26 July 1943: Mick Jagger is born
On this day, in a relatively inauspicious corner in the south-east of England 80 years ago, a rock legend was born. Mick Jagger grew up in Dartford, Kent, just around the corner from future bandmate Keith Richards.
Together, the school mates would form one of the most influential rock bands in history, the Rolling Stones. Born from a shared love of rhythm and blues, the band started out performing covers of popular blues tunes. They found fame after the pair started writing their own songs with their first hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’.
It’s been over 60 years since those early days of the Rolling Stones. They’ve conquered the world in that time, arguably one of the most influential rock bands ever, second only to The Beatles.
To celebrate the 80th birthday of the band’s audacious lead singer, here are our top five Rolling Stones tracks.
5. Gimme Shelter
Let’s start the list off with a bang. Of course this would feature. So much of the opening song from the band’s 1969 album ‘Let It Bleed’ carries what make the Stones such an iconic band. First there’s that slippery blues-inflected guitar line that ensnares you into their hypnotic marching beat. Then there’s Merry Clayton’s guest vocals. She shrieks over the melody to the point of her voice breaking.
Finally, it all comes down to Jagger’s lyrics. While the Beatles were singing about yellow submarines, Jagger responds to the troubles of the Vietnam War. “War, children, it’s just a shot away.” Then, to drive the knife in further: “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away.”
4. Fool to Cry
This one might be a surprise choice for a top five, but I’ve always had a soft-spot for the Stones’ softer moments. The only track to make a dent on the charts from their lukewarmly received 1976 album ‘Black and Blue’, ‘Fool to Cry’ has all the hallmarks of other great slow songs like ‘Angie’.
Here, the Richards relaxes into a groove that recognises their blues origins, Jagger croons, and the band create a reflection on a man questioning his maturity. It’s a beautiful companion piece to the more celebrated ‘Angie’.
3. Paint It Black
For many, this is the most iconic song the band wrote. The marching beat, the use of sitar and castanets and Jagger’s ink-black lyrics come together to create a beautiful medley of Stones’ appeal.
I’ve always loved the vague klezmer feeling influence of the instrumentation. Coming after the commercial successes of hits like ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, in 1966 ‘Paint It Black’ looked like a risk. Jagger’s snarl had something to say about that though.
2. Ruby Tuesday
Another softer Stones song. The lead single of 1967’s ‘Between the Buttons’, this one was written primarily by Richards, but it’s Jagger’s sweet vocals that bring such a tender joy to Richards’ love letter to then-girlfriend Linda Keith.
It’s a great reminder that a band known for their attitude were ultimately a bunch of cuteys really.
1. Sympathy for the Devil
The number one spot had to go to the song that best provides Jagger with a vehicle to swagger more than any other. Over theatrical piano chords and congas, Jagger personifies the devil and makes his introductions to an unknown human listener.
Fully embracing their bad boy image, there are references to JFK’s assassination, to Russian novel ‘The Master and Margarita’ and Jesus Christ. Satanism had featured in their previous album’s title, but this was the song that scared every 60s kids’ parents. A truly revolutionary song, today it’s just a riot of a good time.