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Ranked: Rolling Stones Albums From Best to Worst

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The Stones are having a busy year, so we're taking a look back at their body of work.

Keno is the author of Rolling Thru The Stones, and the webmaster of the longest-running online Stones message board (Gasland), the web's biggest Stones fan site. The Rolling Stones are celebrating fifty years as a band this year, releasing two new songs, and playing a handful of shows, so we asked Keno to assess the recorded legacy of the everybody's favorite leathery blues-rockers.

 

25. Dirty Work (1986)

Things weren't going well between Mick Jagger and the rest of the band during the recording Dirty Work. He was thinking of leaving the Stones, and he was putting more effort into his solo album, which pissed off Keith Richards and the rest of the group. Also, Charlie Watts was fighting his heroin habit and missed many sessions. There isn't a single Jagger/Richards song on this album that I would call "very good," though "One Hit to the Body" does come close.

Listen: "One Hit to the Body"

 

24. Steel Wheels (1989)

Perhaps their most overrated album; there's just nothing that exciting on here. Though Steel Wheels has plenty that you'll want to skip over, "Mixed Emotions" and "Rock in a Hard Place," are very nice indeed.

Listen: "Mixed Emotions"


 

 

23. Metamorphosis (1975)
This rarities compilation is worth checking out, mainly because of all the unreleased songs (dating from '64-'72) that you get to hear. The best one is the Bill Wyman-penned "Downtown Suzie," from 1968.  "Jiving Sister Fanny" is another winner.

Listen: "Downtown Suzie"

 

22. Bridges to Babylon (1997)

Unfairly maligned, Bridges to Babylon isn't the Stones best album, but it's not that bad. "Saint of Me" might be the only great song on here, but there are several good ones, like "Low Down" and "Anybody Seen My Baby." Mainly, Babylon seems to suffer from too many different producers — it just can't  decide what it wants to sound like.

Listen: "Saint of Me"

 

21. Undercover (1983)

A very consistent album — the tracks flow together well, and the title cut is easily the best one. "Wanna Hold You," sung by Richards, sounds like a Beatles song from '66, and I mean that as a compliment.  "Too Much Blood," on the other hand, is one of the strangest songs ever written by Jagger/Richards: you'd expect these kinds of lyrics from Alice Cooper.

Listen: "Undercover of the Night"

20. Emotional Rescue (1980)

The title cut is the best song on here, though the playful "She's So Cold" is also excellent. But beware: this one contains the dreaded "Indian Girl," too.

Listen: "Emotional Rescue"

 

19. Black and Blue (1976)

Several of the songs on Black and Blue were taken from audition outtakes recorded when the band was looking around for a replacement for Mick Taylor. Three of the guitarists who tried out, Harvey Mandel, Wayne Perkins, and Ron Wood, had their lead-guitar playing used on several tracks. (Of course, Wood ended up getting the job in the band.) Even with all the fancy axe-men on tape, the best-sounding number on the album is "Crazy Mama," coincidentally the only one featuring Richards' trademark guitar sound.

Listen: "Crazy Mama"

 

18. Tattoo You (1981)

Tattoo You was put together in pieces, mainly from old, rejected, or just forgotten outtakes from the 1970s, but it ended up pretty good. One track from the early '70s, "Waiting on a Friend," is one of the songs the Stones just forgot about after a few early takes. Just as good is "Start Me Up," which was first recorded in 1975 as a reggae tune.

Listen: "Waiting on a Friend"

 

17. December's Children (And Everybody's) 1965)

This one was the band's third U.S. release in 1965. Brian Jones' twelve-string lead guitar on "Get Off Of My Cloud" is a riff you'll never forget, while the exquisite, mellow "As Tears Go By" features only the Glimmer Twins. 

Listen: "Get Off Of My Cloud"

 

16. 12 x 5 (1964)

The second U.S. release for the Stones, 12 x 5 features lots of covers, including "It's All Over Now", which is full of energy. The best thing about 12 x 5 (and all of their early '60s albums) is that it's just the five original Stones plus Ian "Stu" Stewart (who was a full-time Stone at one point ). Even as a bare-bones rock group, these boys knew how to play together in a grand way, and it shows on this LP. 

Listen: "It's All Over Now"

15. Voodoo Lounge (1994)

Voodoo Lounge has the motivated feel of a comeback album. Jagger's harmonica playing on "Love is Strong" is as powerful as it was years earlier on "Midnight Rambler," and the band is totally on fire on "I Go Wild."

Listen: "Love is Strong"

 

14. Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

Contrary to popular belief, no, this wasn't supposed to be the Stones' answer to Sgt. Pepper, but yes, it is psychedelic. Weirdly, its best (and freakiest, compliments of Jones' Mellotron) track, "2000 Light Years From Home," wasn't going to be included on the album. On "2000 Man," Jagger does a grand job of predicting what kind of problems a married man might face thirty years in the future.

Listen: "2000 Light Years From Home"

 

13. Out Of Our Heads (1965)

Seven of the twelve tunes on here are originals, with three of them, ("Satisfaction," "The Last Time," and "Play with Fire") among the best the Stones ever recorded. "Satisfaction" is of course the song that defined the early Stones, thanks to Richards' fantastic guitar riff and Jagger's immensely frustrated vocals.

Listen: "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

 

12. The Rolling Stones, Now!  (1965)
 
Another excellent early album, this one's two best are "Heart of Stone," and the cover of "Little Red Rooster," with Brian Jones' slinky slide guitar. The best thing about The Rolling Stones, Now! is the guitar interplay between Jones and Richards: the pair of them originated that style of rock n' roll weaving, and no one else has come close to matching it since. But they'd still be nothing without Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, a rhythm section second to none.

Listen: "Little Red Rooster"

 

11. Aftermath (1966)

If there was one Stones album that the gone-too-early Brian Jones shined the brightest on, it's Aftermath. Jones plays at least twelve different instruments on this LP, including the sitar and tambura on the proto-metal "Paint It Black." But most of the other songs are on the mellow side, and showcase Jones' skill on the dulcimer (on "Lady Jane") and marimba ("Under My Thumb"). 

Listen: "Paint It Black"

10. Exile On Main Street (1972)

I've been criticized by Stones fans for my thoughts on this double album, the LP many consider the band's best. I do have deep affection for some songs here (like "Rocks Off," Sweet Virginia," " Tumbling Dice," "Happy," and "Rip This Joint"). Had Exile been a leaner single album and not bloated with filler songs like "Turd on the Run,"  "Stop Breaking Down," and "Ventilator Blues," it might be my favorite, too.

Listen: "Happy"

 

9. It's Only Rock 'n Roll (1974)
 
This was the last album made with Mick Taylor, though the title cut was actually written by Taylor's replacement, Ron Wood, who wasn't even credited! Another great one is "Till the Next Goodbye," a ballad that people don't seem to know, but should.

Listen: "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)"

 

8. Between the Buttons (1967)

This one is something like Aftermath, with Brian Jones playing another ten or so different instruments on it. "Ruby Tuesday" in particular, sails along on Jones' recorder. However, despite all the left-field instrumental choices, Between the Buttons contains the usual high-powered Stones rockers, like "Let's Spend the Night Together."

Listen: "Ruby Tuesday"

 

7. England's Newest Hit Makers (1964 )

This was the Stones' U.S. debut and a solid piece of work, start to finish. It's all covers on here, with the exception of "Tell Me," which is the album's best song. More than anything, this album showed the Stones at their rawest and clued American rock fans into the fact that something new was coming from across the pond. 

Listen: "Tell Me"

 

6. A Bigger Bang (2005)

Hear me out. Not only is A Bigger Bang one of Jagger's best albums (he pulls double duty on the excellent blues tune "Back Of My Hand," contributing slide guitar and harp), but it's also one of the band's most consistent: every song on the record is great. There's none of the filler one might expect from men forty years into their life as a band. "Rough Justice" is another mean cut.

Listen: "Back Of My Hand"

5. Goats Head Soup (1973)

Ask any hardnosed Rolling Stones fan which album is the band's most underrated, and nine out of ten will tell you it's this one. Other than the closing cut, songs like "Angie" are as mellow as the Stones get. There's also the incomparable "Winter;" buoyed by Mick Taylor's wonderful guitars, this is one of the best songs to play on a cold day. Goats Head Soup was the last Stones album produced by Jimmy Miller, which is a pity, because he knew how to coax true greatness out of them in the studio, unlike a lot of other producers.

Listen: "Winter"

 

4. Some Girls (1978)

Ron Wood's shining moment as a Stone. With the exception of "Lies," which is your average album-stretching tune, the rest of Some Girls is excellent. "Far Away Eyes" is a fantastic little country ditty, thanks to Wood's slide guitar. Recent CD versions of Some Girls now include a bonus disc that includes an extra twelve songs recorded during the album's original sessions, and it's just as wonderful as the main LP. 

Listen: "Far Away Eyes"

 

3. Beggars Banquet (1968)

The last full album with Jones, who plays excellent slide guitar on "No Expectations," Banquet shows the true gelling of Jagger and Richards as songwriters. Jagger wrote the lyrics to "Sympathy for the Devil," but it was Richards who changed around the beat of the song. You can thank Anita Pallenburg for "Devil"'s "woo-woo" backing vocals: she was in the studio with producer Jimmy Miller while the band was recording the song, heard Miller singing "who-who" after Jagger sang each verse, and suggested the group add the line to the song.

Listen: "Sympathy for the Devil"


 

2. Let It Bleed (1969)

Keith Richards isn't the Stone typically known for slide guitar playing, but on Let it Bleed you get to hear a lot of just that from him. He plays almost all of the guitars heard on here, as Let It Bleed was recorded during the time when Brian Jones was departing and Mick Taylor was arriving. Jones appears on two tracks, playing autoharp and drums, while Taylor adds the only other guitars heard on the LP, on "Country Honk" and "Live with Me." Ian "Stu" Stewart's boogie-woogie piano playing livens up the title track, my personal favorite.

Listen: "Let It Bleed"

 

1. Sticky Fingers (1971)

The Stones' true masterpiece. Some beautiful ballads are on here, including "Wild Horses," and "Moonlight Mile," clearly the band's most underrated song. "Brown Sugar" is obviously another winner, in part thanks to Bobby Keys' fantastic sax. And of course, there's the country-rock of "Dead Flowers," with its drug-jive referencing title. Sticky Fingers remains the best, and quintessential Stones album: emotionally raw, dangerous, and groovy as hell, just like the band who made it.

Listen: "Moonlight Mile"