Help me to appreciate the Rolling Stones.
May 30, 2010 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Help me to appreciate the Rolling Stones. I love classic rock and I practically worship Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, but I've never really delved into the Stones. I like music that is quirky and keeps me guessing, whose harmonies or arrangements take me by surprise. When this doesn't happen, I like music that is just unquestionably awesome (for any reason). Where should I begin (album-wise) to appreciate the Rolling Stones?
posted by Alabaster to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, you are going to get so many different answers here as people tell you about their favorite albums. (Mine is Let It Bleed, for example.) So I would heartily suggest that you begin with their first, and very fine, compilation album Hot Rocks 1964-1971. See what you love from here and then explore the albums the particular songs came from. And then listen to Exile on Main Street and have your mind blown.
posted by meerkatty at 7:35 PM on May 30, 2010

I was and still am a beatles fan but I tell you listen to "exile on mainstreet" it is one of the finest rock/blues albums, ever. Ever. The end, no more discussion.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 7:44 PM on May 30, 2010

Let It Bleed's great. Exile On Main Street too, but I think it works better when you've got a pretty good knowledge of the Rolling Stones' way, so I would hold off on that a bit. Hot Rocks 1964-1971 is a great place to start as well. I have a soft spot for Their Satanic Majesties Request as a kind of quirky, oddball and unexpected bit of pandering to contemporary progressive sounds, but it's not for everyone and has a lot of detractors.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:46 PM on May 30, 2010

I agree with DX that you should hold off on Exile On Main Street. Once you start to appreciate their style, loose yet focused, then you can go in there.
posted by intermod at 7:51 PM on May 30, 2010

Studio albums in order of greatness:
1. Some Girls.
2. Beggars Banquet.
3. Sticky Fingers.
3. Exile on Main Street.
The rest of their discography is good, but not as good. Hot Rocks is indeed a good place to start, if compilations are OK with you.
posted by Sam Ryan at 8:32 PM on May 30, 2010

After gaining the taste for the Stones, I like the Forty Licks album for the wide spectrum.
posted by Drasher at 8:45 PM on May 30, 2010

Exile on Main Street. (Don't lose another day.)
posted by sallybrown at 8:48 PM on May 30, 2010

Agreeing that Hot Rocks is a great introduction but cautioning that many people seem to be either Stones people or Beatles people. (ExitPursuedbyBear seems to be an exception.)
posted by Morrigan at 8:58 PM on May 30, 2010

My familiarity with the Stones is a bit lukewarm, and influenced by my father - I have HOT ROCKS, which is a good "these are some of the songs that everyone talks about" introduction, and my father once proclaimed LET IT BLEED to be the best album by anyone of all time ever. (He probably said that about a ZZ TOP album the following week, so take that with a grain of salt.)

Pointing out the obvious point, though, that it's possible that you just don't dig the Stones, and that it is perfectly okay to just not dig them. (I am not a huge Led Zepplin fan myself, but not for any reason other than I just don't dig them. It happens.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 PM on May 30, 2010

I, personally, appreciate the Stones, although I don't really like most of their stuff any more than I like anything else I come across on my rare forays back into Classic Rock radio.

Appreciation comes from listening to the symbiotic relationship they had with Gram Parsons for a few years.
posted by notsnot at 9:18 PM on May 30, 2010

Let it Bleed

I am admittedly a Stones person, but the other morning I wound up listening to Let it Bleed on my ipod by accident and was blown away once more by the shear beauty of the thing. I have in recent years been more drawn to Exile and Sticky Fingers, but Let it Bleed is a damn good intro. PIcture all that was happening in 1969. And the Stones were one step ahead.
Keith sings on "You've got the Silver" and it is totally a Keith song, but I have a boot of a recording with Mick singing that I think is better. I'll pass it on if interested. And I have realized that I have grown so accustomed to Keith that when he dies, I will be wailing like a widow.
posted by readery at 9:22 PM on May 30, 2010

I would start with Let it Bleed. The thing is the Stones are rhythm and blues. The Beatles are more melodic. Paul McCartney wanted to write musicals and John Lennon was a poet. The Stones were raw, and after Brian Jones left, they were very raw. The Beatles were always polished. I had a brief Led Zeppelin phase, but meh. At one time I could tell you what album, side, and track a Stones or Beatles song came from AND knew every song be heart. (I'll probably be able to do it again when I am very old and demented.) I was a Stones and Beatles fanatic, so both are just as great to me.
posted by fifilaru at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2010

I'm like the original poster. As a fan of Beatles, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and a bunch of other excellent musicians from that era, I never could figure out why anyone ever considered the Stones more than mediocre.
posted by zachawry at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

+1 on Some Girls.

I didn't get into the Stones until my roomate got obsessed with "Some Girls"--fucking fantastic album. Every track is amazing.
posted by johnnybeggs at 9:38 PM on May 30, 2010

I'll vote Let it Bleed as well; have a listen to Gimme Shelter.
posted by axismundi at 9:57 PM on May 30, 2010

Listen to all the albums up to and including Exile; I'd recommend the US versions, 'cause that's how I heard them: England's Newest Hitmakers, 12 X 5, The Rolling Stones, Now!, Out of Our Heads, December's Children, Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Satanic Majesties, Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile. There really isn't a bad one in the lot, but if you want to pare it down to the absolute essentials, I'd say the first one, Aftermath, Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Exile. Listen to them in order and give them time to work: they tend to sound murky and slapdash at first only to reveal themselves after repeated listenings under a variety of conditions, shall we say.

Fill in with the Singles Collection: the London Years, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, Some Girls (their last great studio album, IMHO) and the T.A.M.I. Show and Gimme Shelter DVDs. Finish off with a compilation of the best of their later stuff, maybe Sucking in the Seventies or Rewind.
posted by timeistight at 10:00 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

EmpressCallipygos is 100% right about Hot Rocks. Also, Exile on Main Street may be essential, but like any double album, it has its dead spots.

But really, if you want to understand the Rolling Stones, pay attention to "Satisfaction" and "Miss You." There's a kind of feel that they own, the way Jimi Hendrix owns a particular approach to the guitar: they invented it, and no one will ever do it better. Their best music is sloppy, simple, and slightly out-of-tune, and it all kind of sounds the same, which makes them very different indeed from Zeppelin or the Beatles or Pink Floyd. If you want "quirky" or "surprising," they are not for you.

On preview, I'm pretty sure timeistight's comment is eponysterical.
posted by twirlip at 10:11 PM on May 30, 2010

The thing is the Stones are rhythm and blues.

This. Even more, they were early rock, country and blues, blues, blues. Of course, everyone else in England was too at the time, but somehow, the Stones managed more the the rest to transcend reproduction and get inside their influences. I think it was the combination of Keith fanatical devotion to the music and MIck's ironic, almost actorly distance from it.

I dunno, though. Maybe you had to be fourteen and hear Not Fade Away for the first time.
posted by timeistight at 10:15 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I started taking the Stones' music to level 2 after learning a little bit about Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the people. They both have these iconic, strong personalities and are Grade A Rock Stars but they have such different approaches to that end. Jagger is the cerebral, calculating showman and Richards is the free-spirited, raw wanderer and they both appear to be constantly arguing and on the verge of ripping each others heads off but still respecting each other and somehow managing to keep it all together. There's a bit of the mythological Apollo and Dionysus dichotomy going on between them and it reflects in their musical style.

I wouldn't say the Stones are famous for surprises in harmony and arrangement (per your musical tastes) but there is a lot going on under the surface of these apparently basic sounds. Read this essay on Sympathy for the Devil for an example.

Anecdote: I remember a time where I was on a rocking boat on the ocean and had one of those terrible hangovers that I couldn't shake and I just wanted to die. Somebody put on the song Sister Morphine ("Here I lie in my hospital bed. . ") and, I swear, for whatever reason, listening to that song at that moment was the most healing experience I've ever felt. I know I'm just one person but by the end of that song, I went from death's door to nearly normal. It was a miracle!

I'd start with the album, Sticky Fingers- it's got a little bit of everything in it.
posted by surfgator at 11:29 PM on May 30, 2010

Aftermath (1966) is, in my opinion, the best Stones album to begin with as it's their first to feature all original material. Prior to this, their albums (like many other British Invasion bands) contained large amounts of covers; in the case of The Stones this was mostly Chess Records blues artists, not a bad bunch to emulate. Pretty much anything after that was weighted towards originals with occasional covers, but Aftermath really marks their emergence as songwriters as opposed to interpreters.

If unquestionably awesome is your main criteria for music, you'll probably like The Who as much as or more than The Stones. Much quirkier, fantastic arrangements, and all over the map as far as musical influences.
posted by motown missile at 12:42 AM on May 31, 2010

In light of what everyone says, I've got to add my love for Some Girls. I tend to find the earlier, straighter r&b (largely covers) stuff they did to be not as compelling, although they were pretty good at it compared to some of their peers. And a few things, like "Heart Of Stone" are astounding.

I also want to add that Hot Rocks 1964-1971 has a lot of stuff not on any "regular" albums, so you needn't worry about duplication should you go Stones crazy. Which you should.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:25 AM on May 31, 2010

Am I the only person who loved Steel Wheels? The song "Continental Drift" is quite different for them - very eastern influenced. I loved every song on that album and saw them on that tour. Love the Stones.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:12 AM on May 31, 2010

the Stones ARE rock and roll. All suggestions here are valid.

If you want a taste of early Stones High Tide and Green Grass is awesome.

Let it Bleed, Beggar's Banquet, Exile, and Sticky Fingers are probably the high points for the Stones. Some Girls is fun too.

Man too many drunken nights with these albums playing.
posted by Max Power at 6:17 AM on May 31, 2010

I would say the Beatles brought Pop to the Blues;
Led Zep brought Metal to the Blues;
But the Stones brought the Blues to Rock and Roll, which makes them a slightly different animal.

Plus Zep was kinda of a purposeful rock creation by studio musicians who went and found some raw talent, and the Beatles were constructs (in their Beatlemania iteration, anyway) of Brian Epstein. But the Stones were their own womb. So...a little rougher.

Also, they are one of the things that eventually you listen to the way you read HST. It's not what they do or how well they do it, kind of. It's the style with which they do so. It may be rough and patchwork and rusty, sometimes. But always unique and recognizable.
posted by umberto at 7:05 AM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that AFTERMATH is a really excellent place to start, but I'd also like to say that I think the Stones are one of the bands that benefit most from listening to their catalog in chronological order, so as to hear their development, but also to hear their consistencies. I'm not saying you should listen to every damn thing, but start with one of the early ones, on which they do mostly blues and R&B covers; then move on to something mid-'60s, like AFTERMATH; then dive in headfirst into the late '60s and early '70s, when, really, they could do no wrong. And don't forget the "lesser" albums -- even TATTOO YOU has great stuff on it.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:54 AM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aftermath is a great place to start, as is the London Years box. Since nobody's mentioned it, and since I've got a soft spot in my heart for it, I'll add Goats Head Soup.
posted by box at 8:34 AM on May 31, 2010

I think Hot Rocks is the most logical starting point. If you don't like that (which is hard to imagine), there's no sense going any further.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:24 AM on May 31, 2010

No Jones, no Stones. -- Bill Wyman
posted by partner at 10:59 AM on May 31, 2010

If you don't like the blues, odds are you won't like the Stones. They've never been a "pop" band. Seekers of quirkiness should stick to REM. Seekers of kick-in-the-gut music sbould listen to Gimmee Shelter a few more times. Seelers of pretension should listen to Page and Plant.

As far as I am concerned, this four-album sequence -- Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street -- represents a creative outpouring no other band has approached. The Beatles' Abbey Road and the Doors LA Woman, fo example, are superlative recordings, but the Stones topped them for four straight albums.
posted by justcorbly at 3:31 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not a Rolling Stones fan in the least, but Emotional Rescue was a favorite album for many years.
Why force it if you don't like them? Plenty of other great bands out there.
posted by littleflowers at 7:33 PM on May 31, 2010

Yes chronological, IMO the post-Jones Stones are of little interest. Last great single, She Was Hot; last okay LP, Tattoo You; but really the best stuff was between 1965 -- 1971 (and yes, Aftermath, IMO Doncha Bother Me has become the very best RS song ever).
posted by Rash at 10:55 AM on June 1, 2010

You are in for a fantastic journey. Take your time with each album that is being recommended and take them in one by one. You might even consider buying a turntable and experiencing the classics (Beggars Banquet,Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile) in vinyl form. Pops and crackles are an added bonus).

Their big hits have been heard ad-nauseum on classic rock radio, but their are tons of hidden gems in their catalogue...right up to 1981.

Avoid Forty Licks, even though is spans the Abkco and later years, some of the songs have been butchered in editing (Emotional Rescue and Beast of Burden come to mind). I was 11 when I got into them through older brothers in 1981.

My entry point was the Start Me Up single, then Tattoo You, Hot Rocks, Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet, It's Only Rock and Roll, Some Girls and Get Yer Ya Ya's Out (live in 1969). Oh, a word about live albums, they are all pretty heavily overdubbed and reworked in the studio. Yes even Ya Ya's. And beginning with the 1989 tour, what you get is sort of a Vegas show version of the live Stones with all the giant stages, special effects, inflatable women, backup singers and even teleprompters on the stage.

In my humble opinion, the early albums up to 1965 haven't aged very well and the white English blues covers, they just don't sound genuine to me. Buy the original Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Bo Diddley instead.

These albums will start you up:
1. Sticky Fingers
2. Exile On Main St.
3. Hot Rocks
3. Let it Bleed (1969)
4. Beggar's Banquet (1968)
5. Get Yer Ya Ya's Out (1970)
6. Tattoo You (1981)
7. Some Girls (1978)

These abums may give you what you need
1. Between the Buttons (1967)
2. It's Only Rock and Roll (1974)
3. Aftermath (1966)
4. Goats Head Soup (1973)
5. Love You Live (1977)
6. Undercover (1983)
7. Emotional Rescue
8 Out of Our Heads (1965)
9. Any Keith Richards solo album

These will never give you what you want
1. Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)
2. Bridges to Babylon (1997)
3. Voodoo Lounge (1994)
4. Steel Wheels (1989)
5. All Jagger solo albums (OK, Wandering Spirit is tolerable if you must)

Also, join the message boards for advanced learning!
posted by punkfloyd at 5:52 PM on October 1, 2010

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