Tickets for the Rolling Stones show technically never stopped being on sale throughout the pandemic — the only difference being a “TBD” in place of the previous date. And in a combination of stadium-rock excess and post-pandemic demand, ticket prices are even steeper than usual. Obviously, that’s not going to keep people from seeing the Stones, because they’re the Stones. Let’s face it, hearing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in person might bring you to heights of heavenly ecstasy that you just can’t achieve normally. (A pro-tip for parents: Teach your children to collect records so they won’t have enough money to buy drugs.)
The Pope is catholic, Ethel Kennedy owned a black dress, the Rolling Stones have a gazillion hits. In case you need any further convincing that the Stones are worth seeing live, here are 10 songs that were never released as singles (and all have been played live by the band in recent years) that prove that the group's body of work extends much further than the already seemingly endless list of radio hits we all know and love.
“Dead Flowers,” from Sticky Fingers
In the words of Dallas’ very own Jonathan Tyler, “Rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and country are all the same thing, just wearing different clothes.” (By the way, Mick, if you’re reading this, JT should be your opening act immediately, if not sooner). In 1971, the Stones had already conquered the blues, so by Tyler’s definition, this — the penultimate track on their masterpiece Sticky Fingers — is the moment the world’s greatest rock and roll band truly fulfilled the weight of their nickname. OK, so "Dead Flowers" is not necessarily an obscure cut, and was even covered in many a concert by Guns N' Roses in its heyday, but still, it was never released as a single.
Throughout the song, Keith Richards and co-lead guitarist Mick Taylor trade musical jabs at one another in the form of smooth, honky-tonk lead guitar lines, almost dueling for the chance to come out on top like the quarreling ex-lovers in the song’s lyrics. Ultimately, it’s Taylor who emerges victorious, as his effortless guitar solo marks one of the most satisfying musical moments in the Stones’ oeuvre.
Richards supposedly learned the jangly, country-favored “Nashville” guitar tuning while at a tour stop in San Antonio in 1965 and had meant to find an application for it for years in addition to being inspired by the works of his contemporary Gram Parsons. Unlike “Wild Horses,” the other song on the album that utilizes the tuning, “Dead Flowers” is a breakup song with nary a shred of melodrama. It's so mature that it feels more like a reserved kiss-off than an actual breakup song. Jagger drives this home with one of his greatest and most bittersweet verses (“When you’re sitting back in your rose-pink Cadillac, making bets on Kentucky Derby day, I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon, and another girl will take my pain away”), a testament that the excruciating pain of moving on is sometimes the best option for both parties.
“Moonlight Mile,” from Sticky Fingers
Is this the most underrated Rolling Stones song ever? Writers Bill Janovitz and Robert Christgau seem to agree. There’s not an element of silliness or typical rock ‘n’ roll swagger on the closing track to Sticky Fingers. “Moonlight Mile” didn’t come close to resembling anything the band had recorded up to that point and hasn’t really sounded like any song they’ve made since (except one; see “Winter” below). The song feels like the cathartic release of emotions that Jagger’s typical, larger-than-life posturing tends to suppress.
The album’s entire second side seems to lead up to this: “Bitch” establishes a strutting, defiant attitude that life is simply “a bitch”; “I Got the Blues” starts as an Otis Redding pastiche and ends with Jagger succumbing to Otis’ fiery style of delivery — because how else does one properly express the blues? “Sister Morphine” is the band’s first real acknowledgment that drug abuse isn’t necessarily the joy ride that rock ‘n’ roll types tend to make it out to be; “Dead Flowers” is a breakup song that arrives where it does with a sigh, not a tear, which makes the closing “Moonlight Mile” a work of pure honesty. When you are so far away from the things you care about, what do you live for? Jagger answers this with a lyric that might be one of the reasons Marc Maron said the song once brought him to tears during a performance: “I am just living to be lying by your side.” “Midnight Rambler,” from Let It Bleed
One of the things the Rolling Stones excel at is the ability to make bad things seem so good. “Sympathy for the Devil,” with its Faustian themes of seduction, would've been treated to a doom-and-gloom sound by any typical artist, but instead, the Stones back Satan’s appeals with an irresistible Latin groove. When the band later spun an American true-crime yarn into a song, the result is so carnally abyss-gazing that it feels like for a moment the abyss gazes back through song.
“Midnight Rambler,” a morbid account of Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, and his boasts of power, is one of the most brilliant first-person pieces of musical impressionism in the entire rock vernacular, let alone the Stones’ own body of work. Instead of a dark, creeping musical backing that one would naturally give to a tale of murder (see AC/DC’s “Night Prowler” or Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights”), the Stones backdrop their twisted subject’s self-admiration with a throbbing Chicago blues groove, mirroring the killer’s confidence and sexual drive. As the song gets faster and faster, Jagger’s vocals and harmonica become increasingly tattered, reaching a near-orgasmic breaking point, so much so that the band takes a break and allows Jagger’s demented character to collect his thoughts: “So if you ever meet the midnight rambler, I'm coming down your marble hall, well he's pouncing like a proud black panther, you can say I, I told you so!”
As he and the band crawl off the floor and resume the song’s fierce groove, Jagger’s singing turns to shouting, no longer in control of the man he’s evoking: “I'm gonna smash down all your plate glass windows, put a fist, put a fist through your steel-plated door!” It’s a climax more terrifying than anything any heavy metal band has ever attempted to reach, because as opposed to simply recounting the murderous subject’s actions, Jagger and the band seem to relate to the killer’s insatiable drive to kill. “Midnight Rambler” accomplishes that first-person task too well. “Sweet Virginia,” from Exile on Main St.
On the Stones’ follow-up to Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St., the band became literal tax evaders, living and recording in the basement of Richards’ home in the south of France. Without a specific mood or goal to accomplish, the resulting sessions were loose, sweaty, and unpredictable — like rock and roll itself. The Stones spent much of the time jamming, conjuring grooves that the band consumed in their youth, regurgitating the fundamental sounds of American blues, country, bluegrass, R&B and more. On the double album’s mostly acoustic second side, we find the band at their most informal and relaxed. The first song of the second side, “Sweet Virginia” feels like the kind of laid-back jam one comes across sitting around a fireplace in a roadside mining town, just a bunch of guys who stumbled on a good groove and felt like singing and playing guitar in a circle, each contributing perfect musicality without any ego. None of the players on “Sweet Virginia” outplay any of the others. Not even Lubbock native Bobby Keys — whose saxophone solo ranks among his best work ever — is able to outplay the group’s easygoing vibe. “Loving Cup,” from Exile on Main St.
Elsewhere on Exile, the band did write actual songs. On “Loving Cup,” Jagger leaves his towering bravado back in England, instead assuming the humbled countryman role that Bob Dylan fashioned on “Lay Lady Lay.” But of course, being Mick Jagger, he does this with a bit more confidence. With a beautiful gospel-like piano backing from underappreciated Stones sideman Nicky Hopkins, Jagger spreads his arms and offers everything he has to the woman he desires, which is simply himself and that very desire. Given the Stones’ tendency to dick-swing, it’s refreshing to hear Jagger embody the everyman, giving in to a rarely seen genuinely romantic — instead of purely sexual — side. This leads to undoubtedly one of his best lyrical couplets ever. Next time you ask someone out, try saying this: “I'm the man who walks the hillside in the sweet summer sun, I'm the man that brings you roses when you ain't got none.” The singer punctuates this with a joyous bridge that celebrates all he has and all he might have, reaching a churchlike cry of gratitude that feels 100 percent sincere: “I feel so humble with you tonight, just sitting in front of the fire, see your face dancing in the flame, feel your mouth kissing me again, what a beautiful buzz, what a beautiful buzz!” “Winter,” from Goats Head Soup
For many years, the Rolling Stones’ secret weapon was second guitarist Mick Taylor, whose quicksilver leads complimented Richards’ chunky rhythm playing. Over the five years that he would be with the band, Taylor would provide the Stones with many signature moments: the Santana-like solo at the end of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” most of the solos on Exile on Main St. and a pair of songs that he sadly never received credit for. “Moonlight Mile” was written by the two Micks: Jagger and Taylor, while Richards simply wasn’t around.
For some reason, when the song was released as the closing track on Sticky Fingers, it was credited to Jagger/Richards, the band’s typical songwriting team. A similar thing happened nearly three years later when the band was recording their follow-up to Exile in the Bahamas. Taylor and Jagger extemporized on a melancholic, country-flavored proto-power ballad about homesickness and the loneliness of winter, waiting for the reprieve of romantic summer (ironic considering their tropical surroundings at the time). “Winter” became a standout on Goats Head Soup, an album that inevitably ended up being a relative critical disappointment given Exile’s uber-legendary status. Again, despite his considerable contributions, Taylor was not given credit upon the album’s release, marking the beginning of the end of his tenure in the band. Despite the faux pas, “Winter” remains one of the Rolling Stones’ most criminally overlooked tracks, resembling something off Van Morrison’s Hard Nose the Highway.
“Parachute Woman,” from Beggars Banquet
For a man who changed who loudly declared “I can’t get no satisfaction,” Mick Jagger likes to sing about getting laid a lot. Perhaps it’s in honor of the Delta and Chicago bluesmen who littered their songs with copious amounts of innuendo, or perhaps he’s a man with one thing on his mind (likely both), but either way, when Jagger and Richards locked into this groove, they were certainly confident of what it evoked. One of the harder-rocking moments from the mostly acoustic return-to-roots effort Beggar’s Banquet, “Parachute Woman” is the closest the Stones ever got to making straight blues like their heroes. It’s got everything: an irresistible riff, a near-perfect harmonica solo, and an overabundance of double-entendre (“Parachute woman, will you blow me out?” “My heavy throbber’s itching just to lay a solid rhythm down”). While the song (and the album) were transitional affairs on the way to more classic efforts from the band, the unshakeable sexual bravado makes anyone who listens to “Parachute Woman” much sweatier than they need to be. “Monkey Man,” from Let it Bleed
For all they knew, in 1969 the world was ending. The boiling over of the Vietnam War combined with the shattering of the idealistic young counterculture via the emergence of the Manson family and the disaster at Altamont meant many people didn’t know what the '70s were going to bring. The Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” embodies that panic, but on the other side of Let it Bleed lies a song that immaculately captures that paranoia between the media and the Stones themselves. The band had to constantly fend off accusations that they were Satanists and corruptors of youth, all while their fanbase crumbled morally around them.
“Monkey Man,” the penultimate track on the album, turns those stereotypes on their head, with a throat-cutting riff from Richards over psychotic piano twinkles and Jagger stepping forward, eyes rolled as far back possible, saying “Well, I hope we're not too messianic, or a trifle too satanic, but we love to play the blues!” As the song (and the album) fall to pieces, Jagger begins to scream and yell with such unhinged feral delight that the song swings between a menacing challenge to all those who challenge the band, a self-parodying explosion of paranoid catharsis, and back again. Not to mention, the brilliant use of the song at the near climax of Goodfellas is worth a mention on its own. “She Said Yeah,” from December’s Children
One minute and 35 seconds of blistering rock ‘n’ roll at its most fundamental, "She Said Yeah" is proof that the Stones were ahead of the punk curve before it even existed. “Thief in the Night,” from Bridges to Babylon
Buried deep in the second half of the Stones oft-overlooked 1997 album Bridges to Babylon, “Thief in the Night” is a rare Richards lead vocal showcase that is not a straight-ahead rocker. Instead, Richards sounds more like Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan: his weathered voice beckoning a woman to leave her man for a secret rendezvous with him. Keeping in line with Bridges’ spirit of experimentation, “Thief in the Night” swims in a soupy production that merges Delta blues with ( Alice in Chains') Jar of Flies-type sonic resonance, and a touch of (The Doors') “Riders On the Storm”-esque mystique.