The Rolling Stones' 25 greatest songs, ranked

24 August 2023, 16:38 | Updated: 3 June 2024, 15:01

The Rolling Stones are one of the most influential groups in the history of popular music.
The Rolling Stones are one of the most influential groups in the history of popular music. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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They're a band that need no introduction whatsoever.

One of the greatest and most influential groups of all time, The Rolling Stones have rightfully earned their place in the pantheon of rock music's finest entertainers.

In fact, they were one of the originators of rock 'n' roll music as we knew it throughout the 20th century, bringing swagger, ingenuity, shock value, and sex appeal which defined the rock star iconography of the era.

From their blues-inspired boyish beginnings to becoming rock 'n' roll's music outrageous showmen, The Rolling Stones have remained one of popular music's most enduring groups and have outlasted the majority of their peers throughout their sixty-year-plus history.

Their unwavering popularity has largely been down to the enormously successful songwriting partnership of the band's 'glimmer twins', frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards.

Taking on principal songwriting responsibilities, they elevated the five-piece to newer heights alongside bassist Bill Wyman, drummer Charlie Watts, and Brian Jones - who was replaced by Mick Taylor after his demise, who himself was famously replaced by Ronnie Wood officially in 1975.

Their unforgettable imprint on rock 'n' roll music history cannot be overstated, so we've compiled their best songs to prove it.

Here are The Rolling Stones' greatest 25 songs, ranked in order from top to bottom:

  1. 'Honky Tonk Women'

    The Rolling Stones - Honky Tonk Women (Official Music Video)

    Though this 1969 non-album single seemed fairly obviously about prostitutes and drug taking, the lyrics were still ambiguous enough to avoid censorship by the BBC.

    "She blew my nose and then she blew my mind," is a fair example which implies both cocaine use and sex, and Jagger even used to introduce 'Honky Tonk Women' as "a song for all the whores in the audience" when performing live.

    The country rock number received huge airplay and became a number one single for The Rolling Stones in both the UK and the US.

    After recording it in the studio, the band deemed the drug-addled Brian Jones as virtually useless so fired him after the session. On the day the single was released, they found him dead in his swimming pool.

  2. 'Midnight Rambler'

    The Rolling Stones - Midnight Rambler - Live in Shanghai OFFICIAL

    The dark, bluesy opera 'Midnight Rambler' saw Mick Jagger embody a serious killer who embraced his notoriety.

    Likely inspired by the Boston Strangler from earlier that decade, the inspiration for the song came at an unlikely time.

    "That's a song Keith and I really wrote together," Mick Jagger later revealed.

    "We were on a holiday in Italy. In this very beautiful hill town, Positano, for a few nights. Why we should write such a dark song in this beautiful, sunny place, I really don't know."

  3. 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)'

    The Rolling Stones - Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) [Official Lyric Video]

    Appearing on The Rolling Stones' 1973 frankly underrated album Goats Head Soup, 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)' sees the band - and The Beatles' collaborator Billy Preston - at their fiery best with a fantastic horn section to match.

    Jagger, clearly indignant about police brutality in the US, wrote this song about a young man shot by police in a case of mistaken identity.

    He later explained in a 2020 interview that there wasn't any specific incident that inspired the lyrics:

    "New York as a violent place. America as a heavy-handed police state. We can go back 100 years and it's probably even heavier. Obviously, all that time ago it was heavy in a lot of places, heavy now and heavy before."

  4. 'Beast Of Burden'

    The Rolling Stones - Beast of Burden (from "Some Girls, Live in Texas '78")

    Whilst 1978 hit 'Beast Of Burden' is often thought to be a song about a man and woman in a relationship, it's actually about the band's dynamic.

    Written by Keith Richards, he spent the majority of that decade out of his mind on drugs and left Mick - former London School of Economics student - to run the operation.

    By 1978, Keith wanted to reclaim his role as the band's co-leader, and revealed that was the case in a 2012 interview:

    "At the time Mick was getting used to running the band. Charlie was just the drummer, I was just the other guitar player. I was trying to say, 'OK I'm back, so let's share a bit more of the power, share the weight, brother."

  5. 'The Last Time'

    The Rolling Stones - The Last Time (Live - Ireland 1965)

    Breaking out from their blues beginnings, The Rolling Stones wanted to write a poppier single and with 1965's 'The Last Time' they wrote one hell of a guitar hook.

    However, writing pop songs for the band didn't come naturally as Richards later revealed: "We didn't find it difficult to write pop songs, but it was very difficult - and I think Mick will agree - to write one for the Stones."

    Recording for 'The Last Time' was assisted by producer extraordinaire Phil Spector, whose 'Wall Of Sound' technique is detectable.

    An obscure orchestral version of the hit was also sampled years later by The Verve on 'Bittersweet Symphony'.

  6. 'Emotional Rescue'

    The Rolling Stones - Emotional Rescue - OFFICIAL PROMO

    'Emotional Rescue' was a hit after its 1980 release, reaching the top ten in both the UK and the US.

    But its disco-leaning pop-rock sound didn't go down well with their fans, nor Keith Richards, and they wouldn't perform it live for 33 years after its release.

    Adopting a falsetto singing style akin to the Bee Gees' Barry Gibb or Marvin Gaye, fans thought the band had truly sold out.

    In years since the song has been offered a reappraisal, now that the divide between rock fans and disco lovers isn't quite as distant.

  7. 'Miss You'

    The Rolling Stones - Miss You - OFFICIAL PROMO

    Yet another of The Rolling Stones tracks which saw them venture into the trending music of the era, 'Miss You' had far much better-staying power.

    In fact, because 'Miss You' was hit after 1978, it encouraged other rockers like Rod Stewart to try out dancier territories.

    It's remained a staple of the band's setlists since, and its recording was remembered fondly by drummer Charlie Watts:

    "It was a great period. I remember being in Munich and coming back from a club with Mick singing one of the Village People songs. 'Y.M.C.A.' I think it was - and Keith went mad, but it sounded great on the dance floor."

  8. 'Sweet Virginia'

    The Rolling Stones - Sweet Virginia (Live) - OFFICIAL

    The Rolling Stones were dab hands at writing country ditties, but 'Sweet Virginia' had a much darker backdrop.

    It refers to drug trafficking, something that blighted in the band in their early days, though it helped crystallise their 'bad boy' image.

    Written for 1972's lauded opus Exile On Main Street, the band were tax exiles from the US and holed up in France to record where infamous debauchery commenced.

    Fan favourite 'Sweet Virginia' is one of the album's most uplifting however, especially the line: "Come on down, you got it in ya. Got to scrape the shit right off your shoes."

  9. 'It’s Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)'

    The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It) - OFFICIAL PROMO

    This straight-up celebration of all things rock 'n' roll was one of the more memorable moments from The Rolling Stones' 1974 album of the same name.

    Though they don't always include it in their setlists these days, 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)' has become part of popular lexicon, especially when impersonations of Jagger are concerned.

    The track was also the introduction of Ronnie Wood, who wrote it during a jam session at his home with Jagger and David Bowie, whose vocals would remain on the final recording.

    It's also remembered for the promotional music video where the band nearly drowned in bubble-bath.

  10. 'Street Fighting Man'

    The Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man (Official Lyric Video)

    The band's first-ever protest song was inspired by the anti-Vietnam War riots in the US, and prominent student riots in London and Paris at the time.

    Though the track itself is a fist-pumping, energetic call to arms, there's an element of resignation in the lyrics, that arguably foresaw the mood of the following decade:

    "The time is right for fighting in the street," Jagger sings, "But what can a poor boy do, 'cept sing in a rock and roll band."

    He doubled down on the sentiment in a later interview, admitting that: "It's stupid to think you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could!"

  11. 'Ruby Tuesday'

    The Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday (Live) - Official 1991

    A bonafide classic, 'Ruby Tuesday' hit number one in the US and number three in the UK, establishing the band as a pop powerhouse.

    Supposedly written about a prostitute, Keith Richards reckons it was subconsciously about his ex-girlfriend Linda Keith.

    "It was probably written about Linda Keith not being there. I don't know, she had pissed off somewhere. It was very mournful, very, very Ruby Tuesday and it was a Tuesday."

    'Ruby Tuesday' was one of the songs that showcased Brian Jones' musical genius - he could pick up most instruments and learn how to master them himself.

  12. 'Let's Spend The Night Together'

    Rolling Stones LIVE - "Let's Spend The Night Together" TOTP '67

    'Let's Spend The Night Together' was actually the A-Side to 'Ruby Tuesday', though it's risque subject matter meant it didn't receive as much airplay.

    It doesn't detract from what a catchy track it is however, an unusual song which made the piano part the lead over the guitar, which was played by composer and arranger Jack Nitzsche.

    The band had to change the chorus to "let's spend some time together" to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was a big opportunity in the US they couldn't refuse.

    Mick's girlfriend at the time, Marianne Faithfull, claimed it was about the first time they'd slept together, which Mick neither confirmed or denied.

  13. 'Tumbling Dice'

    The Rolling Stones - Tumbling Dice (Live) - OFFICIAL

    The only song from Exile On Main Street to chart in the top 20, 'Tumbling Dice' is now rightfully considered a classic.

    The drunken guitar groove fits the lyrical content, which was originally titled 'Good Time Women'.

    Jagger - who unusually played guitar on the recording - knew nothing about gambling or casinos, so had to clarify with his housekeeper if "tumbling dice" was correct terminology.

    'Tumbling Dice' is a sparkling soulful deep-cut which came out of a particularly dark period for the band, and has since become a cult favourite amongst fans.

  14. 'Start Me Up'

    The Rolling Stones - Start Me Up - Official Promo

    For anyone who's seen The Rolling Stones live, you know how they kick off their concerts. With 'Start Me Up'.

    The lead single from their 1981 album, Tattoo You, became a global hit reaching number one in Australia, number two in Canada and the US, and the top ten in the UK.

    The opening riff is arguably one of the most distinct and recognisable in rock music history, though Keith Richards wasn't overly enamoured but the end result:

    "I was convinced that was a reggae song. Everybody else was convinced of that. 'It’s reggae, man'."

  15. 'Wild Horses'

    The Rolling Stones - Wild Horses (Live)

    For the most notorious rock band in the world during the era, 'Wild Horses' was a unique moment of vulnerability and introspection.

    The 1971 song about the lost life of a rock star began when Keith Richards regretted leaving his newborn son Marlon to tour, and "being a million miles from where you want to be."

    'Wild Horses' was a result of a session with Gram Parsons, who actually released his version with The Flying Burrito Brothers first in a year earlier.

    Marianne Faithfull claimed she said "wild horses couldn't drag me away" to him after coming out of a drug-induced coma in 1969, though Mick insists the song isn't anything to do with her.

  16. 'Brown Sugar'

    The Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar (Live) - OFFICIAL

    The band no longer play 'Brown Sugar' live due to its themes and messy lyrics about race, slavery, and sex.

    In 2022, Mick said: "The early days were the days of shock and awe, things can't stay like that forever," when asked about its removal from their setlists moving forwards.

    Despite its dodgy, controversial lyrics, the riff for 'Brown Sugar' is a real firecracker so you can understand why they've played it over a thousand times since its release.

    The song's inspiration supposedly came from Claudia Lennear - who was one of Ike Turner's Ikettes - and earlier iterations of the song were recorded backstage, with Jagger singing alongside Tina Turner.

  17. 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking'

    Can't You Hear Me Knocking (2009 Mix)

    'Can't You Hear Me Knocking' has to be up there with one of the greatest ever opening riffs in rock music history.

    Despite it not being released as a single, the song's effortless cool made it a highlight of the band's 1971 album Sticky Fingers.

    Again, the repeated drug references in "cocaine eyes" and "speed-freak jive" helped reiterate The Rolling Stones credentials for being outrageous.

    In one of the band's longer jams, it sees Keith Richards channel Carlos Santana during the languid, extended Latin outro after the song's punchy initial three minutes.

  18. 'She's A Rainbow'

    The Rolling Stones - She's A Rainbow (Official Lyric Video)

    Though the trippy, colourful sound of 'She's A Rainbow' wasn't typical of The Rolling Stones at the time, the song became a fan favourite and keeps being revived by new generations of music listeners.

    Arranged by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, it became a big hit in Europe though wasn't released as a single in the UK.

    Uncharacteristically, the song was about true love rather than the band's carnal desires which typified their usual songwriting.

    Featuring on the 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, 'She's A Rainbow' is a pure slice of psychedelic pop.

  19. 'Sympathy For The Devil'

    The Rolling Stones - Sympathy For The Devil (Official Video) [4K]

    "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste."

    Iconic lyricism from Mick Jagger, who embodies Beelzebub himself as he lures the listener into one of the Stones' greatest rock odysseys.

    Taking an interest in the occult, the song was inspired by The Master and Margarita, a book by Mikhail Bulgakov where the devil is described as a sophisticated socialite, a "man of wealth and taste".

    Though it's a playful song at its core, it gained a much darker reputation than intended when playing at Altamont - 'Sympathy For The Devil' was one of the songs that riled the crowd, where fatal stabbings later occurred at the hands of the Hell's Angels.

  20. 'Angie'

    The Rolling Stones - Angie - OFFICIAL PROMO (Version 1)

    One of, if not the most tender ballad The Rolling Stones ever mustered was 'Angie'.

    The entirely acoustic lead single from 1973 album Goats Head Soup has remained one of their most widely adored in the half century since, and was the only ballad of theirs to top the charts in the US.

    The subject of the song isn't quite as clear however - it could either be about Keith's daughter Angela, or David Bowie's wife Angie.

    She supposedly caught Bowie and Jagger in bed together, so he wrote the song to appease her, though he strongly denies that was the case.

  21. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash'

    The Rolling Stones - Jumpin' Jack Flash (Official Music Video) (With Makeup)

    Again, another classic rock riff which displays Richard's finest fret-work is 1968 single 'Jumpin' Jack Flash'.

    It was arguably the track that transformed The Rolling Stones into the louche rock gods they became renowned for, and it very much marked the end of Brian Jones' time with the band.

    Describing the feeling he had after concocting the riff, Richards said: "You jump on the riff and it plays you. Levitation is probably the closest analogy to what I feel."

    'Jumpin' Jack Flash' was also a hit for Aretha Franklin who covered it in 1986, with Richards playing guitar on her recording.

  22. 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'

    The Rolling Stones - You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Official Video) [4K]

    Yet another classic Stones' chorus which has entered the lexicon of music lovers worldwide is 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'.

    The lengthy orchestral number from 1969's epic album Let It Bleed describes the difficulty of finding happiness and contentment, very much a lesson to us all "get what you need".

    It's hymnal quality - complete with backing vocals from a chorus of children from the London Bach Choir - makes it a certified sing-a-long at every show they've played since it was first released.

    Looking back on the song years later, Jagger admitted: "It's a good song, even if I say so myself. It's got a very sing-along chorus, and people can identify with it: No one gets what they always want."

  23. 'Gimme Shelter'

    The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter (Official Lyric Video)

    Written about the disarray surrounding Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and the Manson Family murders during the late 1960s, 'Gimme Shelter' is one of The Rolling Stones' most macabre songs.

    But it's also one of their most devastatingly evocative, with much of the credit going to Merry Clayton and her bone-chilling wails of "rape, murder, it's just a shot away".

    Needing someone to record the lines in the early hours of the morning, Clayton heeded the call, complete with curlers in her hair and silk pyjamas on said she was going to "blow them out of this room".

    She did emphatically - though this was never released as a single, it became one of the band's most enduring songs.

  24. 'Paint It Black'

    The Rolling Stones - Paint It Black (Ed Sullivan Show, 1966)

    A pivotal moment for The Rolling Stones was 'Paint It Black', a song about the fallout from a sudden and unexpected death that segued into a new, edgier era for the band and their output, moving away from the blues covers which ignited their career.

    The dark, Eastern-inspired psychedelic sound - complete with sitar - is now widely considered one of their greatest ever compositions.

    It was a huge success at the time of release in 1966, topping the charts in the US and the UK, and to this day is their most streamed song.

    "It's like the beginnings of miserable psychedelia," Jagger once joked about the song, but that's likely why it's sustained its appeal with repeated generations and has repeatedly been covered by new artists.

  25. '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'

    ROLLING STONES "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" on The Ed Sullivan Show

    It's difficult to look beyond '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' as The Rolling Stones' greatest songs - it's synonymous with the band, and is usually the track that springs to mind whenever they're mentioned.

    It's also the song that established the five boys from Deptford as culturally significant as their long-term rivals The Beatles.

    The song's influence can't be overstated - the use of fuzz pedal on the guitar riff opened up new avenues for rock 'n roll music that followed, and its bluesy nature was adored by master of soul music Otis Redding who covered it himself.

    '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' is the band's stand-out song. It's a truly original pop rock number which took The Rolling Stones to the top of the charts around the world, and has remained their signature song ever since.