Beggars Banquet (1968)
Regarded as one of the Rolling Stones best albums ever by aficionados, Beggar’s Banquet (their 9th US studio album) marks the beginning of the Stones true glory days in terms of their song depth and sound. It’s the first record produced by Jimmy Miller, who worked with them on every album through 1973, and it’s the first album where founding guitarist Brian Jones is starting to get pushed to the sidelines (but that’s another story). Opening with “Sympathy for the Devil”, Beggars Banquet features a much better sound in terms of the production than their previous albums. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Jones also pay homage to their bluesy roots with tracks like “No Expectations” and “Dear Doctor”. But you can hear the Stones branching out into more straight up rock and roll with the amazing “Stray Cat Blues” and “Jigsaw Puzzle”. It’s the last album where the Stones relied predominantly on an “acoustic” sound.
Let It Bleed (1969)
The follow up to Beggars Banquet was Let It Bleed, again amazingly produced by Jimmy Miller. By now the Stones, particularly Keith Richards and Brian Jones, were heavily into drugs, and it would be the last album Jones recorded with the band before getting fired by Mick and Keith. It’s also the first album to feature Jones’ replacement, uber-talented guitarist Mick Taylor, who plays on “Country Honk” and “Live With Me”. It’s fair to say Let It Bleed is where the Stones refined their sound, especially with songs like “Gimme Shelter”, “Live With Me” and “Let it Bleed” that are riff-based rock and roll songs with heavy background piano as in the latter two tracks. “Gimme Shelter” is arguably one of the best Stones songs, period, while “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” became a radio favourite. This album is no-filler with “Monkey Man” being one of the Stones’ more underrated songs and “Midnight Rambler” as one of the their live staples. For the new listeners, it’s Richards handling lead vocal on “You Got the Silver”.
Sticky Fingers (1971)
The first album on their new Rolling Stones label with the famous tongue logo, Sticky Fingers is extremely polished and heavily drug-influenced as Richards was by now a full-time heroin addict, and drugs feature heavily in the lyrics of most tracks. Many argue this is the Rolling Stones finest album, period. There’s nary a bad song to be found on this diverse, 10-song collection which showcases the Stones as country rockers (“Dead Flowers”), hard rockers (“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'” and “Sway”), balladeers (“Moonlight Mile” and “Wild Horses”), and they also throw in some heavy blues with a cover of “You Gotta Move”. Sticky Fingers prominently showcases the saxophone playing of Bobby Keys, who basically became a sixth member of the band and recorded and toured with them for years after. It’s also a showcase for Mick Taylor’s guitar playing and listening to the solos on “Sway” gives new fans an idea of how good Taylor was as a Stone.
Some Girls (1978)
While it is tempting to put Exile on Main St. here, it’s more of an album for the anointed as opposed to new Stones fans. Some Girls boasts 10 very good songs including the hit singles “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden”. Produced by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it’s another diverse collection with Jagger as the driving force after Richards was busted in Toronto for heroin possession and had to deal with that issue. But Richards did pen and sing lead vocal on “Before They Make Me Run”, which has become one of his trademark songs. Then there’s a song like “Far Away Eyes”, a country classic that grows and grows on you. Some Girls represents the last truly great album the Stones would record, and it’s a must-listen for new fans of the band.