Getting Into… The Rolling Stones

Six decades, 30 albums and hundreds of era-defining hits after they first changed the face of rock'n'roll, getting into the Rolling Stones has never felt more overwhelming

The Rolling Stones released their first ‘Best Of’ album in 1966. The band might have only been going for three years at the time, but they already had six records under their belt, and more than enough singles to fill a compilation with tracks including ‘It’s All Over Now’, ‘Little Red Rooster’, ‘The Last Time’, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ and ‘Paint It Black’ – all of which peaked at No.1 in the UK. 

A second compilation followed in 1967, as did six others between 1971-72, with the band now counting 29 ‘Best Of’ records alongside 30 studio albums, 33 live albums and 121 singles. Now booked to return to the main stages they’ve never really seemed to have left since the early 60s after the sad death of drummer Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones carry one of the most intimidating back catalogues in rock. 

If you’re looking to catch the band live in 2022 but you only know a handful of hits, where should you start? And where can you dig a bit deeper if you want to look beyond the music? 

The Best Of

So what about those compilations? With 29 to choose from, even picking a good Greatest Hits is tough with The Stones. All too often sneered at, a decent Best Of album is a great place to start if you want to hear the highlights – especially for a band who play the hits on most setlists.

The most recent release, Honk, is actually not the best place to start for newbies since it only picks up tracks from the albums post 1971 (sort of like the A-side version of their 2005 Rarities release), so a better bet would be GRRR! – available in 40, 50 and 80 track versions to give three different deep dives depths into their entire back catalogue up to 2015. If you want a one-stop Rolling Stones shop, this is it…

The shop

The Rolling Stones logo

…apart from the actual one-stop Rolling Stones shop that is. Opened in 2020 in London’s Carnaby Street (the spiritual home of the swinging sixties that The Stones helped define), the official Rolling Stones shop is the world’s swankiest merch stand. Much more than just a tourist trap, the shop taps into a big part of the band’s identity – becoming one of the first acts to really develop their brand beyond the music. 

Key to everything is the band’s now iconic “tongue and lips” logo. Originally designed by then art student John Pasche for The Rolling Stones’ 1970 European Tour, the graphic logo was based on a picture of the Hindu goddess Kali and was meant as a nod to lead singer Mick Jagger’s own lips. “The design concept for the tongue was to represent the band’s anti-authoritarian attitude, Mick’s mouth and the obvious sexual connotations,” Pasche later explained. “I designed it in such a way that it was easily reproduced and in a style I thought could stand the test of time.” Fifty years later, you can now buy Kali/Mick’s tongue on T-shirts, tote bags, cufflinks, fire extinguishers, urns, facemasks, pillows, dog collars, car air fresheners and condoms (what better way to get into The Rolling Stones…?).

The books

Now the subject of hundreds of different biographies, photo collections, retrospectives and music guides, The Rolling Stones could fill a whole library with books written about them (required reading if you ever want to study a degree course in The Music Of The Rolling Stones, 1962-1974 at Rochester University, or Let It Rock: The Rolling Stones, Writing And Creativity at the University Of Pennsylvania). 

If you’re after a new coffee table, Unzipped50 and Hot Stuff are all pretty lavish – with 2021’s Unzipped expanding on 2016’s Exhibitionism (written to accompany the Saachi gallery show at the time) to give the most comprehensive guide to the band’s history in print. Expect first person interviews with Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie as well as more than half a century of rock and fashion photography from some of the best in the field. 

For more of a personal insight, autobiographies by Ronnie Wood, Marianne Faithful and Andrew Loog Oldham are all worth a read – as are the band’s collected interviews in According To The Rolling Stones. All the really juicy stories, though, come from Keith Richards (of course), and you can get them all first-hand in Life – including the time he almost burnt down the Playboy mansion, the time he smuggled two bottles of whiskey into Boy Scout jamboree, and, most infamously, the time he snorted his dad’s ashes. 

The movies

Shine a Light - Official Trailer [HD]

Ronnie Wood was “Rock Star Party Guest” in 9 ½ Weeks, Charlie Watts played the drums in a scene of Blue Ice, Keith Richards was Jack Sparrow’s dad in two Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels and Mick Jagger has had a proper acting career on-and-off since the 70s, with lead roles in Ned KellyPerformanceFreejack and Bent. Great as it is seeing Keith dressed as a pirate king, the best movies to watch if you want to get into The Rolling Stones are the documentaries and concert films. 

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 new wave doc One Plus One (aka Sympathy For The Devil) offers plenty of original backstage footage (think a madder, shorter, more experimental Get Back), but the real meat is found The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus and the definitive live-show film, Gimme Shelter. The later saw Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin follow the band on the last leg of their 1969 US tour, capturing the disaster of the Altamont Free Concert that came to define so much of the band’s legacy and reputation in the 70s. 

Better still, Martin Scorsese’s 2008 hybrid concert film Shine A Light showcased the best of the band’s A Bigger Bang tour alongside archive material of their history – putting the band’s life and music on an IMAX screen. 

The legacy

Iconic Rolling Stones Moments from the 70s!

Taking their name from a Muddy Waters’ record and starting out playing covers of old American rock‘n’roll classics, legacy has always been a big part of The Rolling Stones story. Now running in both directions, the band have helped to shape the music landscape for over fifty years – now standing as one of the most influential groups in history.

Selling more than 250 million albums worldwide, The Rolling Stones have been nominated for (and have won) nearly every music prize going and have had fossils, flies and Martian rocks named after them – not to mention at least one tribute band. Fusing classic blues with modern pop, you can hear the band’s influence on nearly everyone who’s picked up a guitar since. “We do what we want to do,” Richards told The Guardian in 2013. “We write songs. We try not to repeat ourselves too much. We have our own sound and our own way of doing things… It’s not entirely possible for me to stand back and look at The Rolling Stones because being a part of it you can’t. I wish that I could just sit in the audience for one night and see the show. Everyone in the band has said that at some point. But then you wouldn’t be seeing the whole band. And that’s the problem with that.”