An English rock band that has the largest variety of sounds within their collection of songs and albums, The Rolling Stones progress each decade by producing genuine classics with great persistence.
With the slight baroque beat, Delta blues, jazz, and rock sounds intermingling throughout the band’s career, it’s hard to pin down exactly which was the most revolutionary in terms of the band’s success.
Rather than simply slapping a label on them as the greatest rock band in the world, it’s important to realize that this band was the best due to their ability to keep their work concise, straightforward, and with a passionate attitude.
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In this article, we will countdown the 12 best Rolling Stones albums to own on vinyl. So, let’s get started!
12) Emotional Rescue (1980)
Though Mick Jagger describes in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that “Emotional Rescue” is a lot of leftover material from “Some Girls,” it’s sufficient to say that we all grabbed at a hefty plate of those leftovers if that is the case. This album has elements of gorgeous, simple blues album similar to that of “Goats Head Soup,” as well as their classic, rambunctious rock music that had everyone kicking for hours.
“Indian Girl” being their slowest song on the album offers a slow, country-like tapping of the drumsticks, as well as a soft strumming of a few simple notes as Jagger’s sensual voice that sings of a small girl begging for help to find her family. It truly is a phenomenal song, describing the state of war’s impact from a child’s perspective, and from an adult’s perspective who doesn’t quite know how to help.
Though simple, The Stones’ managed to find a way to create meaningful lyrics with an eye-opening message. Other major hits on this album include “Summer Romance,” “Send It To Me,” and “Where The Boys Go.” The vinyl record sleeves have interesting photographs taken with negative film, peaking the interest of any curious eye. One-of-a-kind, this album is a treasure to have on one’s shelf.
11) Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)
Extremely experimental and critically reviewed, “Their Satanic Majesties Request” makes for an interesting sight into the Rolling Stone’s versatility in hard, soft, and psychedelic rock. This being the only psychedelic acid-rock album the Rolling Stones ever made, the band has a hayday with synthesizers and harmonicas, offering a haunting sensation resembling that of the happiest LSD trip.
Closely following the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” with a little doll in the corner wearing a sweater stating, “Welcome the Rolling Stones,” the release of this Rolling Stone’s album was both a statement and a response to the album cover, placing The Beatles’ band members on individual flowers growing beside them on the front of this album. Their most memorable songs on this album would be “Sing This All Together,” “She’s A Rainbow,” and “In Another Land.”
Critics were very harsh on this album, saying it was a copy of The Beatles (though it truly was), however it does go to prove exactly how versatile the band’s abilities are. With this album, The Rolling Stones made a statement that they are able to create any type of music they want, simply because they can.
10) Exile on Main Street (1972)
A calming blend of mainstream influenced rock, incorporating jazzy keyboards and a trumpet solos in songs such as “Rip this Joint,” The Rolling Stones came out with “Exile on Main Street.” This was the first double LP ever released by the Rolling Stones and was well received by critics and fans due to a fantastic fusion of baroque pop, and their original, dirty, blues-rock music.
The album cover is slathered in old photos from decades before from all over the planet, such as Africans, Americans, Europeans, the works. With excessive use of ska-like musical instruments like trumpets and horns, Jagger’s voice blended into the working jazz sound as Watts slammed his drumsticks in every direction. “Rocks Off,” “Ventilator Blues,” and “Sweet Black Angel” were simple blues songs, carrying soft rhythms.
The slow country rhythm highlighted through cowbells and banjos is extremely comforting, proving The Stones’ can be much more humble and genuine. This vinyl pulls at heartstrings with songs that hold a hearty mix of emotions within each set of notes, such as “Loving Cup” caresses one’s ears like silk and honey.
9) December’s Children (And Everybody Else’s) (1965)
As this album was more of a Baroque sound, “December’s Children (And Everybody Else’s)” showed the band’s first unique ability to have a mainstream rock sound similar to that of The Beatles, while having a blues variation on the guitar. Songs like “She Said Yeah,” “Talkin’ About You,” and “Route 66” are all classic examples of the heavy mix between the two genres, as Richards and Jones hum steady rhythms together, as well as wailing intermittent solos.
The production quality of these albums to start with were absolutely terrible, but it was a rustic sound that belonged to The Stones. “Get Off My Cloud” was was one of the Stones’ earlier number one hits, climbing the charts due to the sporadic nature of the song’s lyrics. Jagger stated in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that it depicts teenage-alienation, begging for privacy and isolation, which was quite inspiring for kids in this time and place.
In the U.K, this entire album blew up because of all the different sounds that resulted from this album. The Rolling Stones even has some simple songs that appealed to older people such as “You Better Move On,” and “The Singer Not The Song,” which held clean, sweet lyrics, rather than their normal vulgar stance.
8) Out of Our Heads (1965)
Ever since their debut album “The Rolling Stones,” the band was looking for their sound and their own contribution to rock music. After years, “Out Of Our Heads” came out on top with their unforgettable song, “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction),” kicking off their reputation of rambunctious men who have no bounds.
Though the album has more of a baroque pop sound emulating that of The Beatles and Bee Gees, no song came close to the dramatic effect Jagger had on the crowd with this explicit hit. The U.K. had major issues with the release of this sexual banter, so the U.S. politely picked up the track a few months after their American release, as well as a few other tracks such as “The Spider and the Fly” and “Play With Fire.”
This album failed to reach the charts in the U.K. due to the absence of many hits, mainly the songs formerly listed as the British felt they were too ‘progressive’. At any rate, there are a number of songs that prove the band is leaning more towards the crowd, with the guitar riffs being quick, beachy, and contemporary-like such as that in “Cry To Me.”
This song ultimately pinned down the sound of Richards much more effectively than other records due to their album being released in full frequency stereo sound (which they proudly boast on the album cover). “Play With Fire” sounds much more folk than any other song they’ve produced, reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s, “Scarborough Fair” renaissance influence on each instrument. As Jagger refers to himself as the fire in the song, he explicitly tells how his lack of merit and heart only hurts his relationships.
Aside from the popular mixes, the few songs that were restricted for months after the original U.K. release was the rawest products from the Rolling Stones in 1965. “The Spider and the Fly” is a bluesy anthem about a young man going after a flirtatious woman in her thirties at a bar, showing exactly who they are, and what their music is about.
It was catchy, thrilling, and spoke about the true nature of relationships between men and women at this time. Cheating on one’s girl waiting at home with a cougar in a bar wasn’t surprising behavior. Young adults were swinging back and forth, partner to partner, with hardly any regard for those feelings surrounding them. “Free love” being a major facet of their society made “The Spider and the Fly” a mirror facing towards both the band and the listener’s, themselves. The rock scene consisted of teens and young adults, making this song a hit immediately once it hit the U.S.
7) Some Girls (1978)
“Some Girls” was a magnificent variation from their solid rock and blues music that built their foundation of fame. Although the songs uphold the former’s influence with a pull of guitar strings in an upward, bluegrass fashion, this album experiments with the sound of the times – Disco, dance, and funky drums. Many songs on this album were an immediate smash as a result, such as “Miss You,” “Some Girls,” “Just My Imagination,” and “Beast of Burden.”
The ultimate track for teens to lose their virginity to, “Beast of Burden” became one of their most romantic singles yet. The soft, beachy guitar drizzling like rain falls over light tapping of Watts’ sticks on the drums, as well as a toe on the pedals of a symbol and bass drum. A sensual, melodic trance, whisking one away into the arms of a lover.
Rockin’ around to the incessant questioning of Jagger to make sure he’s loving with every ounce of soul he has the master of poetic vulgarity created a hypnotizing song with genuine, loving passion. This entire album is a classic, with an album cover holding a mirror to the time period, replicating images of current shopping ads for 1978 that women flipped through while at home while inserting their faces in some of the empty slots for fun.
6) Between the Buttons (1967)
This album was rather vulgar back in the day as The Rolling Stones were rising in popularity. “Between the Buttons” was controversial due to its erotic nature. Jagger had a reputation for being shameless, which he presented in full force. Britain felt it necessary to publish everything but “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday,” replacing the tracks with “Backstreet Girl” and “Please Go Home” to keep it PG.
What was interesting though, is the fact that “Ruby Tuesday” made it to the top of the charts in the U.K, nonetheless. It’s truly fascinating how a band so rebellious gained such easy access to success with the public, simply due to them connecting over what was real. Sex was starting to be a topic of discussion during normal daily life, and it became evident that the public’s response to this album was a sign of approval.
Speaking with elders from this time period, they would call this profane and ghastly compared to those tracks ringing in their vinyl record players at home, such as Ella Fitzgerald, or Elvis Presley. Though it is extremely evident that the sound replicated that of a mix of genres much harder than that of the previous artists in this generation, The Stones had an edge.
Both the informality and confidence in the band members and Jagger’s wild delivery of lyrics had caused the band to become a spectacle to both see the show, and to figure out what the excitement was about. “Between the Buttons” was one of the most controversial records of this time. This goes to show just how much The Rolling Stones have helped society progress in such a short period of time, by learning to accept this faction of music and brute honesty.
5) Tattoo You (1981)
“Tattoo You” was a much needed revolutionary piece that brought about the old Rolling Stones’ sound back from the 60s, as well as diversifying their sound to be more modern. This was their last number one album in the United States, including major hits on this album, include “Start Me Up,” “Hang Fire,” “Waiting on a Friend,” and “Black Limousine.”
The fantastic collaboration of light, dancy guitar in some songs intermingling with the heavy riffs in others, it makes for a creative piece that focuses on some of their leftover work from “Some Girls.” Sadly, there isn’t much to say due to the lack of controversial content on this album as the 80s were much more progressive in terms of content and music, though it is a phenomenal record worth every single penny.
The rhythm is tied tight together like a warm quilt and ends with brevity and concise structure within every lyric and note. The Rolling Stones developed a dignified sound while still upholding a playful attitude through the joyful voice of Jagger.
4) Let It Bleed (1969)
Mick Taylor (guitarist) joined the band shortly after the death of Brian Jones (two days after, to be exact). The first album after he joined, “Let It Bleed,” would be part of the band’s setlist for a free concert at Altamont, California. In the film named after a hit on this album, “Gimme Shelter,” earning a place in the Criterion Film collection, shows members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang (who were hired as bodyguards) stabbing a man to death at the foot of the stage.
The age of peace and love was slowly coming to a close with violence thickening, and cultures becoming more individualized, as well as bands with their intense sounds and lyrics. Though some would argue that music contributed to this, it seems to be the contrary – music has been a thorough documentation of the thoughts and feelings of those present at this time, rather than influencing them.
The Rolling Stones documented how it truly felt during this time period, with the Vietnam War causing some to live in massive fear day by day, as well as the Boston Strangler recently disturbing the peace of Massachusetts for years. The Stones weren’t afraid to tell the world exactly how it was.
- A New Era
Mick Taylor was following the same intellect of the other band members, as well as diversifying his own musical sound. One track Taylor played especially well was their cover of “Love In Vain,” originally by blues artist, Robert Johnson. The same goes for a few other songs on the album, like “Country Honk,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “Gimme Shelter.” As the band went on stage with this new set of songs, it was apparent that the loss of Jones was not a total loss for the music’s soul. In fact, Taylor was a huge contribution to the unforgettable albums inspired by “Let It Bleed” in particular, such as “Sticky Fingers,” and “Goats Head Soup.”
At any rate, it was nice to hear some genuine lyrics about how it felt to be in the city during 1969. The album cover cleverly designed with a cake balanced on a thin, gold rod that seemed to be piercing a record saying “The Rolling Stones” from the center; a cartridge grazing along the top of the spinning vinyl, as the band plays on the top of the cake in toy form.
Each layer of the cake is an actual item as well, such as a tire, pizza, a clock, and a film reel with the album title written on the red tape, stacked on a very nice plate. Not only was the cover aesthetically pleasing, but also named symbolically. “Let It Bleed” had shared an overflowing amount of passion and carefully written poetry for their lyrics, played with the utmost emotion.
“Gimme Shelter” was phenomenally written, yet extremely daunting as far as the nature of the song goes. With Vietnam being a major influence on the artist’s lyrics for this album, it was interesting to hear Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger sing a duet about rapist and murders all over one’s town.“Midnight Gambler” was a dark depiction of the vast amount of attacks by a man in a dark cloak slipping into Boston’s windows at night.
The Boston Strangler had murdered 11 women (at least), from the ages of 55-85 between 1962 and 1964, causing a huge shift in the city’s light, vibration, and feeling of security. Through creepy verses of a man in the kitchen awaiting in the kitchen, ready to pounce, the public collectively shudders at the thought.
However, though it was somewhat unorthodox to sing about such tragedies as slavery, rape, and murder, it was perceived positively by the public for the contribution it has made to public acceptance of such horrid events. This album inspired many to come, with many controversial topics from bands other than the Rolling Stones, solely due to this initial gem presented during 1969.
3) Sticky Fingers (1971)
This album was a smash hit due to all the phenomenal songs that were written with absolute passion, obscenity, shamelessness, and emotion. As rock and roll progressed in this era, so did The Rolling Stones’ sound and confidence in their brash fashion of stating astonishing, blatant lyrics.
The band having an undeniable following that would stand the test of time for decades found that experimenting with social rules of society and music with songs written about rape and slavery, would find that it would ultimately lead them to success. The vinyl cover for “Sticky Fingers” had an actual zipper on the front of it, which was a sexy, fun image, completely different from all the sensible album covers leading up to 1971.
- Vulgar lyrics, following a vulgar time
“Brown Sugar” blew people away with the genius usage of lyrics coupled with a whimsical beat to coat such horrific lyrics. Interesting enough, Keith Richards states in his novel, “Life”, that the lyrics are often manipulated to say scarred old slaver (rather than skydog slaver), and that is simply not true – Jagger was impressed by Skydog being Duane Allman’s nickname (due to how stoned he was regularly).
It took Richards and Jagger a solid 45 minutes to write the song, and the band was so mesmerized by the perfect product. How could you not? It’s vulgar and raw.
In the 70’s, it was wrong to sing about such reckless behavior, even though the world was seeping in the same content. The Stones, especially Jagger, wanted to speak their mind with no regret. This blissful absence of humility caused him to tap into the world and write about what is actually happening, rather than a simple little ditty about nothing.
As the song goes on, Richards increases in tempo along with the steady keyboard, bass, and drum. “Sticky Fingers” truly brought out the individual sound of Taylor as opposed to the previous collection of albums he’s graced since 1969. The whole thing is a jazzy, upbeat, dancing tune, sounding more rock than blues.
Somewhat replicating the distant feel of Jimi Hendrix’s music production quality, the song sounds like it is physically recorded further away on purpose. The entire song is raw, edgy, and impossible to shut off once it starts. The vinyl copy of this album accentuates the sound of Richards and Jagger most, intoxicating both ears and hearts to hear such soul come from the soft plucking of a melancholy 12 string acoustic guitar.
During this time period, the band was going through quite a lot, such as the loss of Keith Richards child, and Jagger going through a major heartbreak. The slow guitar sounds coupled with the whisper of a bass drum help exaggerate the sound of Jagger’s voice, singing as if he’s performing a lullaby. Both Keith and Jagger wrote a huge portion of this album, containing other great melodies such as “Sway,” “Wild Horses,” and “Dead Flowers.”
2) Beggars Banquet (1968)
This album was best reputable for a heavy blues influence with minor African beats, such as the melody of “Sympathy for the Devil,” as well as being the last album Brian Jones worked on before he left (rather, fired from) The Rolling Stones and drifted beneath a pool a month later, pronounced dead. It was a tragedy for fans and the band alike, however, this was a great closing piece with a sound true to the Stones. In their previous work, “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” the sound was completely opposite than their traditional, more recognizable sound, leaving fans high and dry for a period of time.
The title of the album being “Beggars Banquet” was quite symbolic, as the band depicted themselves as a band of major hooligans, turning what was completely vulgar into a popular movement in individuality, and whimsical activity. Feasting like kings at the mercy of the fans, these coincidental Beggars live like the kings depicted on the inside cover of the vinyl, feeding one another insight like the only apple with genuine hue being bitten off Richard’s fork by Jagger.
- Sympathy for who, exactly?
In any case, Beggars Banquet was delightful for a number of reasons, as well as dangerously effective towards pleasing and shocking the audience. “Sympathy for the Devil” was a track that described the nature of the world at the time, full of war, murder (of the Kennedy’s in particular), and taking advantage of moments of doubt.
It was beautifully written in the perspective of the devil himself, providing a testimony of his pride in this soul-sucking game. During 1968, everyone’s mom would hear this album and literally ask them to throw it outside like a frisbee, calling it blasphemous and devilish.
Producer Jimmy Miller designed this band with the Stones to create a work that defied social colloquial rules, causing a riot in any bedroom as people rocked out to one of the only tracks in existence poetically written about a vile soul in such a positive manner.
The constant “woo-woo” in the background emphasizes the enthusiasm behind the character finding joy in destructing lives around him. It surely was an interesting choice, however, “Sympathy for the Devil” was impacting, insightful, and somewhat relieving to hear an identifiable loss of religious influence over the public.
As the release of Beggars Banquet came about during the war of Vietnam, following Blitzkrieg and other such tragic events a few decades before, it was rebellious to have a carefree attitude with no regard for the public’s reactions for their music. It’s a great album to have on vinyl, as the sound is so much crisper than that of the digital replications.
Not only that, the vinyl cover itself was the depiction of their band’s essence; the cover of the original LP is a crisp white with cursive, black calligraphy as their font, while the inside held a panorama of the band crowded all around an elegant dining table, feasting like kings.
1) Aftermath (1966)
This was the first album Allan Klein officially took over as manager of the band, helping the band create one of their most memorable albums to date. This rock classic is filled with playful African beats, heavy guitar solos, hard drums, and a slight bluesy twist to keep their foundational Rolling Stones’ roots.
There was a slight hint of many genres coming out to play, such as a folk-like renaissance song like “Lady Jane,” or the eleven-minute-long highway blues anthem, “Going Home.” The Rolling Stones were diversifying their sound once again, and it made history in both the U.K. and the United States.
One revitalizing track that was ultimately criticized due to it’s “misogynistic” nature was “Under My Thumb.” However it may be criticized, it was a perfect depiction of how certain relationships were, and still continue to be. During the late 60s, music would begin to compromise their set of rules, and the Rolling Stones set up major regulations stemming from the popularity of this song in particular.
With xylophone beats and keyboard symphonies, the fun rhythm that makes everyone want to jig side to side as a slight, repetitive humming of the clanking of the keyboard accompany a few guitars. “Under My Thumb” is a wonderful rendition of a man who claims his independence after a long period of being completely under a woman’s spell. It was shocking to hear the pleasure a person may feel being ultimately selfish in such a sense, yet it is a common virtue of all men and women, alike.
“Paint It, Black” was a daunting track, humming along with Richards on guitar and Jones on sitar (as by this time, he had quit playing guitar with much passion). The beat is extraordinarily crafted, seeking to hum a melody that crashes into the soul, sparking emotions like a wildfire as the beat dramatically rises in tempo later on.
Selfishness was not sung about in the sense of being heartbroken and using one another; to this day, it is hard to find a track that mimics the nostalgic, lighthearted fun Jagger sings about with utter truth in a “this is how it is” type of attitude. The entire album holds a profound attitude of both lewd truth, and passionate ranting about issues that were in prominent in a young man’s life. Certain tracks like “It’s Not Easy” and “Dontcha Bother Me” were all favorites due to the deep connection each song has to the Delta blues background in albums the Stones were yet to release after the year of 1966.
Though the U.K. Version had “Out of Time,” a timeless orchestral with a barking guitar behind the light clinging of bells and soft tapping of the drums, they restricted the song “Paint It, Black” from being published. Though they made a dramatic step towards accepting The Rolling Stones’ creative style by finally publishing a controversial hit, which was “Under My Thumb.” While the world was slowly conforming to the wild behavior the Stones’ considered normal, the world was ready to take in these controversial tracks to experience this new genre slowly arising out of the end of the 60s.
- Out of Time
If you’re a younger person, you might listen to these albums and think The Rolling Stones to be considered folk, or even simple blues-rock. While this is right with the modern evolution of music, during 1968 these songs were some of their hardest songs on stage, and the most courageous.
On vinyl, the notes are much more subtle and clear, though one can hear the angry echo of the maracas, bongos, and guitar grinding together like they were in an old jazz club with no microphones. The Rolling Stones have created a legacy that today can be unmatched, with their versatility in nearly every subject. From hard to soft rock, acid to pop, disco to blues, The Stones’ have figured them out, and each vinyl they produce is completely and utterly unique to the mood the band felt that morning. It’s completely and utterly essential to collect these albums while they still exist, as the original copies will be worth tons one day.
- Humble Beginnings
Mick Jagger with his loud, clear and steady voice, one of which is progressively moving towards an edgy, adrenalized shout with clear pronunciation of every syllable, caused the world to be instantly charmed. Although the structure of the band was up in the air for some time, it became official once Bill Wyman (guitarist), Brian Jones (guitarist), Keith Richards (guitarist), and Charlie Watts (drummer) all came together and started to really think outside the box.
As time progressed, so did the music, and it became much more eccentric as they became comfortable with one another, and developed their own unique sounds. Jones and Wyman found they could produce magnificent blues riffs with an emphasis on the depth of each note.
Both melancholy and pure, the hearty collection of sounds from their fingertips belongs to sound of The Stones before 1969, viably performed in their top albums “Beggars Banquet” and “Aftermath.” Charlie Watts’ drumming is fast and jazzy, and in some instances, so smooth it seems like a quiet heart thumping in the background.
Rolling Stone Magazine regarded this man as one of the greatest drummers of all time due to his mastery of the instrument. If one should listen to “Street Fighting Man” and “Under my Thumb,” they would notice the talent behind the sticks, as well as the immense shift in the tone of the band with only a five-year difference. Though Mick Taylor took the place as guitarist shortly after the passing of Jones, the unforgettable starting days of this band were matched with a fantastic set of songs, featuring the sound of Taylor and Richards collaborating with ease.
In the Stones’ earlier days, with albums such as the debut, “The Rolling Stones,” or “12 x 5,” their sound was noticeably undeveloped, as the band was still searching for their ideal sound and motive behind the musical compositions. The first product that shows their music’s largest leap in progress would be “Out Of Our Heads,” with their classic “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction).”
The blues and R&B covers from previous years prove to become more pronounced as time goes on, giving light the band’s ability to exponentially grow in both musical talent and intellectual bewilderment. It would be a travesty to take the Stones at face value – without reading into the lyricism and the symbolic placement of notes behind each lyric, the listener misses half of the message the band is sending out.
All the records on vinyl have a natural, down to earth essence due to their organic nature. Every album has some type of controversial song present, commonly written by both Jagger and Richards, in order to stir the crowd and move towards an overarching new confidence amongst all listeners. It was vital to have these on vinyl, no matter what time period it may be released, or remastered, simply due to the naked beauty in the band’s playing.
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