Ranking the 5 Best Songs on ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ by The Rolling Stones

You could call the Rolling Stones’ 1974 album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll a bit of a holding-pattern record. The boys admitted after the fact they were a bit lacking in inspiration in the middle of the decade, trapped as they were between the glorious highs of the early part of the ’70s and the grittier, urban fare that would reinvigorate their sound at the end of it.

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But you can’t really get through a Stones record without unearthing a few gems, and that’s certainly the case with this record. Here are five songs that stand out on It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.

5. “Dance Little Sister”

The Stones didn’t go very far afield in terms of their stylistic choices on the album. For some folks, that might actually be a plus when considering It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. There’s certainly a charge that you’ll get from hearing them just plug in and play some straight-ahead rock. In this case, it hardly matters what Mick Jagger is singing, as long as he projects the brash attitude that matches the swagger of the music. Little Richard and Chuck Berry are the obvious influences here, although the band super-charges it from there in their inimitable way.

4. “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”

Maybe it says something about the overall quality of this record that a cover song ranks so high. But let’s be honest: Motown classics outrank a lot of songs because of the nimble wordplay and ever-present rhythmic ingenuity. And this one suits the Stones very well. The pleading nature of the lyrics allows Jagger to do some exaggerated emoting, and Charlie Watts can make that beat swing as if he was an honorary Funk Brother. Billy Preston sneaks some inventive keyboard touches into the mix to add just a little extra flavor to the stew.

3. “Till the Next Goodbye”

Mick Taylor’s presence as lead guitarist is all over this album. But on this track, Keith Richards’ fluttering acoustic guitar is the key ingredient. It’s just the right wistful touch for the hangdog emotions expressed. There’s a little bit of “Wild Horses” to the feel of this one, although the narrator here isn’t quite so fatalistic about his crumbling relationship. But he’s not exactly optimistic either, as he realizes any time he spends together with the girl he’s addressing is going to eventually be interrupted by one of their periodic falling-out periods. Great harmonies here from Jagger and Richards.

2. “Time Waits for No One”

In interviews given after Mick Taylor left the band, Keith Richards occasionally claimed that, for as virtuosic as Taylor was, he took away from the guitar-weaving technique Richards preferred for the band. (By contrast, Ronnie Wood does the guitar-weaving thing very well.) Maybe he has a point, but it’s hard not to be wowed when Taylor takes off on a solo like he does in the elongated runout of this track. And it’s not simple showboating. He manages to evoke the introspective nature of the lyrics, which find the Stones, of all bands, worried about the ticking of the clock.

1. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”

More than any other band, the Stones had a knack for pulling anthems out of their pockets whenever needed. In this case, the original track was laid down with an unusual collective that included Ronnie Wood (before he was a band member) on acoustic guitar and Kenney Jones of the Faces and (later) The Who on drums. Wood’s acoustic parts play well off the crackling electric guitars of Richards and Taylor. And it’s kind of touching to hear Mick Jagger, known for dabbling in so many areas outside music, sticking up for good old rock and roll so passionately.

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