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’re doing a larger number of entries on the list because there’s not a lot of covers of these songs (or at least not a lot of covers worth posting here).
Which seems like a good time to lead with Al Yankovic’s medley…
30. Angie (Goat’s Head Soup, 1973)
Angie exemplifies where The Rolling Stones were in 1973. They were considered to be at the peak of their powers, but also relationships between Jagger and Richards were beginning to fray, and the band was wondering—after creating several back-to-back masterpieces—“where will it lead it us from here?” A lot of people will say Soup is a bad album—particularly given the slew of genius that preceded it—but I actually like it a lot. It’s just very different.
Angie was pretty much written by Keith, even though Mick sings it. I have to say: I’d love to hear Keith sing this. I think his ragged, about-to-die vocals would be perfect on it.
29. Stray Cat Blues (Beggar’s Banquet, 1968)
A driving blues song about a guy who has sex with a 13-year old (on the live version from Get Yer Ya Yas Out) or a 15-year old (on the original version). Take your pick.
Covers: Soundgarden, man. And Johnny Winter. And Smashing Pumpkins. All good.
28. Fool to Cry (Black and Blue, 1976)
A ballad almost entirey in falsetto, Fool to Cry is pretty much the only memorable song off the Stones’ first album with Ronnie Wood (and several others) on lead guitar. Mick Taylor quit after the last record (“It’s Only Rock and Roll”), and critics were starting to say that all the best Stones songs were in the rearview mirror. This was in 1976, and forty years later the band is still producing plantinum-selling albums and having hugely successful world tours full of set lists of songs written after 1976. Hm.
Ronnie doesn’t play on Fool to Cry, though. Instead, it’s Wayne Perkins—one of many guitarists auditioning for the role.
Covers: Taylor Dayne would be enough, but then there’s Tegan and Sara!
27. Hang Fire (Tattoo You, 1981)
Tattoo You won the Rolling Stones their first Grammy. That’s right, almost 30 years into their career as the second-most influential rock band of all time, they finally got recognized. For the album cover. Hm.
Hang Fire, off that album, was a real break from more recent Stones hits like Miss You and Emotional Rescue. It eschewed falsetto, and sounded nothing like disco. In fact, it felt like an early 1970s Stones song but with glitzier production and a little less blues emphasis. Like the best songs on Tattoo You, the song was an outtake from Some Girls.
Covers: Couldn’t find a single one, so here’s the official video:
26. Undercover of the Night (Undercover, 1983)
The Stones were on a roll in the late 1970s/early 1980s, with every album reaching #1 on the charts…Until this one. Undercover of the Night, the title track, was one of the bands’ rare political songs, cynical and violent, starting with a percussion riff that sounded like a machine gun, and proceeding to tell horror stories about the effects of war on poorer countries. It immediately recalled songs like Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man only…It wasn’t quite as original. Still, the hook was tremendous.
The video was pretty violent as well, with a male hostage getting shot in the head by the bad guys (led by Keith Richards), and Mick Jagger trying to find and capture them. MTV refused to show it (at least at first), so I had to stay up late and watch Friday Night Videos. Anyone else remember that show?
The song is also notable for showing the strong tension between Jagger and Richards—and not just in the video. The song has some strong R&B and heavy blues flavors (Richards’ contributions), complete with a “doo doo doo doo” harmony recalling the Stones’ old song “Heartbreaker,” but there’s also a fake fade-out at the end and very heavy production reflecting Jagger’s desire to be modern. The album had only one other hit, “She Was Hot,” which wasn’t a bad song but it did feel pretty derivative.
The band wouldn’t be able to maintain like this. They would lie low for three years before their next album, Dirty Work, which would be even weaker than this one.
Covers: Believe it or not, there are a few.