Ranking the 5 Best Songs on the Album ‘Aftermath’ by The Rolling Stones

After their bluesy, cover-song beginning, and before they delved into a rootsy, hard-rocking groove, there was a blip of a period in the mid-’60s when The Rolling Stones focused on writing concise songs in a pop vein, often with baroque or psychedelic touches. Their 1966 album Aftermath represents the high point of this era for the band.

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We’re here to rank the five best songs from that classic. And, to sweeten the deal, we considered songs even if they were only released on either the U.S. or UK version and not both.

5. “Lady Jane”

This is a prime example of a song that probably only would have been considered by the Stones in that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time period. It was a time when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were keen to show off their melodic skills. That sometimes meant a different musical setting than you might expect, which, in this case, includes instrumentation that sounds sourced from medieval times. And when they needed to conjure up just the right embellishment, they generally turned to jack-of-all-instruments Brian Jones, who here takes a lovely turn on dulcimer.

4. “Under My Thumb”

There are always going to be folks who have a problem with this song and its attitude towards women. But if songwriters only wrote from a point of view they wanted to promote, music would be a very dull thing. The Stones tiptoed the line of decorum as much as anybody, with “Under My Thumb” being one of the first songs of theirs to raise a stir. Fact: There are people in the world who certainly act like the protagonist of the song. And the jaunty music, featuring Brian Jones on marimba, suggests we’re meant to see this guy as a buffoon and not someone to be admired.

3. “I Am Waiting”

This song received a bit of a recognition boost when it was included in the 1998 Wes Anderson movie Rushmore. Since that film’s cultural shelf life is weakening, “I Am Waiting” has once again returned to its status as one of the most underrated of all Stones’ tracks. Brian Jones again plays the dulcimer here, and the interplay between that instrument and Keith Richards’ acoustic guitar is quite lovely. The song also kicks into an urgent chorus as Jagger sings elusive but evocative lyrics about escalating fears and unfulfilled expectations.

2. “Mother’s Little Helper”

That odd little riff that provides an indelibly mysterious hook comes from Keith Richards playing a 12-string guitar with a slide. With that as the jumping-off point, the music manages to sustain its sense of tension all the way through, until it’s finally released with a final shout of Hey. Before that, Mick Jagger dives into the world of housewives who are bored and frazzled all at once. Their only outlet is to take some pills, which only leads to a downward spiral as they need more and more to cope. It’s an insightful song that showed that the boys’ antennae were always up for topical material.

1. “Paint It Black”

George Harrison might have been first to incorporate a sitar into a pop song when he included one on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” But Brian Jones made it integral to the success of “Paint It Black,” as it manages to evoke the darkness encroaching on the narrator. Charlie Watts’ furious drumming represents an effort to break through to the light, albeit what seems like a futile one by the tenor of the lyrics. The Stones’ willingness to go to that dark side and look at it unflinchingly rather than in a woe-is-me fashion is part of what set them apart from their peers.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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