The Rolling Stones did not release any music in 2018. Their last album of original material, A Bigger Bang, came out way back in 2005. More recently, they released an album of blues covers called Blue & Lonesome, just over two years ago. They are coming back Stateside for a tour next year, and between all of Rolling Stone’s incremental updates on setlist planning and Keith Richards quitting drinking, there are the requisite hints of a new Stones album in the works. When/if that comes out, it’ll quite possibly be the last album from the band, given these guys are gonna be 80 before we know it.
At this point, maybe we don’t need any more music from the septuagenarian rockers. A Bigger Bang was pretty good, as far as late-late-career collections from legacy artists well past their creative prime go. But at this point, we’ve also got five-plus decades of Stones influence, whole generations upon generations where their legend can still be felt. And in 2018 in particular, we got some pretty damn good Rolling Stones songs that the Rolling Stones did not write, perform, or release.
When you talk about a band as monolithic as the Stones, influence can be a hard thing to really quantify. On some level, you just assume it is cemented and universal, that they are one of the artists that provided the foundation for so much of rock music in the decades since. As such, their influence is ever-present, even if not always directly felt or acknowledged. Ironically, that can make us take it for granted: The Stones are everywhere and everytime, so why take notice when a song pops up that feels more deeply indebted to them.
The thing about this year is that the Stones appeared in less-expected places. As much as they loom over pop history, this isn’t a band you necessarily hear name-checked frequently by ascendant DIY songwriters or the current generation of reigning festival indie luminaries. There was something to 2018, though, where all the sudden the Stones’ presence could be felt in several of the year’s notable albums.
Sometimes songs explicitly sound like a Stones song, something they could’ve written; sometimes they literally sound like a specific Stones song that they did write. There were a couple of those this year. But the cooler, subplot-level thread of 2018 was indie artists channeling the Stones, capturing some part of the band’s vibe and applying it to their own. Either way, this year gave us a lot of good Stones songs considering it’s been a whole 13 years since A Bigger Bang! Below, you will find the five best of them, ranked through a completely objective metric of Stonesiness and quality.
5. Eric Church – “Desperate Man”
Back in July, Eric Church announced his latest album Desperate Man and shared its title track. As our own Peter Helman noted then, it’s a Southern rock track that is more than a little reminiscent of “Sympathy For The Devil.” The rhythm, the bongos, the little background vocal punctuations, the way the guitars and piano dance around each other — it all recalls the classic Stones hit, particularly the live rendition the band favored back in the day. You can do worse than rip off “Sympathy For The Devil” I suppose. Oddly, the “Hey!” call and response in the chorus is closer to Ziggy Marley’s Arthur theme song than it is to the Stones.
RIYL: Um, “Sympathy For The Devil”?
4. Iceage – “Pain Killer”
When we named Iceage’s Beyondless Album Of The Week back in May, this is how I described its aesthetic: “It sounds like Nick Cave in his more feral early days attempting to make a Rolling Stones album but being unable to help himself from periodically contorting it into blackened mystic shapes or just straight-up dousing it in gasoline, dropping a match, and dancing amongst the flames.”
I stand by that! While the Nick Cave influence is more pronounced, Beyondless found Iceage, and particularly frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, growing into a kind of dark, strung-out glamor. Unlike Eric Church’s very obvious songwriting quotation of the Stones, Iceage is one of those situations in which an artist is borrowing some Stones ethos. Songs like “Hurrah” and “Pain Killer” have a kind of Stones swagger to them, even while they still land in a more or less punk territory. You can easily picture Mick Jagger sneering his way through this chorus.
RIYL: The more sinister and/or apocalyptic moments in the Stones catalog — “Gimme Shelter,” “Paint It Black,” maybe “Monkey Man.”
3. Titus Andronicus – “Above The Bodega (Local Business)”
In fairness, Titus Andronicus has steadily become a raw classicist rock band over the years, mostly departing from any punk roots, and there have been several Stones songs along the way. Back on Local Business, you had the vamp-y “(I Am The) Electric Man,” and the first time I saw them play “Fatal Flaw” I immediately imagined Jagger onstage, shimmying and gesticulating to that chorus. Patrick Stickles’ love of the Stones is well-documented, with him occasionally citing Exile On Main St. as one of his favorite albums.
So if all that didn’t clue you in, Stickles boldly underlined it on A Productive Cough this year. He covered “Like A Rolling Stone,” a song the Stones themselves cover, tweaking the name to “(I’m) Like A Rolling Stone” and adding a whole ad-lib section at the end where he literally says: “I’m feeling like Mick Jagger/ I’m feeling like Keith Richards,” while response vocals ask, “Do you feel like Mick?”
It’s a little wry, as a lot of Titus music can be. But it’s not the Stonesiest moment on A Productive Cough. That honor would go to “Above The Bodega (Local Business),” a shuffling and dusty lope that recalls the kind of haggard saloon mid-tempo rockers the Stones might do. The fried guitar, the “shoop-shoop” background vocals, some of Stickles’ diction — all of it could’ve fit right into a late ’60s/early ’70s Stones album.
RIYL: The first time I heard it, the song reminded me of “Waiting On A Friend,” but its more accurate antecedents are probably Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed.
2. Amen Dunes – “Miki Dora”
When I interviewed Damon McMahon recently about the breakout year Amen Dunes has had with Freedom, he talked about digging deeper into classic rock influences on this album. You can hear bits of Petty, Springsteen, and Dylan throughout, but one of the album’s highlights, “Miki Dora,” had this languid cool about it that screamed the Stones.
This is one of those songs that is hard to get out of your head once it’s there, partially because of its catchiness but also because of its alluring nature. It feels like a lost echo of classic rock and yet I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint one specific Stones song it reminds me of. There could’ve been a Stones song like it in their earlier, frazzled pop days, like on Aftermath; if you buy McMahon’s assertion that Freedom is a NYC album, “Miki Dora” could coexist with “Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” on Goat’s Head Soup. But there never was a Stones song quite like it, there’s just an Amen Dunes song that you could easily imagine in their hands, and it’s one of the best songs of 2018.
RIYL: If you hear “Miki Dora” as a sun-drenched cruise around LA, Aftermath; if you hear “Miki Dora” as a swampy ramble, Exile On Main St.; if you hear “Miki Dora” as full of city grit, Goat’s Head Soup.
1. Ought – “Desire”
The best Rolling Stones song of 2018 feels born from an alternate history. Ought’s “Desire” is perhaps the least likely inclusion on this list. Like Iceage, there’s also a lot of Nick Cave at play here. But the thing about “Desire” is that it operates on two levels. On one hand, imagine a different turning point for the Stones in the late ’70s when, after dabbling with funk and disco through the decade, they also embraced new wave and art-rock and post-punk. (They did do this to some extent, but they also started writing platonic-ideal-Stones tracks like “Start Me Up.”) Basically: Imagine if the Stones had gotten deeply into Talking Heads and made a great art-rock opus from aging blues-rockers. It would’ve sounded like “Desire.”
At the same time, it sounds nothing like a Stones song; the way Tim Darcy throws his voice around has more in common with Nick Cave’s melodrama or David Byrne’s purposefully erratic pitch. But when he gets to the wordless finale, backed up by a chorus of singers, you could also picture this remade as a Stones song from their prime — the drama and build aren’t so different from a song like “Moonlight Mile.” You can hear Jagger’s voice swapped in for Darcy’s, chewing up these words in ballad mode. Either way, “Desire” is a stunning composition — like a piece of history unmoored and rearranged by artists you’d never think would sound like the Stones.
RIYL: Sticky Fingers, if it came out a couple years later and was produced by Brian Eno fresh out of Roxy Music. Who knows, maybe that’s what the next album by the actual Rolling Stones will sound like!