Though many probably figured the band's best days had passed, legendary classic rock band the Rolling Stones remained quite active during the '80s, contributing more than a few notable hits and album tracks to the era's musical landscape. The always eclectic quintet certainly made forays into dance music and glossy pop during this time, but its tough, ragged guitar base never disappeared completely. Here's a look at five of the finest Rolling Stones songs from the decade's first half, not necessarily the group's most popular tunes but all worthy of repeated listens from within its massive catalogue.
Even without possessing an immunity to the allure of disco's infectious rhythms, the Rolling Stones still find a way to preserve their basic, sultry and guitar-fueled sound on this title track to their hit 1980 release. Mick Jagger's falsetto vocals during the verses provide a welcome backdrop to the song's steamy, loping rhythms, and ultimately the whole package works wonders to introduce a new strain of the band for a new era. The Stones began the '80s as popular as ever, enjoying the top Billboard album spot on both sides of the Atlantic as well as placing this tune in the pop Top 10. That doesn't mean the move away from raw, sleazy rock and roll didn't irk plenty of fans and even some critics, but the fine composition shines on through.
Speaking of that perceived change in direction, this track quickly proves that the Stones are still the Stones, the one band with probably the widest all-time influence on classic rock and hard rock. This rollicking, stripped-down tune cuts across musical eras with an ease and swagger comparable to Jagger's performance persona, and the guitars of Keith Richards and Ron Wood have no trouble establishing their trademark firmly within the arrangement. Though far from a big hit on any level, this is the kind of strong album track for which the Stones have become renowned from 1962 all the way to nearly 50 years later still today. I really enjoy hearing the Stones tracks that avoid radio saturation, and this is definitely a prime example.
Now, speaking of radio saturation, I still can't figure out a way to leave this one off this list. Experiencing my perhaps 800th listen to this track as I write this, I must admit I'm struck by the tightness of the groove, the unforgettable riffing, and Jagger's contagious exuberance. That doesn't mean I'm gonna place this song back on my iPod rotation anytime soon, but credit should be given where credit is due. It would be nice to find a slightly different way to do that, however, which is why I'm choosing to focus on the slow but certain thumping of motionless Bill Wyman's bass line here. Though one of the '70s outtakes the band reworked for inclusion on 1981's Tattoo You, this rock classic would be a smash in any decade.
Though conceived almost a decade prior to its Top 10 showing on Billboard's pop charts in 1981, this gentle, timeless track has remained one of that year's most pleasant pop/rock ballads. Clearly bearing the musical influence of former guitarist Mick Taylor, the song benefits most from Jagger's heartfelt lyrics that celebrate the simple joys of friendship. Stones music, among its many superlative features, has a tendency almost always to avoid sounding dated, so if there has ever been a band capable of seamlessly releasing 10-year-old music on a new studio record, this may just be the one. The laid-back piano and saxophone provide wonderfully relaxed accompaniment for one of the band's finest mid-career moments.
Unfortunately, it took a soundtrack appearance in the wondrous recent '80s period film Adventureland for this track to claim a spot on my iPod. Still, I'm just pleased to be reminded of how the truly great rock bands consistently find a way to sneak in some of their best work during their so-called lesser eras. This is a highly satisfying tune that plays on the strengths not only of the guitar styles of Richards and Wood but also Jagger's penchant for theatrics and drama. The lyrics present an oft-told tale of a show-business confidence man full of promises about what he'll be able to do for his female client. The total package should have been a hit, but thanks to the prowess of the Stones, it didn't need to be.