We look back on the many highlights of their enduring career and pick out their 10 greatest albums.
10 ‘Between the Buttons’
The more consistent of two Stones albums released in 1967 (sorry, ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’), ‘Between the Buttons’ is packed with eclectic gems: music-hall curveball ‘Something Happened to me Yesterday’, the fame-wary ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ and of course the classics, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday’, songs so recyclable they’re part of the British conscience, like brewing fantastic cups of tea and arguing about how to pronounce ‘scone’. No, ‘scone’. Etc.
9 ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll’
In 1974, many had declared the Stones a spent force, a relic of the faded ‘60s generation that even your parents were sick of hearing about. It’s not that the kids were all wrong, but ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll’ proved there was life in the old dog yet. What’s more, on the evidence of opener ‘If You Can’t Rock Me’, it hadn’t grown tired of shagging everything in sight, either.
8 ‘Tattoo You’
‘Tattoo You’, released in 1981, obliterated the band’s has-been image and spent nine weeks as a US Number 1. That might be down to its ‘lost hits’ feel – many of the instrumental tracks originated in ‘70s-spanning sessions – but it’s also a fascinating document of their hollowed-out, post-‘70s mindset. There’s nothing smart or tidy about the record – the vocals were literally recorded in a broom cupboard – but its fraughtness is part of the allure.
7 ‘Goats Head Soup’
After breaking open the ‘70s with two of the best albums ever, the Stones came down, moved to Jamaica and made a glam-funk album. It’s the kind of fuck-it-all logic that probably explains their longevity. Viewed by some as a ‘Be Here Now’-style creative crash, ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ is ballad-heavy but filler-free, setting the tone for the group’s next decade and even inventing a kind of psych-infused proto-disco in ‘100 Years Ago’.
Dulcimer, sitar, bells, marimbas – 1966’s ‘Aftermath’ saw the Stones at once rejecting and redefining rock’n’roll lore. The first all-originals Stones album, it’s so classic-packed their reputation as sub-Beatles hopefuls never recovered. Calling out ‘Under My Thumb’ for misogyny is almost as old as misogyny itself, but it’s true – the song’s either rank sexism or unearned satire; still, its hip-waggling, lip-licking playfulness mean that, one way or another, that song, and this album, endure as classics.
5 ‘Some Girls’
Released in the midst of punk, 1978’s ‘Some Girls’ is the great post-‘Exile’ Stones album, and their first with guitarist Ronnie Wood. After veering progressively further from dumb rock’n’roll (and into dumb whatever-else-they-were-listening-to), ‘Some Girls’ was at once wiser and simpler than its recent predecessors, blazing through bona fide hell-raisers like ‘When the Whip Comes Down’ with irrepressible lust.
4 ‘Beggars Banquet’
Here began a Stones purple patch of historic proportions, a string of enduring paradigm-shifters so monumental they made ‘Beatles or Stones?’ a question for the ages. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ opens up with jingle-catchy “woo-woo”s and samba drums that can’t contain their excitement, and their exuberance is justified, even as the album that follows explores late-‘60s disillusionment and resignation. A feast of excellence.
3 ‘Let It Bleed’
As the sixties nosedived into a morass of misadventure and excess, the Stones came into their own as prophets of riot and ruin. ‘Let It Bleed’, their darkest album of the period, unleashes a maelstrom of apocalyptic noise to usher in the new decade, with the towering ‘Gimme Shelter’ launching its manifesto on a decidedly demonic note.
2 ‘Exile on Main St.’
A masterpiece of bacchanalian liberation, ‘Exile on Main Street’ will battle with ‘Sticky Fingers’ for the Best Stones Album accolade until music goes out of fashion. Jagger’s smacked-out drawl sets the tone on ‘Rocks Off’, but its celebratory horns and jittery, euphoric riffs lead into a rock’n’roll record as adventurous as any since. As its makers pushed 30, ‘Exile’ is the sound of master songwriters deciding their time’s far from up.
1 ‘Sticky Fingers’
Post-Altamont, the question of how rock’n’roll had remained a dominant culture force for well over a decade was puzzling commentators of all stripes in 1971, but the release of ‘Sticky Fingers’ made the answer self-evident. Every coursing vein screams with the form’s vitality: ‘Sway’ rockets from chugging sleaze into space-blues hysteria, with scorching fretwork by 21-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor; the Latin-inflected ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ rocks harder than most death metal; ‘Brown Sugar’ is, put simply, raunch personified.