Rolling Stones Discography
Talk of the Rolling Stones‘ discography tends to be dominated by their stunning run of excellence between 1968’s Beggars Banquet and 1972’s Exile on Main St. And rightly so. That stretch alone produced four platinum-selling, career-defining albums – and a quartet of Top 10 Billboard singles, including the chart-topping “Honky Tonk Women” and “Brown Sugar.”
Still, this legend is probably best understood in context with what came before and what followed. After all, the Rolling Stones built toward those triumphs with songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Get Off of My Cloud” and “Paint It, Black” from prior years – and succeeded them with “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” “Miss You” and “Start Me Up” in the period after Exile.
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts remained stalwart figures throughout, as Brian Jones was replaced by Mick Taylor, who was in turn succeeded by Ron Wood. Original member Ian Stewart died in the mid-’80s, then founding bassist Bill Wyman left in the ’90s. Other key contributors like Bobby Keys, Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins and Ian McLagan have also died.
Nothing stopped the band, as the upstart blues enthusiasts evolved into dark and legendary rockers with the versatility to morph into funk, disco, punk and sleek R&B. As this extensive album discography shows, the Stones just kept rolling.
‘The Rolling Stones’
If the results here occasionally sound like a band rushing through its stage repertoire of blues and R&B cover songs, that rawness gives the Rolling Stones a dangerous edge most of their contemporaries lacked. They earned their “bad boys” tag a little later, but their first album planted the seeds. The Rolling Stones made it to No. 1 on the U.K. album chart. A month later, the album was released in the U.S. bearing a defining subtitle — England’s Newest Hit Makers. They were still a few records away from their first classic. But with this album, the Stones were getting closer.
’12 x 5′
The Rolling Stones’ second U.S. release charts a significant period in the group’s evolution. While it’s not a perfect album, 12 x 5 set up a long string of classic LPs that stretched well into the next decade. Unlike the Stones’ U.S. debut, this album contained a number of group-penned tunes. More important, there’s a sharper sense of purpose to their playing on most of these songs, a self-assured grasp of the music that would only get stronger within the next couple of years. The first steps of the Rolling Stones’ eventual domination begin here.
‘Rolling Stones No. 2′
Nine months after the Rolling Stones’ self-titled debut album made them stars in their native England and fired up a buzz around the rest of the globe, they released their second LP. And they were shrewd enough to not tamper with a winning formula. From its title to its mood to its songs, The Rolling Stones No. 2, is every bit a sequel. Still, there’s new confidence in the music – a sense of a young group feeling around the grooves and finding its path among those already laid out. They’re still not the Rolling Stones whose legend took seed by the end of 1965, but they were beginning to get there.
‘The Rolling Stones Now’
Only seven of this album’s 12 tracks were repeated from No. 2, with various singles, leftover songs from the U.K. debut and even a track that wouldn’t be released in the Stones’ homeland until seven months later filling in the gaps. The result? The group’s first essential U.S. album. Now! isn’t too far removed stylistically from its two predecessors — the majority of the songs are again blues and R&B covers – but nevertheless represents a huge leap forward. In addition to writing their own songs, they were playing tougher, tighter and with more determination than before.
‘Out of Our Heads’
Up until the release of Out of Our Heads, the Rolling Stones were primarily known as a group that reworked blues and R&B songs to fit their British background. But with this fourth U.S. album, the Stones began reaching for the greatness that would come to define the latter part of the ’60s and their career. On Out of Our Heads, they begin to find a personality that belongs almost entirely to themselves. There’s a new force and assurance to the songs that replace the tentative and imitative nature of past records.
‘December’s Children (And Everybody’s)’
From the start, nobody ever really considered this an official addition to the band’s growing catalog. Especially not the group’s members, who saw the 12-song album for what it was: product to satiate the Stones’ U.S. fan base during a particularly hectic time for British Invasion bands. Still, the music – highlighted by “Get Off of My Cloud,” the Stones’ second consecutive No. 1, following “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – remains an important part of the band’s history, caught somewhere between its blues-based origins and the next stage during a period of transition.
There’s a moment in almost every legendary artist’s career that marks the period in which they transcend the merely good and become truly great. This is that moment. The Stones’ fourth U.K. album (and sixth in the U.S.) arrived not even seven months after Out of Our Heads, but the leap was monumental. Whereas they were still singing other people’s songs on that earlier record, Aftermath was all original. But it’s not just that. The songs take more risks, wandering outside of the expected blues and R&B parameters. And for the first time, a Rolling Stones album plays like one.
‘Between the Buttons’
Between the Buttons tends to get lost in the Rolling Stones’ discography. The U.S. version includes the hit singles “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday,” but the U.K. edition juggles some good songs with a handful of filler (“Cool, Calm & Collected,” anyone?). One of the highlights is “She Smiled Sweetly,” which offers a rare tip of the hat to Bob Dylan’s influence, both with its waltz tempo and a whispered, clipped vocal from Jagger that evokes “Just Like a Woman.”
‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’
A paisley misfire, this was meant to rival Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles’ pop-art masterpiece. Instead, Their Satanic Majesties Request was a tangle of psychedelic mannerisms and studio trickery, complete with vomit-inspired 3D cover art. The album managed to make it to No. 2, but it was almost immediately dismissed by both fans and the band. Keith Richards himself called the album “crap.”
After a flirtation with psychedelia, the Rolling Stones didn’t mount a complete return to their roots in Chicago electric blues. Instead, they built upon them, adding both acoustic guitars and African rhythms to the mix while expanding their worldview. The result was their first truly great start-to-finish album, and the beginning of what most consider to be the Stones’ best period.
‘Let It Bleed’
Days after this record’s release, the Rolling Stones would play a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in California that ended in a murder in front of the stage. Let It Bleed seemed to foretell this in its dark and grim songs. There’s no escaping the apocalyptic nature of one of the Stones’ best albums, and there’s no shelter from the storm of discontent the ’70s was blowing in. Most everyone else bid farewell to the decade sometime over the next few years; the Stones got there early.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards continued to refine their songwriting partnership, finding new ways to deepen and strengthen the creative chemistry that had always been at the heart of the Rolling Stones. As Richards later recalled, the Sticky Fingers songwriting sessions found them dividing the labor more loosely — and arguably more satisfyingly — than before. Add in a series of exciting asides by new guitarist Mick Taylor, and you have the recipe for a signature album that rocketed to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.
‘Exile on Main St.’
The essential murkiness of the Stones’ druggy masterpiece, Exile on Main St., which often features Mick Jagger’s vocals further down in the mix than usual, can make it impenetrable on the first few listens. Eventually, however, its brilliance sinks in as you peel back the layers and discover just how deeply they dive into American music here. Later reissues have improved the sound with state-of-the-art technology but kept the mystery intact.
‘Goats Head Soup’
In the wake of Exile on Main St., the Stones were lost, burned out and barely functioning as a unit. Keith Richards was entering his zombie stage, functioning but running on autopilot. Mick Jagger, now a world-class celebrity, had his head elsewhere. As a result, many of this album’s cuts sounded weary and bloated; it was as if the Stones had other, more important things to do than make another record. They were now entering another stage of their career: the one where the band’s rock-star excesses mattered more than the music.
‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’
These sessions were so laid-back that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t even bother to ring up longtime producer Jimmy Miller. Along the way, the song that set the tone for It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll – and set the direction for the band – was the title track. It represented a renewed commitment to the Rolling Stones’ rock ‘n’ roll purism, and also their first major collaboration with Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood, who let Richards crash at his house for a time. This budding friendship eventually led to Wood stepping in for Mick Taylor, who left two months after this album’s release.
‘Black and Blue’
Commercially speaking, the Rolling Stones were never bigger, with every album shooting straight up the charts and tours selling out in no time. But behind the scenes they were starting to unravel. Ultimately, it took the Stones nearly a year and a half to complete this record, as they moved from the guitar-guided rock ‘n’ roll workouts that dominated the first half of the decade toward funk, soul, jazz, reggae and a stew of simmering sounds not usually found on Rolling Stones records. Black and Blue similarly meanders from groove to groove, with little purpose.
The Rolling Stones entered 1978 in need of a rebound. They were pinned in by disco on one side and punk on the other, stuck in a creative rut that led some critics to proclaim they were yesterday’s news, and facing the loss of Keith Richards to an extended prison sentence on drug-related charges. Some Girls turned it all around, reinvigorating their sound by drawing on popular trends of the day without losing the band’s identity in the process. More particularly, Some Girls proved that when they put their minds to it, the Stones were still capable of earning the title of the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.
On the surface, this feels a little like a diluted sequel to Some Girls. But dig deeper into Emotional Rescue and it sounds more like the next step in the group’s evolution rather than an imitation of its comeback predecessor. They’d received a mostly open-armed welcome to ventures into disco and punk, and that resulted in similarly explored paths here – but that was only part of a larger, and impressive, crisscrossing of genres. The Stones had been spurred into trying just a little bit harder instead of simply settling into their legend.
This is generally regarded as the Rolling Stones’ last great album. There’s a good reason for that: Much of it was recorded when they were still considered one of the greatest bands on the planet. They had written some fresh tracks in the run-up to Tattoo You, but with a tour looming, there wasn’t enough time to record a new album and get ready to go on the road again. Instead, they quickly completed the best songs left in the can from 1972-79. And the thing is, it’s one of the Stones’ best albums — certainly of the period — and better than most of the albums its songs were originally omitted from.
The Rolling Stones sound torn between staying true to traditionalism and latching on to the latest trends. On the one hand, there is a familiar swagger about “She Was Hot” and “Too Tough,” but elsewhere the record is dragged down by a series of uncomfortable affectations – including New Wave sounds, Latin rhythms and anything else that Mick Jagger could thrust upon Keith Richards to try to get the band in fighting shape for the MTV era. In fact, with songs about violent struggles in Central America (the title track), S&M (“Tie You Up”) and the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the chintzy but sort of hilarious “Too Much Blood”), there was probably a little too much fighting.
For many Rolling Stones fans, 1983’s Undercover represented a painfully steep comedown after the outtake-laden — though solidly consistent — Tattoo You. Then came Dirty Work, which was written and recorded during one of the lowest points in the band’s long history. Ronnie Wood was forced to serve as the intermediary between the increasingly distant Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and the album suffered. But even the worst Stones record is better than some bands’ best, and Dirty Work became one of the better sellers of the year, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard chart.
Between 1986-88, the Stones were effectively on hiatus while the band’s creative nucleus — Mick Jagger and Keith Richards — released solo records and traded barbs in the press. Finally back together in the period before Steel Wheels, they quickly discovered that the time off hadn’t watered down their creative chemistry. The album – co-produced by Chris Kimsey, an engineer on Sticky Fingers and Some Girls – was a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, setting up a major worldwide tour.
Voodoo Lounge arrived during a period of transition, becoming the first Stones album with new bassist Darryl Jones – and their first with producer Don Was. Keith Richards acknowledged that they had come through rough waters, and felt that Voodoo Lounge was the first record in a significant amount of time where the Rolling Stones were operating as a cohesive unit. Fans agreed, making Voodoo Lounge the band’s first No. 1 record in their native U.K. since 1980’s Emotional Rescue.
‘Bridges to Babylon’
This wasn’t the first time Mick Jagger attempted to build a bridge between the Stones’ blues-based rock and contemporary pop music. But by 1997, there was a heck of a gulf in between. Unfortunately, the more tuneful tracks (“Anybody,” “Saint of Me”) sound like Jagger trying to be Beck. It’s funny, those “modern” touches are the elements that sound the most dated now, whereas the straightforward “Flip the Switch” and “Too Tight” grind with a clean-burning intensity that remains potent.
‘A Bigger Bang’
Keith Richards called A Bigger Bang the return of “raw Stones.” And a welcome return, it was. For years before, he and Mick Jagger would arrive with separate song ideas, having already begun the creative process. Here they wrote and performed the rough drafts together. When it was over, they’d come up with a nervy set of songs, with none of the gloss that marred later-period Stones albums – and much of the feeling that powered the best ones.
‘Blue & Lonesome’
The Stones’ first album in 11 years is a throwback to their youth: a collection of blues covers by some of the greats that inspired them. What a kick it is to hear the band enjoying itself again, especially Mick Jagger, whose harmonica playing slashes and tears throughout. They haven’t made an album this good in decades.