From their patented blues-rock, riff-heavy classics, to psychedelic explorations, to an album that inspired a million bands after, this list reflects Mick, Keef, and the Stones at their best.
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Sixty years is a long time to do anything, let alone be in a band. But leave it to the Rolling Stones to somehow not only pull it off, but continue touring and bringing over a half-century's worth of hits to their fans. With a career spanning so many decades, it might seem difficult to narrow down any best-of list as there's plenty of content to mine. However, certain Stones records have left an indelible mark on music and showcase a band at the height of their powers. So without further ado, here's EW's list of the 10 best from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and company for your reading and listening pleasure. 

Rolling Stones Their Satanic Majesties Request

10. Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

This is a contentious record with Stones fans. It's a full-on explosion of psychedelia that the band flirted with on Between the Buttons and Flowers but would largely abandon directly after this record's release. However, this is a snapshot of a band reaching the crest of their artistic prowess, minus longtime manager and collaborator Andrew Loog Oldham and beginning to really lean into the excess of all things rock & roll. This is certainly a finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist record for the Rolling Stones as they were initially accused of aping the Beatles forays into psychedelia at the time. Age has a way of softening edges, and this record is a brilliant spaced-out artifact that helped move the dial in different directions for the Stones going forward. Also, the cover is one of the most interesting and fun things you'll ever see in a record store, should you be able to find the original lenticular image made by photographer Michael Cooper. 

Goat's Head Soup

9. Goat's Head Soup (1973)

Things don't become iconic because they follow a formula, and this could be the magic ingredient for most of the records on this list. Goat's Head Soup was generally regarded as the band's decline as it came off to many as a scattershot grouping of songs that lacked cohesiveness. However, even with mixed reviews, the critics had to admit the band was pulling off being the Stones with stiff aplomb.

It's certainly a product of its time, which is to say the best era of the Rolling Stones starting with Exile on Main Street and ending with Some Girls. If you don't like the frisky "Dancing With Mr. D" or melancholia of "Winter," you love "Angie" — just about the entire population loves "Angie."

It's Only Rock and Roll

8. It's Only Rock and Roll (1974)

Rarely do bands come out of the gate with so much self-assurance that they dare you not to dance, fight, or fornicate. These are the basic emotions associated with the teenage rebellion that is rock & roll. We can try and clean it up all we want, but the term itself is lust personified to grunts and groans. This record lives up to its title and moves the genre forward by telling you that if you can't rock with them, they'll find someone who will.

Again, rock & roll in its purest form is a contact sport, and while you decide the level of contact, the fact is it's almost always a sweaty mess of a good time. The title track perfectly encapsulates that feeling, and while the record may suffer a tad with the inclusion of the Stone's cover of "Ain't too Proud to Beg," this record gave us a line, so lurid and loosely defined as a double entendre it's a miracle it makes its way past the censors on classic rock radio every day. 

Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out

7. Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1970)

Keith Richards has gone on the record calling out so-called "rock & roll" bands that don't bring their A-game at live shows. Standing still and playing proficiently may be exciting for many people, but there's a reason Jerry Lee Lewis burned his piano, Little Richard danced, hooted, and hollered like a rooster, Elvis swiveled his hips, and Chuck Berry invented the duck walk. A live rock & roll record should feel, well, live! It's a way to sell the audience on buying tickets the next time the band is in town, and Get Yer Ya Ya's Out is a great interpretation of where the Stones were at the time. It's amazing they have so much live material out in the world, but this era is absolutely an essential time in their career to be collected and saved for future generations.

Let it Bleed

6. Let it Bleed (1969)

"Gimme Shelter" is a symphonic masterpiece that lives in the Stones oeuvre alongside "Sympathy for the Devil" as it has so many moving parts paired with easy ideas that richly evoke their purpose. Forget the fact that this record starts with the howling wind and building chaos of "Shelter," it ends with the chorus opening of  "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The song is in and of itself a potential shot at critics and fans who think they know better than the artists about exactly who and what they should be and what their art should sound like.

Realistically, this was the tumultuous era where Brian Jones was ousted in favor of the group focusing on moving forward with Mick Taylor. As a result, the desperation in these songs could be interpreted as a representation of the band tearing off the band-aid that was bringing them down. 

Beggars Banquet

5. Beggars Banquet (1968)

While John Lennon may have claimed the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, the Stones were hanging with Mr. D all through this period of their career. "Sympathy for the Devil" is still a bewildering and amazing piece of art referencing John Milton's Paradise Lost. Specifically, the rhythms in this song conjure up images of voodoo rituals, in some sort of midnight rendezvous with our unreliable narrator.

The inclusion of "Street Fighting Man" on this album is another embrace of humanistic tendencies. The production, riff, and Jagger's delivery inspired a million bands and basically invented the blueprint for many punk bands that would spawn further down the stream. Sure, the Nuggets bands such as the Sonics, the Wailers, and many other rave-up rock groups existed, but this bad attitude, good-time song is an anthemic call to arms for disaffected youth. 

Aftermath

4. Aftermath (1966)

The U.K. version of Aftermath features "Mother's Little Helper," while the U.S. version replaces it with "Paint It Black." Considering they could have added both songs and released it with both bangers on the Stones' first record of all original material — and they didn't — is confounding.

Both versions have "Under My Thumb," the inclusion of which many critics found to be appalling as the record overall read to many as focusing the ire of the band on the women in their lives — both real and imagined. Whether that was intentional or just a product of the band writing their own material, who knows? They were certainly not upstanding citizens starting around this time and the bad behavior would only escalate, but it also made for great records. Perhaps we can chalk it up to art imitating life?

Sticky Fingers

3. Sticky Fingers (1971)

With "Brown Sugar" as the opener, this record is a beast right out of the gate. If you can find them, there are some amazing outtakes of the song with Keith Richards utilizing slide guitar that will redefine how you hear it. However, the band has stopped playing "Brown Sugar" live as they find it understandably unappealing in the 21st century to sing about slavery and the carnal conquests that came with it. Next is "Sway," an ode to drunken bluesy swagger followed by "Wild Horses," which depicts a lover's desperate attempts at saying "I love you" without saying "I love you." Sticky Fingers is a view of who the Rolling Stones would become as their legacy came a little more into focus. This record reflects the Keith Richards who's adorned on T-shirts smoking in front of a "Drug-Free America" sign and being interpreted as Captain Jack Sparrow, the pirate Stones. Sticky Fingers is a solid representation of just that ethos.

Some Girls

2. Some Girls (1978)

At the tail end of the '70s, the Stones were very aware of who they were in the world. Some Girls involves a lot of disco influences, which in hindsight makes this record amazing. It contains all the rhythm and soulful blues influences that spurred their rise to fame but doesn't lose the special sauce they've stirred as rock & roll bad boys.

Unlike a lot of bands, the Stones lean into all their excess as evidenced by the lyrics to the title track; they love being rock stars. This is the time where their contemporaries are stepping back from the spotlight, but the Stones are taking the opposite route. This joie de vivre in being bad is evident from beginning to end. 

Exile on Main Street

1. Exile on Main Street (1972)

This record marks a signature statement by THE rock & roll band of the time, one that never lets up in intensity from beginning to end. And even when the songs are not four-on-the-floor rockers, there's a certain dark potency watching over the proceedings.

Every rock & roll band that has existed since this record likely owes a debt to the songs that make up Exile on Main Street, from rippers like opener "Rocks Off" to the hook-filled messiness of "Tumbling Dice." As Mick Jagger himself describes, it's a record that showcases the "feeling of joyful isolation, grinning in the face of a scary and unknown future," featuring cover art the singer says reflects the Stones as "runaway outlaws using the blues as its weapon against the world." It's all a specifically apt description for a band about to invent the new face of sleaze and vigor that would become the de rigueur for the next generation. 

This is the album that invented Guns N' Roses, Turbonegro, and basically every band that strapped on black leather, full denim, and thumbed their nose at polite society. This era of the Rolling Stones is the look every band strived for less than a decade later, when every unwashed reprobate on the Sunset Strip embraced the unkempt hair look that turned into glam rock. Exile is it, the Rolling Stones boiled down to the essence of what makes rock & roll fun, dangerous, and sexy. Luckily, the band had more snarl, swagger, and spark left to continue churning out hits, but this is the definitive statement that would highlight their career.

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