THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a salute to the greatest songs of all time, one song per artist. Want more? Go to the G.O.A.T. Page for all the GOATs so far!
I’m posting my 40 favorite Rolling Stones songs, complete with covers, all under the tag “Rolling Stones GOATs.” If you hit that tag, at the bottom of each post, you’ll be able to see all my picks.
Today, we start the countdown with …
40. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that the #1 song on this list is a long one. So it seems fitting to bookend the list with another 7+ minute opus. The Rolling Stones aren’t known for extended players—they tend to say what they need to say in four mintues or less—but “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is an exception. And it’s extraordinary. Also unlike a lot of Stones songs, it features an extended, improvised jam at the end. Most Rolling Stones hits are well constructed, short and tight. This sprawling masterpiece is the opposite.
There was a rumor that the jam at the end was inspired by Santana. So in 2010, Carlos did a cover.
Covers: The afore-mentioned Santana one, plus a couple other neat ones. The Black Crowes sure do enjoy covering Stones.
39. One Hit (To the Body) (Dirty Work, 1986)
I know, I know. How dare I include this song on my list and not “Shattered” or “Mother’s Little Helper.” I get it. There are a lot of Stones songs that are better than this one, and certainly ones that charted higher. But I don’t have a lot of their later work on this list, and I have to confess that I think Dirty Work is one of their better late-career albums. And Jimmy Page plays guitar on it, so that’s cool.
Plus, there’s that video of Keef and Mick fighting, shot at a time when the Glimmer Twins basically hated each other. And Mick’s gotta be wearing a wig, right? Fantastic. Love ’80s videos.
Covers: Couldn’t even find a bad one.
38. Monkey Man (Let It Bleed, 1969)
We can thank Martin Scorsese for this song being on my list. It’s a deep cut off Let It Bleed that I honestly hadn’t paid a lot of attention to until it appeared in Goodfellas, one of the greatest movies of all time
Covers: Not a lot of covers, so I posted a video of the actual Stones playing it (above), and here’s Crazy Baldhead:
37. Before They Make Me Run (Some Girls, 1978)
As you’ll see, Some Girls is a terrific album. And one of the things that make it special is that it has a Keith Richards solo tune—his third best. His best is “Happy,” off Exile on Main St., and his second best is…Appearing later in the list. You’ll have to come back for it. (See how I can tickle your ass with a feather?)
This song is about his drug bust and pending prosecution—“I’m gonna walk before they make me run.” And he only really got to record it because the gang was in the studio and Mick Jagger happened to pull a no-show.
Covers: Steve Earle and the Supersuckers…
36. Love Is Strong (Voodoo Lounge, 1994)
The lead single from their 1994 album, and the most recent song on my list. I’m including it in part because I want to show the breadth of their career, and also because it’s a good “old man rocker” song. Artists who continue to make original music late into their careers are often at risk of becoming caricatures of their younger selves (like Phil Collins) or, worse, becoming boring (like Eric Clapton). On Voodoo Lounge, and in this single, the Stones proved they could still make love songs, but could sing and perform them with maturity. Where young Stones was all bombast and shock, their later work feels more composed. After Voodoo, the band largely focused on releasing new performances of their own older work and, most recently, covers of other peoples’ stuff. Those releases have been good, but there’s really nothing since Voodoo Lounge that made me stand up and recognize this band as the greatest of all time.
The song itself was their worst-charting single of all time, a considerable drop after their very good come-back album, Steel Wheels.
Next: Another of the more “recent” Stones song on my list…It’s still two decades old! Because they’re geezers! Also in my next post, two Stones hits that were actually covers!