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Reflecting on 50 years of the Rolling Stones

This Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the debut performance of the Rolling Stones at London’s Marquee club on Thursday, 12 July 1962. After putting out their first single two years later, the Rolling Stones would go on to release over two dozen studio albums, over 100 singles, and numerous compilation and live albums. We asked some staff at Oxford for their favorite Rolling Stones songs and why they think they’re so great; read on for their answers.

“19th Nervous Breakdown” (1966)

I’m a sucker for early Stones. I especially love the unrelenting guitar riff in the verse of “19th Nervous Breakdown,” the feedback leading into “Here it comes,” and the surf guitar riff at the end of the song. It all combines to give the song a sense of frenetic energy, barely under control. I’m trying to teach myself this song on guitar now, but I’m finding it hard to catch that balance point between order and chaos that gives the song its momentum. The Stones get it perfectly.
    — Anna-Lise Santella, Editor of Grove Music/Oxford Music Online

“Paint It, Black” (1966)

My favorite Stones song is 1966’s “Paint It, Black,” which I remember first hearing on the radio when I was a small kid in the ’80s. The twanging sitar, driving beat, and sinuous minor-key melodies opened up new musical possibilities to my young ears. Definitely an epiphanic moment for me.
    — Meg Wilhoite, Assistant Editor for Grove Music/Oxford Music Online

Despite the depressing theme, it’s my favorite Stones song because my dad always sings it. From the poetic lyrics to the great melody and vocals, it really embodies rock and roll of that age.
    — Lana Goldsmith, Associate Publicist

“Honky Tonk Woman” (1969)

Whenever I hear “Honky Tonk Woman,” I cannot resist dancing to it. It’s got quintessential raunchy lyrics with covert references to sex and coke, great back beat, a bluesy texture, and a great refrain that everyone chants while dancing. It’s got everything that’s great about the Stones!
    — Joan Bossert, Vice President/Editorial Director in the academic medical division

“Rocks Off” & “Rip This Joint” (May 1972)

Now, technically I’m breaking the rules here by choosing two songs. But the fact is that these tracks, which form the opening salvo of the Stones’ best album, Exile on Main Street, are inseparable. No other rock band has ever come close to matching the energy of that moment when the sleazy, brassy come-on of ‘Rocks Off’ gives way to the manic charge of ‘Rip This Joint.’ It’s at this point that you know you’re not listening to just any record, but one of the greasiest, grittiest, most purely rock and roll recordings ever cut to magnetic tape. To be played loud & paired with good whiskey, neat.
     — Owen Keiter, Publicity

“Beast of Burden” (1978)

The best song the Stones produced after the smoke of the 60s and 70s had cleared, and Keith Richards begun to emerge from the land of the dead (and it showed). Essentially it’s a song of gratitude — from Richards to Mick Jagger, whom he credits as having kept the band going while he, Richards, had vanished in the haze — but, in true Stones fashion, it is anthemic and snarling both.
    — Tim Bent, Editor in the academic/trade division

“She’s So Cold” (1980)

In my freshman year of college, my friends and I would always end up rocking out to “She’s So Cold” during late-night homework sessions in our dorm.
     —Caelyn Cobb, Assistant Editor for Music, Dance, and Politics in the academic/trade division

Did your favorite song make the list? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Use of the The Rolling Stones (album) by the artist The Rolling Stones [Copyright Decca/ABKCO / London/ABKCO] to illustrate the audio recording in question under fair use.

Recent Comments

  1. whalespoon

    “Gimme Shelter” by a landslide. Great guitar riff, apocalyptic imagery, dangerous yet vulnerable lyrics, passionate vocals from Jagger (and Merry Clayton)–it’s everything that was great about the Stones at their very best. Nothing else comes close.

  2. Tom Haber

    “Get Off of My Cloud”

    Without this, it’s a list of planets without Earth…

  3. […] • One entry in that post noted the 50th anniversary of the first Rolling Stones gig. And if you just thought to yourself, “The Stones have recorded a lot of great songs in half a century. I sure wish the editors at Oxford University Press would help me sort out which was the best of the best!”, then you’re in luck. […]

  4. Diana Cachey

    FANtastic blog. Love the vids. Huge Stones fan here so I have HIGH standards for any articles written. I need to put some Stones in my novel, don’t you think? Even though it is set in Venice??? They travel.

  5. Diana Cachey

    PS Wild Horses and the country version of Honky Tonk Women, Country Hunk

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