The Rolling Stones Reviews

Read my reviews of albums by The Rolling Stones:

Rolling Stones albums from 1964:

The Rolling Stones (7/10)

If you were British when this came out, and especially if you were a kid in Britain which didn’t have access to London’s blues scene (or any of the other blues scenes, if they existed), this record was likely a revelation to you – dirty, gritty, blues-based music (more blues-based than anything you’d ever heard before) that made the other rock bands sound like pop (at least on record). It probably seemed so unbelievably fresh and new. (The same might also have been true for some or even many white people in the US when the American version of this record was released there, though likely that would have been a far lower percentage of the record-buying public).

But this is primarily a covers record. And the covers – at least those I am familiar with – don’t depart significantly from earlier versions I’ve heard. Moreover, most of the originals – with the notable except of the first Jagger/Richards credit – sound like covers, calling to mind more famous and better songs. (As I said, “Tell Me” is the exception, sounding like the sound the Stones would soon move to in utero.)

But the performances are pretty damn good and believable, especially for a band that is made up of white British guys. I don’t really know why Gene Pitney sings lead on one track, and I’m not sure it adds anything, as Jagger was already quite capable, but that’s hardly a big deal.

And the record still sounds good today, in part because musical and recording technology hadn’t improved enough to give the instruments or the recording a specific sound to date the record, but it still doesn’t scream “1964” at me too much. (Except perhaps on their only good original song, which sounds very “Stones in 1965” to my ears.)

Anyway, it’s a covers album. But it’s a good one given the context – i.e. that very few people in Britain outside of the blues community would have ever heard anything like this before.

12 x 5 (6/10)

I apparently never wrote a review of their second American album.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1964.

Albums released by The Rolling Stones in 1965:

The Rolling Stones No. 2 (???):

I know I listened to this second British album at some point but I guess I never reviewed it.

The Rolling Stones, Now! (???):

Or maybe it was this American album, their third, that I was thinking of.

Out of Our Heads (6/10):

I did listen to this one, for sure, their first album released in both countries (though the track listing is different and I can’t tell you which version of it I heard).

December’s Children (And Everybody’s) (???):

I have never listened to this album which is basically just UK tracks that had yet to be released in the UK.

Read my reviews of music from 1965.

1966: Aftermath [US Version] (9/10)

Aftermath is the first great (or near great) Rolling Stones record, the first one to show they weren’t just a great British R&B band that couldn’t come up with enough original material. The Stones had showed they could write songs previously, but they had never written a whole set like this before.

Moreover, it’s also musically daring for the Stones of the time. There are multiple genres (folk mixes with their usual blues and blues rock) and of course there’s the exotic instrumentation, still a rarity in early 1966.

For me, the only thing that keeps this record from being one of their very, very best (and their best of the decade, or close to it) is “I’m Going Home.” Sure, it’s long, and that was a big deal at the time (though Dylan had beat them to it), but it’s boring, isn’t it? Otherwise, an absolute classic and the first Stones record to deserve “classic” status.

Read my reviews of 1966 albums.

Rolling Stones albums from 1967:

Between the Buttons (8/10)

This is a weird one – the Stones complete, total commitment to pop music (even the rock songs feel like power pop). The US version is the stronger record, naturally – it contains two singles, including “Let’s Spend the Night Together” which is one of the greatest Stones songs ever – but both versions are still strong.

This record is both proof of the band’s versatility and a weird avenue down which they never really went again. I’m glad they went back to the blues rock and rock and roll thing, but it’s still interesting to wonder what if. Jagger’s lyrics are typically misogynist and dated, but if you can get by that, it’s a near classic.

9/10 for the US release, 8/10 for the British one.

Flowers (???)

I thought I had listened to this compilation but I guess I haven’t and I don’t recognize the cover art.

Their Satanic Majesties Request (6/10)

Capping the weirdest year or so of their career, the only time the Stones completely abandoned their sound for something else, it’s easy to both understand the antipathy that greeted this record as well as its rising reputation through time.

It’s easy to understand why people hated this because of how non-Stones it was. Between the Buttons might have been too imitative of the Beatles and the Kinks but it had great songs. But this record – well, the songs are nowhere near as strong.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see why so many people have had cause to re-evaluate the record over the years, as it really isn’t that bad, certainly compared to a lot of the other psychedelic crap being made at the time. Even when they abandon their roots, Jagger and Richards can still write catchy, compelling songs. Even when they dress these songs in elaborate freak-out arrangements, it’s still easy to hear their talent.

But I think the pendulum has swung too far the other direction, in an attempt to compensate for the terrible reviews this received. Because, folks, if we’re really honest with ourselves, there’s no way this record is anything other than the weakest album the Stones put out between the first time they managed to write all their own material and Goats Head Soup or something else in the ’70s. Yes, there are some catchy songs and everything is well done. But it is also very much a transparent attempt to jump on a bandwagon, months after the scene had peaked. It does suggest other avenues the Stones could have pursued but we are better off they didn’t.

It’s a curio, it’s not a great record.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1967.

1968: Beggars Banquet (8/10)

This record is always hailed as a return to form, which feels disingenuous to me, both as the Stones put out one album that was as good as this record before this one (Aftermath) so it’s hard to take that claim seriously, and because there are still Indian instruments on this record. What it is is a return to the the blues and R&B, away from psychedelia, but it also includes a fair amount country, whereas the pre-psychedelia Stones were always more into folk music than country. For those of us still confused to this day by Their Satanic Majesties’ Request, this is a nice reminder of what the Stones were good at. (I don’t hate Satanic Majesties but it is pretty derivative of the Beatles and Zappa and is pretty weak material wise.)

I like this record but I have a really hard time viewing it as some kind of masterpiece simply because there are songs that don’t work lyrically. No matter how nice it is to hear the Stones a new version of their thing – which basically became their real thing with time – I find the fake country accents and the Dylan worship (parody? I hope so) a little too problematic to celebrate this as some kind of great accomplishment on the level of The Beatles or something like that.

Read my reviews of music from 1968.

1969: Let it Bleed (9/10)

Part of the Stones famous/infamous trio of albums which signaled their return to their roots, and their crystallization (for lack of a better word) as the world’s best rock and roll band.

I think this is pretty clearly superior Beggars Banquet – the traces of psychedelia on that record are gone. More importantly, there are at least four classic Stones songs on here and the deep cuts are all pretty strong (and show off different sides of the band).

Probably my 3rd favourite Stones album.

Read my reviews of

PS “Sympathy for the Devil” is one of my favourite Stones songs, though.

Read my reviews of 1969 albums.

1971L Sticky Fingers (10/10)

I always think about this as the culmination of a trilogy. I don’t know why; it isn’t really. (Is it?) I think it’s just this human thing we do, to think of things in 3s.

Anyway, the Stones really resuscitated themselves with Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed but this record is (probably) the best yet. It would be my favourite Stones record if Exile didn’t exist.

They were on some kind of roll at this point, despite being barely a functioning band at times. Nearly every song is a classic (and “Wild Horses” may be the best thing Jagger and Richards ever wrote). The forced country accent is annoying, but otherwise Jagger is in spectacular form.

A classic.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1971.

1972: The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St. (10/10)

There’s this idea that The Beatles “killed” rock and roll. It’s absurd, given their early recordings, but the idea is that they professionalized it, and they added ambition and pretension and, to the eyes of some, these things are not just bad but antithetical to the very idea of rock and roll. But though the Stones flirted briefly with that kind of ambition 1966 and 1967 they abandoned it pretty quickly, and were back to “simpler” music pretty quickly. They charted a different course in those years, a course that melded rock and roll/rhythm and blues with country, blues, gospel and other things. A few other bands went a similar direction as the Stones around this time, but arguably nobody did what they did better. This album is the culmination of that period.

I think most people likely get into the Stones through their string of hit singles. If you do push beyond Hot Rocks, you likely find your way to Beggar’s BanquetLet it Bleed, and Sticky Fingers, and maybe you find your way to their late ’70s and early ’80s stuff, which saw them back on the charts for the first time in a while. But it takes a while to get to Exile.

I think that’s for two reasons: for one, there are no truly big songs on it, as far as most people are concerned. No hits here (relatively speaking). The other reason is that this is like the holy grail for Stones fans and there’s kind of this weird sense that only real Stones fans are allowed to listen to this. This is the album you listen to after you know you’re a Stones fan, or something like that. At least that’s how it was for me. That’s how I came to this, after years (decades) of knowing the Stones’ biggest songs and hearing of this record in only hushed whispers of music critics and people older than me.

Whether or not The Beatles did anything negative to the genre of rock and roll, they pretty much abandoned it between 1966 and 1969 with a few exceptions – it basically became one of the many, many things they were good at, and liked playing. But The Stones progressed down some path where they seemed to get closer and closer to what rock and roll is supposed to be. On the previous studio albums, there are a bunch of different genres sandwiched together but, though those albums are great, they do feel like these genres are distinct.

Exile is different. Though it is ostensibly four sides representing four genres, it’s really four LP sides representing four sides of rock and roll. Everything is murky, gritty and blends together. It’s as if they’ve captured the essence of a genre on vinyl. Though the genre had existed for at least 20 years prior to this record, no record I’ve ever heard has better encapsulated what I mean when I say the words “rock and roll.” It is the single greatest “rock and roll” album ever, as well as the best Stones record and one of the great records of its decade. Never before or since did the stars align just enough to capture everything good and bad about the Stones at their peak in one hour and seven minutes.

If you listen to one “rock and roll” album in your life, make it this one.

Tied for my #1 album of 1972.

Read my reviews of music from 1972.

1973: Goats Head Soup (6/10)

I rated this years ago, when I listened to every Stones album (every UK Stones album?) in a row but I guess I never reviewed it. It’s probably better than this. Read my reviews of 1973 albums.

1974: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (4?/10)

In 2008 I wrote:

Eww. This album is as good as any other post-Exile reason for ignoring these guys. The cover is fine, nothing great about it, nothing bad. The originals are amongst their weaker material, especially the songs where they try to be “experimental.” The title track is their worst hit ever. I mean, it’s nothing. It’s a chorus. “Luxury” is utterly horrible. “Fingerprint File” is not much better (and ridiculously paranoid). I can’t help but think the producers had something to do with this, but I don’t know that for sure. Junk.

I haven’t listened to it since so maybe I should. Read my reviews of albums released in 1974.

1975: Metamorphosis (???)

I guess I never actually listened to this one.

Read my reviews of music from 1975.

1976: Black and Blue (???)

I believe this one is supposed to be nadir. Read my reviews of 1976 albums.

1978: Some Girls (7/10)

Many years ago, having listened to the four records between Beggars Banquet and Exile way too much, I listened to this record. I heard the “disco” and I heard other things I thought were awful and I rated it 4/10 and never thought of it again.

Many years later, I’m older and ostensibly wiser. And I’ve heard the outtake record, Emotional Rescue, again and pilloried it on my podcast, as it’s not good. And I’ve found that, with time, I find my initial rating incomprehensible. (I didn’t write a review, as far as I know.)

Yes, the Stones are trend-hopping, but they do it rather well. And there are three, maybe even four songs here that rank among the best of their post-Exile records. Even “Miss You,” which I’m sure I hated when I was 25.

Yes, “Some Girls” has dated rather horribly and reminds me (in lyrical content) a little too much of Rod Stewart at his ickiest. But the other weaker tracks are pretty damn passable. And the whole thing sounds like a masterpiece in comparison to the record they put out next.

I have not heard Tattoo You in a very long time, but I’d be tempted to say this is the best album they put out after their prime.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1978.

1980: Emotional Rescue (4/10)

I don’t know what to do with my first impressions.

I’ve learned to distrust them. I give every album I review a minimum of three listens in order to defeat my initial prejudice. I adopted this approach, I think, because I wanted to be fair, but also because sometimes my initial impression did not jive with a review I read or a recommendation I received. And it’s served me well, mostly. I would have never become a prog rock fan without the method, and that means I probably wouldn’t have found my way to jazz and much of the other esoteric music I know and love.

But I wonder if it serves me when I initial impression is to hate something. Because after three listens, I stop hating this – obviously familiarity does not normally breed contempt between music and me.

And I must say, when I first listened to this – in 2015, because supposedly I heard it thrice long ago – I thought it was terrible.

The opening to “Dance (Pt. 1)” reminds me of Flight of the Conchords. Seriously. And the rest of it sounds like the Stones trying and failing to do disco. The toasting doesn’t help.

“Summer Romance” is at least Stonesy. It’s not memorable Stones, but it’s at least not old guys trying to stay current.

The lyrics to “Send it to Me” have the sophistication of a Backstreet Boys song (“I don’t care who you are…”). In fact, many of Mick’s lyrics are noticeably awful on this record. Usually I don’t pay attention to Stones lyrics. But on this album, it’s hard not to. This is them attempting reggae.

“Let Me Go” is more traditional Stones but is even more forgettable than “Summer Romance.”

What I have long forgiven with “Brown Sugar” I have trouble forgiving with “Indian Girl.” I appreciate the marimba and Nietzsche’s kitschy mariachi “horns,” but it feels like a bit of parody of their earlier, more successful stabs at country. Also, what the hell is it doing on this album? Those lyrics, man. Those lyrics…

“Where the Boys Go” feels like the Stones’ stab at punk. Jagger even adopts an accent! Who is doing that deep, growling? For a band that is often viewed as a source of punk, this is pretty weak. Perhaps it indicates that that is misplaced. It’s super kitschy. I guess it’s supposed to be a parody or something. Who the fuck knows. Drugs are bad.

“Down in the Hole” is a slow soul number (or slow blues) featuring impassioned singing from Jagger and impassioned and excellent harmonica from someone other than Jagger. A blues musician I’d never heard of before. It’s the best song here, I think. It’s also utterly out of step with nearly everything else on the record.

“Emotional Rescue” I know, of course. It’s been played a ton. Jagger sings at the top of his range, let’s commend him for that. It’s odd that all the best or most famous songs are at the end of the record. Anyway, I’ve never been a fan of this. It does nothing for me.

“She’s So Cold” is probably the most famous song from the album. I like it more than the title track anyway. Just don’t listen to the lyrics.

Maybe I’m a sucker for soul ballads, but Richards’ “All About You” is practically the only thing I really, really like on this record. It has emotional resonance (shocking!) which I find lacking from everything else on the record.

So though my now excessive familiarity has softened the album for me at least somewhat, I think I’m going to stick with my initial observation: this is a mess. It’s half the band trying to expand its sound, like it supposedly did on Some Girls and Tattoo You – haven’t heard either in a decade or more – and half stabs at classic Stones, but lacking the songs to back it up. And Jagger’s lyrics are among the worst of his career.

Basically it feels like an outtakes album when you know why the band left those tracks off their records.

Read my reviews of music from 1980.

1981: Tattoo You (6/10)

Many years ago I listened to all the post-Exile Stones albums through this one and rated all of them poorly without writing any reviews. I have no idea why I did it. (I also did with Genesis for example.) So I listened to this again both to correct that stupid rating and because of its (older) reputation.

But the funny thing about this album is it’s essentially an outtakes/b-sides record, with new overdubs. (The music is based on sessions between 1972 and 1981.) It’s more than that because they did a lot of overdubs on some of the tracks. But still, it’s weird that an album of leftovers got this positive a reception.

Some of that is because there are two absolute Stones classics here, in “Start Me Up” and “Waiting on a Friend.” (Perhaps the last two classic Stones songs? I wouldn’t know.) “Start Me Up” was three years old whereas “Waiting on a Friend” was eight years old. Both were apparently turned into actual songs during the sessions, meaning that there was at least a little contemporary inspiration.

But the rest of the album is very much of the quality of Emotional Rescue in terms of song strength, though far more consistent in terms of tone. What I mean is that, with the exception of the two songs everyone knows, this does indeed feel like what it actually is, updated rarities.

So why did the critics like it so much? Is it possible they were tired of the Stones experimenting with new genres and they wanted something that sounded closer to early/mid ’70s than Some Girls and Emotional Rescue? I can’t prove it, but I bet that played a part.

Apparently people are starting to come around to the fact that this isn’t actually all that great. But I wonder if we’re swinging back too far the other way. Because, honestly, for an outtakes record it could be a lot worse. (All you have to do is listen to Emotional Rescue to discover the truth of that statement.) So, sure, it was a second lazy record in a row. But it’s actually fairly effective. And it has perhaps their last two great songs. So that’s something.

Read my reviews of 1981 albums.

1983: Under Cover (???)

I have not listened to any later Stones albums. Read my reviews of albums released in 1983.

1986: Dirty Work (???)

Read my reviews of music from 1986.

1989: Steel Wheels (???)

Read my reviews of 1989 albums.

1994: Voodoo Lounge (???)

Read my reviews of albums released in 1994.

1997: Bridges to Babylon (???)

Read my reviews of music from 1997.

2005: A Bigger Bang (???)

Read my reviews of 2005 albums.

2016: Blue & Lonesome (???)

Read my few reviews of albums from 2016.

2023: Hackney Diamonds (???)