Keith Richards celebrates a milestone birthday today — 70 — and that’s a perfect reason to listen to some Rolling Stones music.
Last year, Advocate managing editor John Adamian and I put together a list of 20 great “non-hits” with bits of commentary (by John and me, but mostly by John) on each one. Below is that list with added YouTube clips. Happy birthday, Keef!
1. “I Am Waiting” (Aftermath, 1966). Delightfully weird. The Stones mastered this melding of pent-up sexual frustration with vaguely Medieval touches. Like most rock and roll: it’s probably just about the pain and frustration of wanting to get laid. Now.
2. “Back Street Girl” (Flowers, 1967). Singer basically wants a lower-class chick for discrete hookups. Gross, but lovely.
3. “She Smiled Sweetly” (Between the Buttons, 1967). Beloved for many for its place in The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack.
4. “2000 Man” (Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967). Ace Frehley covered this tune, in case you needed further proof of its greatness.
5. “Stray Cat Blues” (Beggars Banquet, 1968). The theme of mistreating young woman is a recurring one, but that riff at the start is so, raw, carnal.
6. “Factory Girl” (Beggars Banquet, 1968). Another song about basically wanting to get drunk and frisky with a lower-class chick. (A recurring theme — the Stones, for all their swarshbuckling, revolutionary swagger, seem to be really obsessed with class anxiety. Typical Brit hang-up.)
7. “Live With Me” (Let it Bleed, 1969). Charlie lays down the rim shot on every beat. Keith plays bass and guitar. Mick snarls about nasty habits and Nicky Hopkins works his magic on the ivories. One of the sickest Stones grooves of this whole period.
8. “Sway” (Sticky Fingers, 1971). One of the great opening bits of guitar slashing and kicking-in with the drums. The ultimate boozy jukebox song, for when the night makes that subtle shift from jubilant to dark and dangerous. “Did you ever wake up to find a day that broke up your mind, destroying your notion of circular time?” Well, yes, since you ask. Mick Taylor lets rip at the end, before they fade him out.
9. “I Got the Blues” (Sticky Fingers, 1971). You can feel the Muscle Shoals coming through. It’s like a lost Percy Sledge song.
10. “Moonlight Mile” (Sticky Fingers, 1971). Evidently Mick Taylor had everything to do with this one. One of the most epic, climactic builds in rock. If there aren’t timpani rolls here — can’t quite tell — there should be.
11. “Let It Loose” (Exile On Main Street, 1972). Keith sends his guitar signal through a Leslie speaker. Deceptively odd phrasing, free-flowing gospel singers and lovely horns at 2:31. Incredible build-up from the start. A real sleeper, and one of the great, underrated songs not only on Exile but anywhere. Genuinely touching.
12. “I Just Want To See His Face” (Exile On Main Street, 1972). The Stones pilfed and poached from early blues and early rock. Makes sense that they’d lift some ecstatic inspiration from gospel, too. Whether you buy Mick’s testifying about Jesus is another story.
13. “Winter” (Goat’s Head Soup, 1973). It’s not like this song goes anywhere in particular, but it starts and stays in a good slow-burn place. Odd side note: the Stones have a number of songs about not having enough clothes to either keep warm or be presentable.
14. “Till the Next Goodbye” (It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, 1974). When the Stones pretend to be down-and-out, bereft, it’s never quite believable, but they’re at their best when they’re masquerading as sad sacks. This one can stand up well right next to “Angie” and “Time Waits for No One.” It’s a little like “Moonlight Mile” – minus the big finish and the bleary poetry. It’s further proof, if you needed it, that Keith is one of the best backing vocalists around.
15. “Memory Motel” (Black and Blue, 1976). Not a perfect tune by any stretch, and Keith’s extemporizing on the “She got a mind of her own/And she use it well” is ridiculous the first time, but awesome when he insists on repeating it.
16. “Before They Make Me Run” (Some Girls, 1978). Another installment in the ongoing “Keith is an outlaw” serial soap opera.
17. “Indian Girl” (Emotional Rescue, 1980). In many ways this is laughable — Mick’s quasi-revolutionary mumblings, the fake patois, the mix of Mexican marimba and Caribbean lilt.
18. “No Use In Crying” (Tattoo You, 1981). It’s sort of a chorus in search of a song. But still. Dig how they rip themselves off with a tune that portions of which sound surprisingly like “Time Is On My Side.” Note Mick’s strange bird-like cooing of “ain’t no use” at the 2:37 mark.
19. “One Hit (To the Body)” (Dirty Work, 1986). Even at the height of the shoulder-pad era, the Stones still managed to deploy slashing guitars and menace in their pastel pop.
20. “Continental Drift” (Steel Wheels, 1989). Of interest and note perhaps only because of the Stones collaboration with the Master Musicians of Jajouka, those Moroccan hash mystics with all the horns and drums that fascinated Brian Jones and William Burroughs and Ornette Coleman (who also recorded a tune with them once).
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