History lesson for all of the youngsters who have wandered over: the Rolling Stones were (or rather, are, excuse me) a rock n roll outfit who formed in London in 1962. Amazingly, they appear to still be together, at least from a legal entity perspective if little else. At their best, the fusion of Mick Jagger’s pouty insouciance and Keith Richard’s “throw every drug imaginable into my circulatory system” Dionysian charm created some of the greatest popular music of all time.
Unfortunately, despite their longevity, their peak was only from about 1968 to 1972. Still, they recorded enough great tunes in that short stretch to last most groups decades. Come to think of it, it has lasted the Stones themselves decades.
I have taken the approach of looking at “Stonesyness” as a sort of elemental force and then decided which songs contain the most. Like if there was a midichlorian count you could do for Stonesyness, these five songs would come out on top.
5. Let It Bleed
Begins with a brutal edit followed by Mick doing a sort of “mock negro” voice, something that would probably be deeply offensive if it weren’t so ridiculous (note: the Stones have gotten away with a lot via this method). The song is a list of things that we supposedly “all need someone” for, which includes dreaming on and creaming on. This is broken up by surreal middle eights which change lyrically each time. One of them contains what is perhaps the Stonesyest couplet of all time: “You knifed me in my dirty, filthy basement/with that jaded, faded junky nurse, oh what pleasant company!”
Side two of Sticky Fingers kicks off with this masterpiece, one that contains all of the great things about the Stones: barely comprehensible lyrics from Mick, even if you can manage to make out what he’s on about (“Just had a horse meat pie!”); a great riff from Keith; the horns making it all sound even sleazier. A sense that everything is about to fall apart at any second, and yet the whole thing only gets tighter as it goes along.
3. Child of the Moon
The B-side of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, the band’s trumpeted comeback following a bout of trying to be Country Joe and the Fish for a while, is even more Stonesy than its corresponding lead. Who knows what it’s all about, but that only makes it all the more Stones, with Mick filling out the laconic riff with a weird, lolling melody that just sort of works somehow. Sounds even better when you’re half-ripped.
2. Monkey Man
Like all great Stones songs, seems to be about something very sleazy and possibly illegal that you can’t work out the exact details of. Is sort of about heroin but not really, as a for instance (“All my friends are junkies/that’s not really true”). Begins with a bass line to die for, one I can’t believe has never been sampled for a hip hop track to this very day, and then Keith comes in with a tasty little lick. Followed by Charlie, and then it’s catharsis on record.
1. Tumbling Dice
Not their best tune, in my opinion, but certainly the most quintessentially Stones. Something about that line in the chorus, “You got to roll me, and call me the Tumbling Dice” somehow sums the band up completely. Again, not in a neat way, since such a thing would be impossible. Also fitting that it was released in 1972, on Exile on Main Street, the last gasp of greatness before the group’s slow decline.