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The Rolling Stones Albums Ranked: The Story of the World’s Premier Rock Band

rolling stones band The Rolling Stones Albums Ranked

The Rolling Stones are rock n’ roll royalty. The band is responsible for advancing the rock album format, popularizing blues-rock, and turning stadium tours into a corporate-sponsored art form. Yes, the band and its albums are ranked very highly indeed.

But, having released so much material in the decades since they’ve been a band, what is their crowning achievement, their best album? And, let’s not hide from the fact that The Rolling Stones discography includes a few real stinkers, too.

Today, I’m looking through the past darkly, digging up my Keith Richard’s autobiography, and ranking The Rolling Stones’ discography from their worst album to their very best.

And, yes, we’re leaving some space open for the new album “Hackney Diamonds”, hoping it will chart high on our albums ranked list.

rolling stones band
“Undercover” (1983)
“Undercover” (1983)

24. “Undercover” (1983)

“Undercover” solidifies a tradition of phoning it in. The only problem is that this time around, there’s no “Start Me Up” to power the project.

Notable tracks include “Undercover of the Night” and “She Was Hot.” There’s a nice Watts-Wyman groove to some of this. But, overall, none of the Stones are breaking their backs over this one.

“Blue & Lonesome” (2016)
“Blue & Lonesome” (2016)

23. “Blue & Lonesome” (2016)

The Rolling Stones were always a blues band that got sidetracked by pop success. “Blue & Lonesome” allows the band to come full circle.

While it doesn’t reveal any new truths, it’s wonderful to hear The Stones playing as a band. It was to be the final album recorded with the great, and underrated Charlie Watts. He shines on tracks like “Hoo Doo Blues” or “Just Your Fool.”

Fortunately, the band is not done yet. The new Rolling Stones album is “Hackney Diamonds,” the first fresh released in nearly two decades. Jagger promises a modernized Stones, and the first single, “Angry,” is relatively impressive. We can’t wait to add it to our list.

“Dirty Work” (1986)
“Dirty Work” (1986)
"Hackney dIAMONDS" (2023)
“Hackney Diamonds” (2023)

22. “Hackney Diamonds” (2023)

“Hackney Diamonds” is a strong release from a band that not only decided to reject defeat but also chose to avoid the easy route of nostalgia. Indeed, Jagger and The Stones approach “Hackney Diamonds” as they have done every album they’ve made since the 1980s – they try to make a trendy-sounding blues rock record.

Unfortunately, uncharacteristically, “Hackney Diamonds” features less memorable songwriting than most of their other albums. Recent Stones albums have been hit-and-miss in this regard. This one, sadly, does not contain gems that can easily be added to the band’s incredible repertoire.

The good part, however, is that the band sounds excited and enthusiastic, Jagger especially. While the press was quick to assume that “Hackney Diamonds” was to be a goodbye letter, it sounds anything but this.

Young buck producer Andrew Watt, responsible for modernizing the sound of Ozzy Osbourne or Iggy Pop, was brought on board. He creates, indeed, a modern rock sound. This helps to vamp up Mick Jagger’s vocals. However, Keith Richard and Ronnie Wood’s guitar work sounds muddled and lacking character.

Any good songs? Sure. Lead single, “Angry,” is not bad. “Bite My Head Off” recalls “Lies” levels of energy. “Get Close ” and “Mess It Up” are fine.

But the Lady Gaga feature on “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” doesn’t offer much, nor is the country-life fantasy of “Dreamy Skies.”

Elsewhere, fellow rock survivors Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder make appearances. It’s all a sweet, hopeful affair. And, even though I don’t think “Hackney Diamonds” is a great album, it’s great that The Rolling Stones are still making them and that they sound excited about the work that they can still do.

21. “Dirty Work” (1986)

“Dirty Work” is largely accepted The Rolling Stones’ least distinguished work.

It’s an album created in the midst of band strife and pure disinterest. By this stage, The Stones were playing in stadiums worldwide and had enough hits to entertain. Business was booming, but Mick Jagger and Keith Richard had begun what they playfully titled “World War III.” Ah, but that was a long time ago.

Still, “One Hit (To the Body)” contains a nice Jimmy Page riff, and their cover of “Harlem Shuffle” is fun. Many people have ranked “Dirty Work” as The Stones’ poorest work, and I, nearly, agree.

“Emotional Rescue” (1979)
“Emotional Rescue” (1979)

20. “Emotional Rescue” (1979)

“Emotional Rescue” begins a tradition of rehashing old material. It’s not all too bad, which is likely just the result that The Rolling Stones were looking for at this stage.

“She’s So Cold” is a pretty boneheaded single. Jagger delivers another disco faux-falsetto for “Emotional Rescue.”

But Charlie Watts is on fire for “Dance (Pt.1).” And the Stones have rarely sounded more morose than on “Down in the Hole.” The Stones have never been less of a classic blues band than on “Emotional Rescue.”

“The Rolling Stones/England’s Newest Hit Makers” (1964)
“The Rolling Stones/England’s Newest Hit Makers” (1964)

19. “The Rolling Stones/England’s Newest Hit Makers” (1964)

Released under different titles in the U.S. and the U.K., the quintet’s debut sees the band work through its blues and rock n’ roll standards collection.

Of course, The Rolling Stones, as their name suggests, was a blues band at heart. This was the way that founding member Brian Jones dreamed them up. Besides, blues records were the thing over which Keith Richards and Mick Jagger bonded.

rolling stones band The Rolling Stones Albums Ranked

However, by the time of their first release, their sound was tailored to appeal, firstly, to pop fans of the British Invasion. For my money, they’re not exactly The Beatles yet, but The Stones are finding their feet.

“A Bigger Bang” (2005)
“A Bigger Bang” (2005)

18. “A Bigger Bang” (2005)

“A Bigger Bang” showed that The Rolling Stones still had a bone to pick and something to prove. Best of all, it added a couple of new selections to the band’s seemingly never-ending arena shows.

“Rough Justice” is an excellent rock song. “Streets of Love” is a bit saccharine and failed to be a hit. And, deep cuts like “Rain Fall Down” or “Oh No, Not You Again” are surprisingly satisfying.

And time for some trivia:

What is the best-selling group of all time?

The Beatles are the best-selling group of all time with over 183 million units, but their rivals, The Rolling Stones, have also sold a more than respectable 66 million units.

“Bridges to Babylon” (1997)
“Bridges to Babylon” (1997)

17. “Bridges to Babylon” (1997)

Energized by “Voodoo Lounge,” The Stones bring the same fighting spirit to “Bridges to Babylon.”

It all starts well with the rocker “Flip the Switch” but trails off rather quickly. “Anybody Seen My Baby?” is an attempt at melding modern urban music with classic blues-rock. And “Already Over Me” is an attempt at an Aerosmith-like ballad.

Mick Jagger is chasing trends once again. The music isn’t bad, but modern production robs the Stones’ music of its energy.

However, the grimy “Saint of Me” and “Out of Control” are largely, excellent.

“Out of Our Heads” (1965)
“Out of Our Heads” (1965)

16. “Out of Our Heads” (1965)

“Out of Our Heads” is a declaration of war. The Rolling Stones’ targets are, of course, their more successful counterparts, The Beatles.

By design, “Out of Our Heads” presents the quintet as the bad boys of rock n’ roll. This, along with their fashion and news of rowdy behaviour, stands in contrast with the clean-cut image of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

“Out of Our Heads” also marks a tremendous shift forward in creativity. Iconic hits like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “The Last Time,” and “Play With Fire” are all on this record. All of them are Jagger/Richards (aka Nanker Phelge) compositions.

The entire collection sounds youthful and means songs built on the guitar-vocals interplay between Jagger and Keith Richard (the “s” would come and go in the following decades). The Rolling Stones was no longer purely a blues group.

“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” (1974)
“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” (1974)

15. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” (1974)

The title alone broke many hearts. But “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” helped The Stones’ train keep chugging, albeit not with guitarist Mick Taylor sitting silently on board.

Taylor, of course, had contributed tremendously to The Rolling Stones’ sound. This had not been reflected in the form of royalties, however. The guitarist would quit abruptly and leave the group with a gaping hole.

rolling stones band The Rolling Stones Albums Ranked

“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” is a nice way to go out, I suppose. There’s certainly plenty of rock n’ roll like “Dance Little Sister.” But the spirit of “Exile on Main St.” is somehow lacking here.

“12 x 5” (1964)
“12 x 5” (1964)

14. “12 x 5” (1964)

Being a blues superstar was nothing like being a pop superstar. With “12 x 5,” The Stones stake their claim as a potentially great singles band.

The album contains the band’s first hit single, “Time Is on My Side,” as well as convincing covers of “Around and Around” and “It’s All Over Now.”

There are also a bunch of Jagger/Richards originals. These are written at the behest of manager Andrew Loog Oldham. While the collaboration would soon become legendary, in 1964, it simply achieved the purpose of slowly dethroning Brian Jones as the leader of the group.

Note that “The Rolling Stones No. 2” is largely the U.K. version of the same album.

“Their Satanic Majesties Request” (1967)
“Their Satanic Majesties Request” (1967)

13. “Their Satanic Majesties Request” (1967)

If The Stones were looking to escape comparisons to The Beatles, they weren’t trying too hard. “Their Satanic Majesties Request” is famously the band’s version of the landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It’s a deep, colourful shadow The Fab Four were casting.

And while “Their Satanic Majesties Request” may have been a commercial failure, it’s a fascinating failure. With years of hindsight, it is one of the wildest mainstream experiments with psychedelia. The Stones would never risk as much ever again.

“She’s a Rainbow” or the trippy “2000 Light Years from Home” are alright songs. But the glory of “Their Satanic Majesties Request” lies in the wild, often misguided experimentation rather than in the songs themselves.

“Goats Head Soup” (1973)
“Goats Head Soup” (1973)

12. “Goats Head Soup” (1973)

All good things come to an end. And so does The Rolling Stones’ hallowed album run. “Goats Head Soup” is a fine record, albeit less vital sounding than its predecessors.

At this stage, one could forgive Keith Richards and Mick Jagger for falling into slight self-repetition. Jet setting, developing drug habits and creating global hits at this pace was bound to get to anyone.

“Angie” and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” are fine singles, though. “Dancing with Mr. D” was inspired by partying with 70s megastar David Bowie. And I’ve always had a soft spot for the melancholy of “100 Years Ago.”

“Steel Wheels” (1989)
“Steel Wheels” (1989)

11. “Steel Wheels” (1989)

“Steel Wheels” sees Jagger and Richards bury the hatchet to much fanfare. The tunes are nearly as impressive as the unexpected news. Some of the songs are fine, but they will convert a few new fans to the band,

“Mixed Emotions” and “Rock and a Hard Place” were successful singles. They described the Jagger-Richards feud. The tabloid chatter was arguably more interesting than the music and ranked as one of the biggest talking pieces of the band’s 1980s activity.

On the other hand, “Almost Hear You Sigh” is a really nice, albeit schmaltzy ballad.

“Between the Buttons” (1967)
“Between the Buttons” (1967)

10. “Between the Buttons” (1967)

All pop stars of the 1960s were supposed to produce colossal amounts of work. The Rolling Stones were no exception. “Between the Buttons” kept the gravy train chugging along. Thankfully, The Stones had enough creative juices to make the journey interesting.

Like The Beatles or Pink Floyd, The Stones too are soaking up the influence of San Franciscan psychedelia from the Summer of Love all those years ago. But Jagger’s ambitiousness means he wants his band to be perceived as figureheads of this new era.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” paints the band members as thrill-seeking rebels. “Yesterday’s Papers” and “She Smiled Sweetly” show that they were intent on trying to write classics. Rest assured, “Miss Amanda Jones” reassures us that the quintet were really just blues-rock hopped-up teenagers looking for some thrills.

But, the best song on “Between the Buttons” is “Ruby Tuesday,” a sweetly romantic ballad that could rival anything their peers were putting out at this time.

“Black and Blue” (1976)
“Black and Blue” (1976)

9. “Black and Blue” (1976)

“Black and Blue” may have been a transitional record for the band, but it’s also an underrated gem.

Of course, “Black and Blue” served two purposes. It allowed The Rolling Stones to put out a product, and it helped them audition new guitarists.

“Fool to Cry” and “Hot Stuff” are disco-Stones, but they sound quite satisfying, especially with Billy Preston making an appearance. And, the humble “Memory Motel” and “Hand of Fate” deserve reappraisal, I think.

The early version of The Stones cleverly mined the band’s b-sides. They’d do this again. But rarely does the music sound more relaxed as on “Black and Blue.”

“Aftermath” (1966)
“Aftermath” (1966)

8. “Aftermath” (1966)

It was the Golden Age of British Pop Songwriting. And with “Aftermath,” The Rolling Stones showed they were determined to join the party. Ray Davies and Lennon/McCartney, beware!

This isn’t lazy songwriting, either. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger work with psychedelic elements and even Elizabethan ballads while occasionally returning to their first love, American blues.

The moody “Paint It, Black,” the bluesy “Under My Thumb,” and the reflective “Lady Jane” are some of the group’s best early material.

But the character of the album is given by Brian Jones’ spectacular use of sitar, dulcimer, or marimba, as well as Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman’s jazzy rhythm section.

“Voodoo Lounge” (1994)
“Voodoo Lounge” (1994)

7. “Voodoo Lounge” (1994)

“Voodoo Lounge” was a reminder of The Rolling Stones’ brilliance to those who’d bothered to stick around. It focused on the band’s roots.

Yes, critics might have called it a desperate attempt at recapturing youth. Perhaps it is. However, producer Don Was is aided in his effort by the fact that Richards and Jagger deliver some of their very best songs in decades.

“Love Is Strong” and “You Got Me Rocking” are familiar rock n’ roll territory. But “I Go Wild,” “Moon is Up,” and “Sparks Will Fly” prove that the band could still write undeniable hooky pop-rock songs.

Richards steals the show with “The Worst” and “Thru and Thru,” the kind of material that would’ve spearheaded a new X-Pensive Winos project, surely.

I am of the rare opinion that once the dust settles, this music will be remembered as a late-career marvel from The Rolling Stones.

“Tattoo You” (1981)
“Tattoo You” (1981)

6. “Tattoo You” (1981)

The Rolling Stones are raiding old practice tapes once more. But “Tattoo You” contains a mighty great collection of leftovers and unreleased material.

“Tattoo You” is something of an understated miracle. It’s incredibly consistent and satisfying. This happens despite the fact that, clearly, Jagger and Richards are losing interest in recording new music by this stage.

“Start Me Up” sounds like a guitar riff that Richards would inevitably get to eventually. “Waiting on a Friend” gets by on charm alone. Neither was a number one single, but, perhaps, should have been.

But the deep cuts are wonderful. “Neighbours” and “Little T&A” rock n’ roll harder than they should. Meanwhile, “No Use in Crying” and “Worried About You” sound positively eerie.

Some fans were hurt by the emergence of the “Corporate Stones.” Some felt the momentum of “Some Girls” had been lost. But “Tattoo You” is easily one of the most enjoyable albums by the band.

“Some Girls” (1978)
“Some Girls” (1978)

5. “Some Girls” (1978)

The search was on for a replacement six-string slinger. Jeff Beck? Eric Clapton? No, The Stones got the most Stonesy guitarist there could, the lively Ron Wood. And the band sounds energized for “Some Girls.”

“Some Girls” is, arguably, the last time that the Stones could boast about being bad boys with any credibility. And, the band uses these credentials for all that they’re worth on the rockier numbers.

The disco-tinged “Miss You” and the sensitive “Beast of Burden” were the album’s hits. “When the Whip Comes Down” and “Respectable” sound positively electric.

And Richards would claim to have invented punk-rock with “Shattered,” a strange statement considering that this was 1978.

How many number 1 albums did The Rolling Stones have?

The Rolling Stones have had 13 number one albums as of the time of writing. Not just that, but starting with “Sticky Fingers,” the band enjoyed eight consecutive U.S. number-one albums.

“Exile on Main St.” (1972)
“Exile on Main St.” (1972)

4. “Exile on Main St.” (1972)

Keith Richards and his Rolling Stones made the best of their grimy surroundings for “Exile on Main St.” It’s lived up to be one of the band’s most iconic albums.

However, it’s not one that will convince casual fans right away. The music is recorded in France (for tax purposes) using the band’s mobile studio. And, besides “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy,” it contains no hits.

rolling stones band The Rolling Stones Albums Ranked: What Are Their Absolute Gems and Their Atrocious Failures?

The record’s beauty is in how well The Stones play roots and in how many variations of it they can effortlessly find. Producer Jimmy Miller, who’d already worked with the band twice before, does a great job of distilling the essence of this British blues-rock band.

Miller offers the best live document of the group, even if this is mainly a recording of The Stones playing in the basement of a French castle.

Jagger is somewhat of a passenger on some of the tracks. But he’s clever enough to hear something special brewing and gets out of the band’s way when the time calls for it.

The swagger of “Rocks Off” and “Rip This Joint” is enough to make you believe in the power of blues-rock music again. “Shine a Light” and “Let it Loose” are highly theatrical. And “Happy” starts building the myth of Keef, the Human Riff.

Famously, “Exile on Main Street” performed poorly commercially. However, it is now ranked very highly on nearly every list of the greatest albums of all-time.

“Let It Bleed” (1969)
“Let It Bleed” (1969)

3. “Let It Bleed” (1969)

The Rolling Stones continue to be as nasty as they want to be and produce some of their best songs with the well-trimmed “Let It Bleed.”

This time, it’s not the sound or image that is meant to cause a stir but the quality of the compositions. Jagger and Richard even made blues-rock sound trendy.

“Midnight Rambler” and “Monkey Man” are playfully sinister. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is designed for the power-ballad section of the band’s live shows.

But “Gimme Shelter” is heartbreakingly soulful, written around the fragile relationship enjoyed by the band’s creative engine of the singer and rhythm guitarist, Jagger and Richards.

“Let It Bleed” is the final album to include Brian Jones. Having lost his leadership role in the band, Jones had succumbed to drug addiction. However, Jones’ death continues to be surrounded by mystery.

The band would replace him with the highly competent Mick Taylor. But, with Brian Jones’ death, the world would lose one of the musical visionaries of the 1960s.

Still, if The Rolling Stones were entering a shy, self-reflective mood, they certainly weren’t showing it. It was around this time that the band started being introduced as “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World,” a rumour they’re still keen on fueling.

“Sticky Fingers” (1971)
“Sticky Fingers” (1971)

2. “Sticky Fingers” (1971)

The Rolling Stones didn’t just survive the 1960s. By the start of a new decade, they were a cultural landmark. “Sticky Fingers” marks their status as the premier rockstars of their day. The songs are really good, too.

Objectively, there’s no filler to “Sticky Fingers.” The Stones may have individually been plagued by personal issues. However, creatively, they were in top form.

“Brown Sugar” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” are, by now, rock n’ roll standards. Both proved that hiring Mick Taylor had been one of the smartest things that The Stones ever did. Taylor was their secret weapon, unsung hero and (mostly) satisfied sideman.

“Wild Horses” showed that the band had now fine-tuned the rock-ballad format to near perfection. And underrated gems like “Moonlight Mile” or “Sway” testify to the fact that the band could rival Queen or Led Zeppelin for studio album consistency.

Which Stones album had the zipper?

The “Sticky Fingers” album featured artwork designed by New Yorkian artist Andy Warhol. It quite famously featured an actual zipper on the cover.

“Beggars Banquet” (1968)
“Beggars Banquet” (1968)

1. “Beggars Banquet” (1968)

“Beggars Banquet” saw The Rolling Stones quickly escape their psychedelia-induced rot. It helped kickstart an incredible run of albums from the British quintet.

“Their Satanic Majesties Request” had been a letdown. The Rolling Stones quickly rebounded with the guitar sucker punch of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” It was a song so good that Paul McCartney would call in radio stations to request it be played.

“Beggars Banquet” is built on the raw energy of the non-album single, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” All the songs contain a similar blues and rock n’ roll direction. It’s what they did best, and they were smart to know it.

“Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” are two of the band’s most iconic songs. The carefully constructed bad-boy image is amplified by the rootsy “Stray Cat Blues” and “Prodigal Son.”

Meanwhile, Brian Jones provides one of his final contributions to The Rolling Stones on the excellent “No Expectations.”

The Rolling Stones couldn’t outmanoeuvre The Beatles for sonic experimentation. But in going back to basics, they’d found their best sound. This is my favourite album by The Rolling Stones and one I return to very often.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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