I have written a lot about the Beatles, whom I consider the greatest rock band ever. This is hardly a controversial statement, just a knowing one.
Nevertheless, there were two other tuneful British groups during the 1960's and 1970's who arguably gave the Beatles a run for their money (sorry Zep, I like you but you were hardly "tuneful").
Both The Who and The Rolling Stones had remarkable runs from about 1966 through 1972, periods during which their work arguably exceeded that of the Beatles. The argument in terms of all time greatness goes no further, however, because the Beatles had already had three full years of amazing output by that point, not to mention two highly successful movies. Furthermore, the Beatles had generally brilliant lyrics, not to mention much more hummable songs, which may be the true marker of a great group. All four of the Beatles would go on to have successful solo careers; none of the members of the Rolling Stones or The Who had much, if any success as solo performers.
Top Five Rolling Stones Albums of All time
1. Sticky Fingers -- Desperately overlooked. I have no idea why. Perhaps it is because it was composed of many leftover songs from previous albums. People talk about Exile On Main Street, which has been recently re-issued with new versions and outtakes, but Sticky Fingers is better in every way except for being shorter. One of the marks of great groups and albums is to look and see what songs never made it to singles. Sticky Fingers contains all time great Stones classics that never were released as singles and which were often overlooked by "Classic Rock FM".
Everyone has heard Brown Sugar and Wild Horses, which were the singles from this album, but several other cuts eclipse them. Sway is a psychedelic classic with unforgettable riffs. Can't You Hear Me Knocking is Santana-esque but better. Bitch has an unnerving decadent beat. Moonlight Mile is simply great. One reason why this album was so good was new guitarist Mick Taylor, who replaced the deceased Brian Jones and showed a whole new level of virtuosity on lead guitar.
The album's cover was designed by Andy Warhol with a fully functioning zipper. It is certainly one of the most famous album covers of all time. This is a great party album. The music thumps all the way through.
If you haven't heard this album, buy it now.
2. Beggars Banquet. This album was hampered by a changing cover and the controversy of some of its lyrics, not to mention its issuance at about the same time as The White Album and Yellow Submarine. It has Sympathy for the Devil which is about as good as it ever got in Rock and Roll, ever. But once again, it is the songs people don't know that carry this album. Jigsaw Puzzle is simply gorgeous, and what a great lyrical concept. Street Fighting Man perfectly captures the eclipse of the 60's ideal, while Stray Cat Blues probably made a few fathers lock up their daughters.
3. Let It Bleed. Is the title corny or brilliant? I am not sure, but it was a humorous take on the Beatles' Let It Be. The highs may be higher here than the first two LP's but Let It Bleed is a bit more uneven. Gimme Shelter is a great, great song, maybe the scariest song in the history of rock. You Can't Always Get What You Want is gorgeous. Monkey Man has some great riffs, while the rest of the album is bluesy. Mick Taylor appeared on the album but was not featured on most tracks, nor was Brian Jones, as this was his swansong, with him only appearing on a pair of tracks.
4 and 5. Aftermath/Between the Buttons. This two albums are of comparable feel and quality. Because of the American practice of including fewer tracks and more singles on American LP's, these two albums ended up having different tracks in the U.K. than they ended up having in the U.S., something that Beatles fans are familiar with as well. The interesting thing about these albums is that they are more lyrically oriented with a psychedelic feel, without going over the top, as the Stones would later to on Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Many people put Exile on Main Street at the top of the Stones' catalog. While certainly worthy, I found a lot of the material on Exile to be of filler quality that is lower than the albums mentioned her.
Exile also lacks any great Stones songs. Perhaps the best is Rocks Off, but in general, I believe the hype over Exile on Main Street has to do with it being the last great album by the group and with how it was made, essentially, home-made in a drunken and drugged stupor at Keith Richards' French home while the Stones sought a tax holiday from Britain. It was not seen by critics as any sort of monumental achievement back in 1972 when the album was originally issued.
Exile has a sound and feel that is comparable to Sticky Fingers but without the same hooks. It is similar to the White Album by the Beatles in that it contained four (although much shorter than the White Album) sides on vinyl, but fit on one CD during the digital age. Like the White Album, Exile feels less polished than other efforts in the group's catalog, and, in a sense, highlights the virtuosity of the group by running through a range of styles, some more successfully than others.
I would probably put Exile at number six on this list, but I am not altogether certain that it is better than Satanic Majesties, or the Stones' last minor classic, Some Girls. The Stones themselves have always seemed a bit mystified as to why some tout this work as their greatest album, especially given the mixed reviews given at the time of the album's release.