It’s hard to believe, but the Rolling Stones have been musical icons for more than 60 years. The British rock band first formed in 1962, and their irresistibly swaggering tunes helped define the rebellious spirit of the ’60s. And over the course of their long career, the Stones have had dozens of hits and shown an impressive range that encompassed elements of everything from blues to disco.
The dynamic duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards is the very definition of classic rock, and despite all their ups and downs and their wholehearted embrace of decadent rock star behavior, the band has been remarkably consistent over the years. When Charlie Watts, the Stones’ steadfast drummer since their earliest days, died in 2021, it came as a shock — the band has stayed together longer than anyone ever could’ve imagined, and achieved a sense of immortality in the eyes of their massive fanbase.
Now, the Rolling Stones have just released their 26th studio album, Hackney Diamonds, which is their first studio record in seven years and their first one without Watts. Many music critics have called it the band’s finest album in decades.
15 Best Rolling Stones songs, ranked
In honor of the unstoppable band’s latest album, we’re taking a look back at 15 of the most iconic Rolling Stones songs. We bet you’ll be shimmying in your seat and singing along as you scroll through!
15. “Start Me Up” (1981)
The Rolling Stones may have already been rock and roll veterans by the time “Start Me Up” was released, but that didn’t stop its music video from dominating MTV. The channel was still in its infancy, and the chart-topping catchiness of “Start Me Up” proved this quintessential band of the ’60s and ’70s was well-equipped for the ’80s and beyond.
14. “Angie” (1973)
Part of what makes the Stones so brilliant is the way they can go from gritty rock to tender ballads so seamlessly. This heartfelt hit beautifully captures the end of a romance.
While anyone who’s been through a breakup can relate to the lyrics, there’s been much speculation about who inspired them — various rumors have suggested the song is about David Bowie’s then-wife, Angie; actress Angie Dickinson or Keith Richards’ daughter, Dandelion Angela. Richards maintains that he chose the name randomly, and the song wasn’t meant to be about anyone in particular.
13. “Tumbling Dice” (1972)
“Tumbling Dice” is simultaneously gritty and groovy, with perfectly seedy lyrics sung from the perspective of a gambler. Amusingly, Jagger claimed, “I didn’t know anything about dice playing, but I knew lots of jargon used by dice players. I’d heard gamblers in casinos shouting it out. I asked my housekeeper if she played dice. She did, and she told me these terms. That was the inspiration.” The song still sounds pretty authentic to us!
12. “Honky Tonk Woman” (1969)
If “Honky Tonk Woman” comes on at the bar, you know you’re in for a good night. The song, which was No. 1 on the charts in seven countries, mixes rock bravado and with down-home country flavor.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song while watching cowboys at work when they were vacationing in Brazil, and they knew they had a hit on their hands — Richards called it “the culmination of everything we were good at at the time.”
11. “Street Fighting Man” (1968)
During the political unrest of the late ’60s, many rock bands responded musically, and the Stones were no exception. Jagger wrote the lyrics as protests were sweeping the globe, and the song remains a timeless rallying cry. In an interview, Richards said the song captured how “Our generation was bursting at the seams,” and you can truly hear that sense of urgency.
10. “Miss You” (1978)
The Stones going disco? You bet! “Miss You” is a slinky, danceable song that embodies the feeling of walking city streets in style. The late ’70s was a transitional time for rock and some veteran bands weren’t successful in their disco dabblings, but Jagger made the sexy, strutting vibe wholly his own. The song also holds the distinction of being their final No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts.
9. “Wild Horses” (1971)
It’s hard to listen to “Wild Horses” without shedding a tear. The song, with its touching lyric “Wild horses/Couldn’t drag me away,” speaks to an undying love. At the time of writing the song, Richards had just become a father, and the wistful sound came from his anxieties about going on the road and leaving his baby behind. Richards called the creation of the song a “magical moment,” and any listener who’s ever slow-danced to it will surely agree.
8. “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968)
The subversiveness of “Sympathy for the Devil” is classic Stones. The deceptively catchy “woo-woo” backing vocals can’t hide the darkness — and only Jagger could get away with presenting the devil himself as “a man of wealth and taste.”
The song was inspired by Jagger’s growing interest in literature and philosophy, and he cited the Russian novel The Master and Margarita and French poet Charles Baudelaire as two of the biggest influences.
7. “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (1967)
Mick Jagger, with his signature pout and sinuous dance moves, is one of rock’s great sex symbols. From the beginning, he gave his songs sexy subject matter, and set the template for the glam rockers of the ’70s and hair metal of the ’80s.
There’s no denying what “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is about — it’s right there in the title! Because of the song’s potentially controversial lyrics, Jagger was famously asked to change the lyric to “Let’s spend some time together” when the band performed on The Ed Sullivan Show — which he did, while rolling his eyes!
6. “Paint It Black” (1966)
Dark yet catchy, “Paint It Black” exemplifies how the Stones were edgy from the beginning. The song has an exotic sound, thanks to the use of sitar. The Indian instrument — also famously used by the Beatles — was played by original Stone Brian Jones, who sadly died at just 27 in 1969. Jagger’s lyrics are full of snarling angst that would speak to countless teenage rebels.
5. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
“Gimme Shelter” is the ultimate rock anthem. The potent lyrics and powerhouse backing vocals still give listeners goosebumps, and the song’s often been said to capture the mood at the end of the ’60s, as hippie idealism began to harden into anger. The iconic backing vocals are from Merry Clayton, a young gospel singer who didn’t even know who the Rolling Stones were before she recorded with them.
4. “Ruby Tuesday” (1967)
Psychedelic musical flourishes and lovelorn lyrics make “Ruby Tuesday” one of the Stones’ swooniest songs. Richards wrote the song following a painful breakup, and dreamily captured the feeling of missing someone and reflecting on what made them so special. Unlike many of the Stones’ greatest hits, this song has a romantic orchestral sound rather than a hard rocking one.
3. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (1969)
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is one of life’s great truths. The song has a cinematic grandeur, and even opens with a choir. At seven minutes and 28 seconds, it’s one of their longer songs, and it had to be cut down when released as a single. While the Stones were scrappy and bluesy when they started out, by the end of the ’60s, songs like this one showed they were just as good at rock epics as three-minute romps.
2. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1968)
If you’ve been lucky enough to see the Rolling Stones live, you’ve likely heard them play “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” It’s the song they’ve played in concert the most — and with good reason! The phase “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is fun to sing along with, while Keith Richards’ guitar riff is impossible to get out of your head.
In his autobiography, Richards wrote, “When you get a riff like ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ you get a great feeling of elation, a wicked glee… if someone said ‘You can play only one of your riffs ever again,’ I’d say ‘OK, give me ‘Flash.’”
1. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
Almost 60 (!) years after it was first released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” sounds as vital as ever. No other band could capture Mick Jagger’s simmering sexual frustration, and Keith Richards’ driving, dangerous-sounding guitar riff is absolutely legendary.
Bold and seductive, the song set the template for the Rolling Stones’ daring style. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jagger said that while “People get very blasé about their big hit,” “Satisfaction” was “the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band.” The culture hasn’t been the same since!
Read more about timeless tunes here!