cept sing in a rock and roll band?"
When it was released in the U.S. in the summer of 1968 on the heels of the violent protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, radio stations in that city and around the U.S. banned it from their airwaves because they believed it would stoke more violence.
It is for this reason the song didn’t climb up the charts, but it has become one of the band's more well-known classics.
12. She’s a Rainbow (1967)
"She’s a Rainbow" and all the tracks from "Their Satanic Majesties Request" weren’t met with critical acclaim when the album was released. In fact, it was mostly thought to be a murky knockoff of The Beatles’ masterpiece, "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band."
Since then, however, the record has become an underrated classic and is a favorite of many. “She’s a Rainbow” is a pretty pop psychedelic song of love that has become so beloved over the decades that the Stones started featuring it in their live sets after 2016 by fan request.
11. Tumblin’ Dice (1972)
"Tumblin’ Dice" is the only single off of "Exile on Main St." and tells the story of a man who likens his inability to be faithful to women to gambling: "I'm the lone crap shooter / Playin' the field ev'ry night."
The song was one of several recorded for the album in the basement of Villa Nellcôte, a French chateau that was leased to Keith Richards, who was a U.K. tax exile at the time.
The swaggering, swampy tune was in the top 10 in the U.K. and U.S. and cemented the album's legacy as one of the greatest Stones (and rock) albums of all time.
10. Miss You (1978)
The Stones’ dipped their toe in the disco genre with this dance classic from "Some Girls." The inspiration for its lyrics is said to be about the deterioration of Mick’s relationship with his then-wife, Bianca, but he has insisted it's more a song about longing and not any particular woman.
The driving disco beat alienated many Stones fans, but the band didn’t miss out, as the song went straight to the top of the charts.
9. Honky Tonk Women (1969)
"Honky Tonk Women" was the B-side to "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" and one of the first songs Mick Taylor played on after the death of Brian Jones. The narrator tells the tale of meeting "a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis," who is likely a working girl and, later, having a liaison with a "divorcée in New York City."
Taking their cues from country greats like Hank Williams, "Honky Tonk Women" began the band’s flirtation with country-rock, which culminated in their association with the godfather of the genre, Gram Parsons.
The song went to No. 1 in seven countries and is still an audience favorite in the band’s live shows.
8. Wild Horses (1971)
"Sticky Fingers" marked the beginning of the Stones' shift to country-infused rock, which peaked with "Exile On Main St." in 1972. Through his friendship with Keith, Flying Burrito Brothers founder Gram Parsons’ released his version of the song before the Stones did.
The Stones' track, long rumored to be written about Mick’s ex-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, drips with poignancy, longing and regret and is the version that continues to resonate with listeners to this day.
7. Angie (1973)
The first single from 1973’s "Goats Head Soup," "Angie" was a smash hit, and of their ballads, the only one to top the charts in the U.S. For decades, audiences have been captivated by the identity of women who let the world see the Stones’ softer side.
David Bowie’s ex-wife, Angie Bowie, claimed the song was about her, but both Mick and Keith have denied this. According to Keith, the named woman is random: "It was not about any particular person. It was a name, like 'Ohhh, Diana.'"
6. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) (1973)
If any song paints a better auditory picture of New York City in the 1970s, we have yet to hear it.
"Heartbreaker" tells just two of the 8 million tragic stories in the naked city. The first is a police shooting that was the result of mistaken identity, and the second is the death of a 10-year-old girl who succumbs to a drug overdose in an alley.
Neither story is based on truth, but the Stones' commentary on the "[Big] Apple in decay" not only rocks but is spot-on in its depiction.
5. Sympathy for the Devil (1968)
Often mistaken as an homage to Satanism, "Sympathy" takes its inspiration from the novel, "The Master and Margarita," by Mikhail Bulgakov and is actually about man’s inhumanity to man.
Its narrator is the Devil and "man of wealth and taste." Jagger references the tragic events of the 20th century — the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and the Kennedys and World World II, among them — through his eyes.
In 2002, Keith said of the song, "'Sympathy' is quite an uplifting song. It’s just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He’s there all the time. I’ve had very close contact with Lucifer. I’ve met him several times. Evil — people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn’t rear its ugly head."
4. Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968)
"Jumpin’ Jack Flash" saw the Stones go back to their bluesy, guitar-oriented roots after experimenting with psychedelia. The lyrics were inspired by Keith’s then-gardener Jack Dyer, who was dubbed "Jumping Jack" by the guitarist as he walked past his window.
The iconic line, "I was born in a crossfire hurricane," was written by Keith and references the bombing of his hometown of Dartford, Kent, during WWII. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was a return to form for the band and made the top 10 in several countries around the world.
3. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (1969)
Society was battered and bruised at the end of the tumultuous 1960s, as the "peace and love" of the hippie movement appeared to be a failed experiment. "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" on their "Let It Bleed" album tapped into the wounded psyche of people worldwide, much in the same way the Beatles’ “Let It Be” did.
The lyrics reflect the end of an era, but there is hope at the beginning of another, as represented by the dulcet tones of the choir at the beginning and end of the song.
2. I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) (1965)
"Satisfaction" made the Stones bona fide icons around the world, which is why it always ranks high on the Rolling Stones' best songs of all time lists.
Its recognizable, fuzzy riff came to Keith Richards in a dream while they were on tour in the U.S., and he lifted the title from the Chuck Berry song, "Thirty Days" ("I can't get no satisfaction from the judge").
Jagger filled in the rest with lyrics attacking commercialism in the modern world and through the lens of a young man frustrated by trying to keep up with society’s expectations.
1. Gimme Shelter (1969)
Often considered one of the top 10 Rolling Stones songs, "Gimme Shelter" is a musical tableau of the civil unrest that plagued the late 1960s.
It also is one of the few Stones songs that features vocals from a non-member. Gospel singer Merry Clayton was pregnant and showed up in her pajamas late one night to record the line, “Rape, murder, it's just a shot away."
She was tired, and her voice cracked when she belted out the word "murder," but it so impressed the Stones and set the tone for the song that they kept the take and made rock and roll history.