Since they began playing music together in 1962, The Rolling Stones have written at least 375 songs. Many of them have become rock and roll classics. Now, music writer Jim Beviglia has identified what he considers the top 100. It's called Counting Down the Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs.
The Stones were part of the British invasion of young English rockers that changed the face of rock and roll in the 1960's, including the Beatles, the Who, and the Kinks. The Stones were unique though, with their long hair, and music that was steeped in a very American blues tradition. They are still around today, and continue to tour and play and draw huge crowds, young and old. Their history is embedded in the annals of music and Beviglia's book proves there are still stories to be told about Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman.
“They’ve been rock and roll stars now for 50 years,” Beviglia said. “At the time they came out, nobody thought rock and roll was a long-time thing. And for them to sustain the way they have and stay relevant has been truly amazing.”
Not just band members
Beviglia says the songs can help explore the role of the band's two leaders, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and their relationship as well.
“I think a lot of people get the impression that Mick Jagger, who is the lead singer, is the leader of the group and Keith Richards is the guitarist and the musical leader, but in researching their songs, what you find out a lot is that sometimes it goes the other way,” he said. “A lot of songs, Keith Richards had the lyrics and the music, and other songs it was Mick Jagger who was coming up with the music. They’re both tremendously talented songwriters and their collaboration throughout the years has really been the thing that propelled the Rolling Stones to the success they’ve had.”
But over the years, the group was very close to breaking up. Beviglia notes that Jagger and Richards' personalities frequently clashed.
"But I think in the long run what they've realized is that they work better together. They’ve had decent solo careers, but it’s their combination, the chemistry, that they can’t replicate with anybody else. There have been rumors that they’ve been in the studio again and they could be releasing their first new album in what would be 8 years,” he said.
Stories Behind the Songs
“Waiting on a Friend” from the 1981 album Tattoo You is song number 13 on Beviglia’s list. He says he likes it because it reflects that clash of personalities.
"Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as leaders of the band, they had a kind of fractious relationship and they've come out in public and said, 'Well we’re not really close friends. We’re just band members.’ ‘Waiting on a Friend' is a song about a guy who is basically saying what I need is a friend. Maybe it’s a fantasy, maybe there is a truth to it, that there is a real brotherhood and a kinship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.”
Beviglia calls "Street Fighting Man," from the group’s 1968 Beggars Banquet album, perhaps the band’s most political song. It comes at number 2 on his list.
“This was a song written at a time when there was a lot of tumult around the world,” Beviglia said. “The song is really fascinating, because musically it’s very invigorating, but if you listen to the lyrics, Mick Jagger is saying, 'I don’t know if fighting in the street is the right way to do that.' He’s saying, 'what I can do? I’m just a singer.' I think it was kind of an answer to those people who were looking to rock stars and say, you should be out there leading the charge. Mick Jagger is very thoughtful about it and saying, 'maybe this isn’t the way to go.' So it’s a fascinating piece of work and it really still stands today. It really still resonates.”
Among the Stones' huge catalog, Beviglia says one song perfectly sums up the band, and it tops his list of their finest songs: "Jumpin' Jack Flash." It was released as a single in 1968, when the band was in a slump, and the author says it has one of the most fascinating back stories of any Rolling Stones song.
“Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were up late one night writing songs. They were at Keith Richards’ estate. They were kind of falling asleep. It was early, early in the morning and they heard this loud clomping outside. Mick Jagger said, ‘What’s that noise?’ and Keith Richards said, 'Oh that’s Jumpin' Jack.' That was his gardener at the time. Mick Jagger immediately said, 'That’s a great title for a song.' That’s how they began to write that song, and this was the song that really got the Rolling Stones back on track."
Confronting the dark side of life
Beviglia says in a lot of ways, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" typifies the Rolling Stones' attitude. “The cool thing about the Rolling Stones was they were not afraid to confront the darker side of life. And I think that appeals to people because the world isn’t always rosy and fun. So this music reflects what’s going on in the world, what's going on in people's lives. But it’s not giving into it, it’s not sort of saying why bother. It’s sort of defiant against it, pushing against it.”
Jim Beviglia, author of Counting Down The Rolling Stones, says the longevity of the band members, the energy they have on stage and the message of their songs that never goes out of style, is what have made them the legendary group they are today.