Celebrate the Catalog: The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

Just a shot away

Rolling Stones - Between The ButtonsBetween the Buttons
(1967; London)

Could there have been a more cliché move for The Stones to make than to turn to psychedelia in 1967? Probably not, but to be fair to the band, they actually manage to pull it off much better than one might have thought. Tracks like “Connection” and “All Sold Out” happen to be some of the best songs The Kinks never wrote. It may be a less dangerous affair than its formidable predecessor, but it also houses some of the band’s most diverse and melodically satisfying work. Of course, the U.S. version is the definitive one, switching out the passable “Back Street Girl” and “Please Go Home” for the classics “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday.” Without those gems, the album is missing its two best songs. The band would take its psychedelic influences to even greater (and more ridiculous) extremes later that year, but Between the Buttons arguably remains the band’s most successful pop-oriented album. – Chris Karman

Rating: 8.9 out of 10

Rolling Stones - Satanic MajestiesTheir Satanic Majesties Request
(1967; London)

The Rolling Stones are one of the few bands who can stand up to The Beatles in debates about the greatest rock act of all time. If there is one fork in the road where their legacies part ways, however, it was reached in 1967. The Beatles put out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June of that year, and the musicality and musicology of that album define it as a classic through time immemorial. Six months later the Stones showed they too were unafraid to dive headlong into psychedelic rock. The results, Their Satanic Majesties Request, suggested they should have honed those mad influences or discarded them altogether. There are a clutch of songs in the RS canon, pained and pastoral alike, that sound like they should have been here— “Paint it, Black,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “As Tears Go By” — but they’re not. This is an album of missing and ill-fitting pieces: Eastern melodies, tribal rhythms, theremins and Mellotrons, studio effects on guitars, nonsense field recordings. When Lennon/McCartney assembled them, it felt dense and connected and perfect. In the hands of Jagger/Richards, excepting moments like “She’s a Rainbow,” “2000 Light Years from Home,” and “Citadel,” they’re thin and brittle by comparison. – Adam Blyweiss

Rating: 4.0 out of 10

Rolling Stones - Beggars BanquetBeggars Banquet
(1968; London)

Essentially all of the Rolling Stones’ early records are good — fun, raw sets of revved-up rhythm and blues that had just a touch more grit and soul than many of the band’s British contemporaries. With 1966’s Aftermath, the Stones released their first great album, however, which changed the game entirely, as they began to incorporate psychedelic elements, as well as British folk music. The Stones followed that path pretty far down an acid-laced rabbit hole, but they didn’t best Aftermath until they actually scaled back a bit, and delivered an even bluesier collection than anything they had before — 1968’s Beggars Banquet.

In the tradition of all the Stones’ best albums, Beggars Banquet begins with an iconic single — the complex anti-gospel narrative tune, “Sympathy for the Devil.” With African-influenced rhythms and a curious tale from the perspective of a figure who has borne witness to the world’s greatest acts of evil and deceit, “Sympathy” portrays the devil as a reflection of the darkness in humanity, albeit one who happens to be charming and poetic. It’s one of the best songs the group ever wrote, and it almost overshadows the low-key remainder of the album, though the material is just so good, that’s not that much of a problem. The group does earnest acoustic blues on “No Expectations,” gritty garage rock on “Street Fighting Man” and dirty, sleazy blooze on “Stray Cat Blues.” The group’s next three albums would only improve on the groundwork lain with Beggars Banquet, but it’s still in the pantheon of the best Stones records (and simply best records) of all time. – Jeff Terich

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Rolling Stones - Let It BleedLet It Bleed
(1969; London)

As well as being by far the most aesthetically pleasing album, (though the “cake” on the front will never fail to make me hungry) Let It Bleed is ingeniously book-ended by two absolute classics. Opener “Gimme Shelter” is surely a universally-known classic by now, although that does nothing to hinder its raw power. From the creeping intro to its electric howling ending, this is a song that, after nearly 50 years, demands that every last second to be heard. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” on the other hand, is one of the Stones’ more melancholy, reflective affairs, before it erupts into a noisy, joyous finale. As long as we can ignore the time it was covered on Glee, it’s a pretty damn good way to end an album. And the songs in between aren’t too bad either. With songs such as  an intoxicating cover of “Love in Vain” slowing the tempo, the listener is lulled into a sense of ease before being slammed awake by Jagger’s commanding vocals and the furious instrumentation of the rest of the band. – Grace Barber-Plentie

Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Rolling Stones - Sticky FingersSticky Fingers
(1971; Rolling Stones)

If Sticky Fingers ranks as one of the bleakest statements that Rolling Stones ever made, it also ranks as one of their best. Songs like “Wild Horses” and “Sister Morphine” are slow, devastating and world weary.  The former in particular is one of the Stones’ very best songs, but it stands as just one of many highlights on the record. From the symphonic masterpiece “Moonlight Mile” to the infectious country-rock gem “Dead Flowers,” there really isn’t a weak track to be found. And as “Dead Flowers” and “Wild Horses” underscore, throughout Sticky Fingers, the band’s typically bluesy swagger is augmented by a heartier embrace of country music in general than on past efforts; as it turns out, it’s an inspired move. The majority of the album finds the band unable to outrun their demons; given the history of the Rolling Stones, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that it’s one of their most rewarding. – Chris Karman

Rating: 10 out of 10

Rolling Stones - Exile on Main StreetExile on Main Street
(1972; Rolling Stones)

Great art is often misunderstood and panned upon its initial release. So it was with Ulysses; so it was with Jackson Pollack; so it was with Exile on Main Street. Fortunately, time tends to test art more accurately than anything else, and in the decades following its advent, Exile on Main Street has become rightfully regarded as one of the pillars of American popular music; one of the greatest albums of all time; and perhaps the crowning achievement of the Stones’ catalogue. Because it is almost counterproductive to discuss specific tracks on an album like this — there are 18 of them and they have all been gone over many times before — I’ll stick to its gestalt effect. The reason that Exile on Main Street has endured so well, from among the casual listener to the critical theorists, is that its raw, lo-fi production and its cubist genre-hopping are simultaneously innovative (offering a much darker and more complete portrait of the band than any of their other albums) and exemplary of everything that makes the Stones the Stones. This is an objective standard for popular music and, as such, constitutes a perfect 10. – Connor Brown

Rating: 10 out of 10

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