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Learn how the Rolling Stones rose from small-town bluesmen to world-conquering rock stars, and learn how to play some of their most iconic songs along the way.
By Mike Duffy
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” showed the Stones reaching back into their bluesy roots after three albums that leaned more into baroque pop and psychedelia. They’ve played the song on every tour since its 1968 release, a testament to its immense popularity and the fact that it topped the charts all over the world. Watch below as Andrew Martin (Palaye Royale, Moon Honey) and Matt Lake demonstrate playing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in standard & open tuning on an episode of Fender Play LIVE:
Whether in open or standard tuning, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a great classic rock riff to learn on guitar. Learn to play “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” here on Fender Play.
Hitting No. 5 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time,” “Brown Sugar” was a chart-topping single around the world upon its debut in 1971. Written by Jagger when he was in Australia filming the movie Ned Kelly, “Brown Sugar” kicks off with a gritty guitar riff that makes it instantly recognizable.
Challenge yourself to this open G workout! Learn to play “Brown Sugar” here.
Sometimes called the Rolling Stones’ most political song, this Beggars Banquet single was inspired by the civil unrest happening in France and the United States in the late 1960s. “Street Fighting Man” was actually fueled by Richards aggressive strumming on an acoustic guitar and the distinctive sound of Jones’ sitar. The track charted around the world and Rolling Stone even named it No. 301 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Keith’s guitar riff consists of just two chords and is a great way to get acclimated with open tunings. Check out Andrew Martin & Matt Lake playing through the song in an episode of Fender Play Live:
Learn how to play “Street Fighting Man” here.
Coming off the 1966 album Aftermath, “Under My Thumb” is one of the more unique songs in the Stones’ catalog. The track’s silky groove is driven by Brian Jones’ slinky marimbas, while Wyman adds a fuzzy bassline to further its experimental feel. As such, it’s also one of the band’s most popular songs and a constant on their many best-of compilations.
Learn how to play “Under My Thumb” here.
Reaching No. 1 in both the U.S. and U.K., “Paint It Black” holds the distinction of being the first chart-topping hit featuring a sitar. The fact that it had darker tones about Jagger questioning himself and the world around him and an eerie, spidery riff from Richards perhaps makes it even more surprising it became such a smash at the time. Still, “Paint It Black” continues to be a shining light of the band’s set despite its bleakness. Hear the signature riff in action below:
Got ten minutes? Learn how to play the riff and chords from “Paint It Black” here.
Released in January of 1967, “Ruby Tuesday” was a No. 1 hit in the U.S. and reached No. 3 in the United Kingdom. Led by Jones on the piano and Jagger singing a wistful chorus about lost love (Richards has said he wrote it about his former girlfriend, Linda Keith), “Ruby Tuesday” is quite the melodic entry into the Stones’ catalog.
Learn how to play “Ruby Tuesday” here.
For a song that opens not with a guitar, but with a cowbell, “Honky Tonk Women” still remains a pure three-minute blast of country-infused rock and roll to this day (it was initially recorded as a country song after all). As a riff-based rocker, it never fails to get audiences dancing along with it.
Learn to play “Honky Tonk Women” here.
Richards has claimed he wrote a rough take on the riff in “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in his sleep, and the final version might be his most revered. It is a masterclass in fuzz and led a legion of aspiring guitarists to search for a stompbox that could emulate it. Many music magazines have named it one of the best rock songs ever, and even Jagger himself credited it with taking the Rolling Stones into the stratosphere. Check out Andrew Martin paying homage to the iconic riff and adding in a little bit of his own flare:
Looking for a place to start your guitar journey? On Fender Play you can learn this iconic riff in just over 2 minutes. Learn to play “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” here.
The slinky “Sympathy for the Devil” settles into a hypnotic groove that makes it eminently danceable throughout. The samba rhythm coupled with Jagger’s first-person narrative as the devil also gives it a sinister feel that only added to the Stones’ mythology as they grew with the ‘70s nearing.
Learn to play “Sympathy for the Devil” here.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was the first song recorded for the seminal 1969 album Let It Bleed, and the 7:28 mix that appears on that record sure is epic. Opening with the angelic voices of the London Bach Choir, the song takes an operatic tone that only keep swelling before its soaring conclusion.
Learn how to play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” here.
If you'd like to learn hundreds of more songs by your favorite artists, check out Fender Play. And if you're not a member yet, click here for a free trial.
While he has played many types of guitars over the years, it's quite common to see Richards with a Fender Telecaster slung across his chest. The most notorious of which is a Butterscotch Tele he calls "Micawber," a gift from Eric Clapton that Richards has modified to fit his specific preferences.
It's those preferences that make Richards such a singular talent.
Richards famously favored an open G tuning, which detuned the 1st, 5th and 6th strings an entire step. And that's if he even had a 6th (low E) string on his guitar. Richards was known for simply removing that string.
For Richards, who is sometimes affectionately referred to as the "Human Riff," it opened up a new world that you can hear on hits like "Beast of Burden," "Happy," "Gimme Shelter" and, of course, "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
“I found working with open tunings that there’s a million places you don’t need to put your fingers," he said in his 2011 memoir, Life. "The notes are there already. You can leave certain strings wide open. It’s finding the space in between that makes open tunings work.”
Check out Fender Play Instructor Dan Ellis talking about how you can get the iconic Kieth Richards guitar tone with just a simple home setup. And for you Mustang users, make sure to check out the Fender Tone app to download hundreds of tones.
Download the Fender Tone app to gain access to the “Call Me Keith” tone preset. This preset will make your Fender Mustang GTX amplifier sound like a 60’s British amp with ‘65 Spring reverb pumped through a 2x12 cabinet.
They may be nearing their sixth decade as a band, but the Rolling Stones – somewhat amazingly – have shown no signs of relinquishing their status as the biggest rock act on the planet. How could a group of septuagenarians have survived and thrived throughout lineup changes, bandmate deaths and constantly morphing musical trends while still commanding top dollar for sold-out stadium shows to this day?
It’s a testament to their dogged work ethic, insistence on staying with the times and elite musical abilities. But it’s also a nod to the once-in-a-lifetime pairing of two of the greatest rock icons to ever take the stage – vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards. The story starts and keeps rolling with them.
Boyhood friends who attended primary school together in Dartford, Kent, Jagger and Richards briefly lost touch before reconnecting again in October 1961 at a train station. They soon banded together in Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, infatuated with American bluesmen like Fats Domino, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
They found a kindred spirit in guitarist Brian Jones, another blues aficionado who gigged around London clubs and was looking to round out his outfit that included bassist Dick Taylor (later of the Pretty Things), drummer Mick Avory (later of the Kinks) and keyboardist Ian Stewart.
That outfit, known as the Rolling Stones (as named by Jones), began playing small shows covering tracks by their influences, but in 1963, a more solidified lineup cemented with a shy but consistently solid drummer in Charlie Watts and an unassuming Bill Wyman fattening the sound on bass (Stewart was ousted from the formal lineup for not looking like rock star material, but stayed on in a supporting role as the piano–playing “sixth Stone”). From there, it was off to the races at a time when the U.K. version of rock and roll was coming into form.
The Stones recorded their self–titled debut album in late 1963 in the basement of Regent Sound Studios in London, and upon its April 1964 U.K. release, The Rolling Stones became a huge seller, staying at No. 1 for 12 weeks, while the U.S. version, titled England’s Newest Hit Makers, reached No. 11.
The wild U.S. success of the Beatles in early 1964 opened the nation’s doors to a flood of British bands, and the Stones were eager to tap into the fame and fortune experienced stateside by the Fab Four.
Despite the U.S. press mocking their “unkempt” appearance, the tour ended with two sell–out concerts at Carnegie Hall. Along the tour route, the band enjoyed a two–day recording session at Chess Studios in Chicago, where they met several of their musical heroes, including Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy and Waters. Out of these sessions came a cover of Bobby and Shirley Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” which became the Stones’ first chart-topping hit in the U.K. Later, it would lead to a tribute of those blues influences with a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.” The highlight of the single — which immediately shot straight to No. 1 in the U.K. — was, interestingly, Jones’ slide guitar playing, an innovative addition to pop music. But the band’s most successful work came from the Jagger/Richards songwriter pairing. “The Last Time” was the first of their compositions to top the U.K. charts (reaching No. 9 in the United States). Soon after, in June 1965, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” became their first international hit, earning them superstar status. Built around Richards’ driving fuzztone guitar riff, “Satisfaction” is often considered the all–time greatest rock and roll song.
Following the massive worldwide success of “Satisfaction,” the Stones began to rely less on covers and more on songs by Jagger and Richards. Aftermath, released in April 1966, marked the band’s first album to consist solely of original songs. Jones also added new elements to the Stones’ evolving sound by playing a dulcimer on the baroque–sounding “Lady Jane,” marimba on “Under My Thumb” and sitar on the darkly hypnotic “Paint it Black.”
1967’s Between the Buttons explored harder rock and pop styles while pushing buttons with the title and sexual lyrics of single “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” The band also experimented with temporarily abandoning R&B in favor of psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), which Rolling Stone magazine called a result of “an identity crisis of the first order.” Often criticized at the time as a sub–par knock–off of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Satanic Majesties has actually enjoyed more positive critical and popular acclaim over the ensuing decades.
The Stones returned to their blues and R&B roots and penned soul–searching lyrics for the 1968 album Beggars Banquet, which drew high praise from a more appreciative Rolling Stone. It also marked a huge moment for Richards. A key Beggar's Banquet single, “Street Fighting Man,” is one of the first Stones songs in which Richards’ experimentation with open tuning can be heard. Ever since, he’s been known to favor a five–string variant of open G tuning, using GDGBD while removing the low E string on his trusty Fender Telecaster guitars.
Meanwhile, Jones was going through troubles with drug and alcohol use and had limited involvement in recording the album, which many consider the Stones’ masterpiece. The group announced Jones’ departure from the band in June of 1969. On July 3, he was found dead in his swimming pool. The Stones replaced Jones with gifted guitarist Mick Taylor, who played his first show with the band at a free July 5,1969 set in Hyde Park, which drew a quarter million people.
The Stones remained in tour mode for the rest of the year, including three concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden to shepherd in their next album, Let it Bleed, which featuring staples “Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” While the ’60s expanded the Stones global notoriety, the ’70s–era dawning of stadium rock would secure the band’s fortunes and its place atop rock’s aristocracy.
Sticky Fingers, released by the Stones’ own record company in 1971, featured the smash single “Brown Sugar,” which was written by Jagger when he was in Australia filming the movie Ned Kelly.
Entering a prolific decade of production, the Stones put out six more albums in the ’70s: Exile on Main St. (1972), Goat’s Head Soup (1973), It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (1974), Black and Blue (1976), live set Love You Live (1977) and mega–hit Some Girls (1978), which many consider one of their best modern–era albums. The lineup continued to shift, however, as Taylor left the band and was replaced in 1975 by former Birds/Faces/Jeff Beck Group member Ron Wood, who made his Stones studio debut on Black and Blue.
The ’80s yielded six more albums, including the group’s best–selling effort, Tattoo You. Its biggest hit, “Start Me Up,” opened with what has since become a trademark Richards chord riff. The Stones ground to a slow stop in the ’80s, though, with a three–year lull in songwriting (1986–89) and eight years between tour as Jagger and Richards disagreed on the direction the band should take. But the "Glimmer Twins" — their self–proclaimed moniker for their enduring musical partnership — resumed their working relationship late in the decade during a 10–day songwriting retreat in Barbados. The Stones also returned to the road with a world tour to promote 1989’s Steel Wheels.
The Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, with Jagger, Richards, Wood and Taylor attending the induction ceremony. Fittingly, fellow British Invasion crusader Pete Townshend of the Who handed out the prestigious honor, telling them, “Guys, whatever you do, don’t grow old gracefully. It wouldn’t suit you.”
Wyman retired from the band in 1992 and was replaced by bassist Darryl Jones for the recording of 1994’s Voodoo Lounge. Though honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in Feb. 1986, Voodoo Lounge marked the Stones’ first Grammy win for Best Rock Album. The band toured extensively in support of it and for 1997's Bridges to Babylon.
The living legends celebrated 40 years together in 2002 with the release of Forty Licks, a greatest hits double album that included four new songs and led to another round of touring.
The band released its first album of original material in almost eight years with 2005’s A Bigger Bang, which charted at No. 3 in the United States. The subsequent “Bigger Bang Tour” — which included their largest–ever gig, with 1.3 million spectators attending a Feb. 19, 2006, concert at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach — became the highest–grossing tour of all time, with earnings of $437 million, proving yet again that the Stones really are the greatest rock and roll band of all time.
Heeding Townshend’s advice, they keep pushing. After the premier of 2008 Martin Scorsese documentary Shine a Light, which showed the Stones performing at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, Richards told reporters that the band “might make another album.” They did. Not only did the Rolling Stones enjoy the success of the May 2010 re–issue of Exile on Main St. (which reached No. 1 on the U.K. charts and No. 2 un the U.S.), they also released the well-received Blue & Lonesome, a collection of classic blues covers.
What's more, aside from a brief hiatus in early 2019 when Jagger was forced to undergo heart valve surgery, the stalwart Stones have never stopped touring, filling massive venues across the globe as the hottest ticket in whatever town they're in. It's a status the Rolling Stones have carried for almost 60 years now, having changed the face of popular music not once, but several times over. Perhaps the Stones did grow old gracefully, but they also grew more powerful, more undeniable, more iconic as the years have worn on.