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The Five Greatest Ballads by The Rolling Stones

Labelled as the Greatest Rock N’ Roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones have also produced their fair share of ballads over the years. With dozens of slow songs in their lengthy catalogue, choosing the top five is no easy feat, so this list actually features six songs listed (in no particular order) because it’s a dead heat between “Waiting on a Friend” and “Beast of Burden”. So here are the Stones’ best ballads:

“Angie” from Goat’s Head Soup (1973)

Arguably the most well-known Stones ballad, “Angie” is a heart-tearing ballad about an ending romance. The mournful string section adds very nicely to the overall sad tone of the track, which was mostly written by Keith Richards, including the sorrowful and distinct piano lines, which were played on the album by legendary Stones session man, Nicky Hopkins. There are various tales about who the song is actually about, with Richards first claiming the title and inspiration came from the birth of his daughter, Angela. But in his autobiography Life, Richards said the name was totally random and it “wasn’t about any particular person”. However David Bowie’s ex-wife, Angie, maintains she was the inspiration. Either way, it’s a fantastic Stones ballad.

“Winter” from Goat’s Head Soup

One of the Rolling Stones most under-appreciated songs, “Winter” is the highlight from “Goat’s Head Soup”. While there is no doubt guitarist Mick Taylor helped write it, along with Mick Jagger, he never got credit. It was credited as a Jagger/Richards collaboration, but Richards doesn’t play a single note. “Winter” features some stellar guitar playing from Taylor and a beautiful string section adding another layer to the track. It’s a great example of a track where the feel of the music mirrors the lyrics.

“Wild Horses” off Sticky Fingers (1971)

Another popular ballad, “Wild Horses” is one of those songs that gets better and better the more you hear it, thanks to the many, layered guitar parts and fantastic vocal harmonies from Jagger and Richards during the chorus. Largely written by Richards, it was recorded at Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama in December, 1969. It’s Richards playing the country-like guitar licks on the track, which took only two-takes to nail down (virtually unheard of for the Stones at the time, who were notorious for taking forever in the studio). As an interesting side note, it’s Jim Dickinson playing piano, not Ian Stewart (who was at Muscle Shoals), because Stewart didn’t like playing minor chords (it’s starts with a B-minor chord). Richards relates in Life that Stewart called it “fucking Chinese music”.

“Beast of Burden” from Some Girls (1978)

“Beast of Burden” is laid-back track with a fantastic groove that features Richards and Ronnie Wood trading guitar licks. The title comes from Richards, basically saying he wouldn’t be the band’s beast of burden because of ongoing heroin habit. Richards finally got clean in 1978 after getting busted with smack in Toronto the year before. While Richards called it “Beast of Burden”, Jagger’s verses are generic.

“Waiting on a Friend” from Tattoo You (1981)

Another Stones ballad with a whole lot of Mick Taylor influence, “Waiting on a Friend” comes from the Goat’s Head Soup sessions in Kingston, Jamaica, and yes, it’s Taylor playing guitar. It has a reggae-like feel to it backed by Sonny Rollins on saxophone. Richards and Ronnie Wood provide a nice vocal harmony on the chorus, which was their only contribution to the song.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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