Top 10 Rolling Stones Cover Songs
The Rolling Stones — like so many other great groups that got their start in the ’60s — began as a cover band, working through rock, blues and R&B favorites. Their first few albums consisted almost entirely of cover songs. As Mick Jagger and Keith Richards grew more confident as songwriters, their own songs took precedent on Stones albums. But they still hauled out exemplary covers from time to time, even during their reign as “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” Our list of the Top 10 Rolling Stones Cover Songs spans blues, rock and soul numbers from the ’60s through the ’80s.
‘Going to a Go-Go’
The Stones pulled out a few classic covers during their massive 1981 tour in support of ‘Tattoo You,’ including this 1965 Miracles hit co-written by the group’s leader, Smokey Robinson. The Stones rough it up with a bluesy guitar riff and a breathless vocal by Jagger on this live version from the otherwise forgettable ‘Still Life’ LP.
Even though it’s a relatively obscure number, this 1963 song originally performed by R&B duo Bob & Earl had long been a cover favorite by artists as diverse as Booker T & the MG’s, the Righteous Brothers and Johnny and Edgar Winter. The Stones’ 1986 version — featuring backing vocals by Bobby Womack, who wrote ‘It’s All Over Now’ (see No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Rolling Stones Cover Songs) — took it to No. 5, making the track one of their final Top 10 hits.
‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’
The Temptations’ original version of ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ topped the R&B charts for eight weeks in 1966. Like they did on their cover of another Motown classic, ‘Going to a Go-Go’ (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Rolling Stones Cover Songs), the Stones bring more of a bluesy sway than a soulful swing to the song. The band also covered the Temptations hit ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ on 1978’s ‘Some Girls.’
It’s no secret that the Rolling Stones were huge Chuck Berry fans. Keith Richards even claimed to have stolen every riff he knew from the rock and roll pioneer. The band’s very first single from 1963 was a cover of Berry’s 1961 single, which didn’t chart. But the Stones’ version almost made it to the Top 20 in England.
‘I Wanna Be Your Man’
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ was the Stones’ second single, beating the Beatles‘ version to record shelves by three weeks. It’s grittier, bluesier and dirtier than the Fab Four’s cleaner take, which is sung by Ringo with all the determination of a guy who’d rather be home watching TV.
‘Little Red Rooster’
One of the Stones’ best-ever straight blues covers takes on Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Little Red Rooster’ with a greasy shuffle that’s punctuated by Brian Jones‘ great slide guitar riffing. ‘Little Red Rooster’ would be the band’s last cover song released as a single until a decade later, when their version of ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ reached the Top 20 (see No. 8 on our list of the Top 10 Rolling Stones Cover Songs).
‘Not Fade Away’
Even though the Stones’ first U.S. single just missed the Top 40, their cover of the Crickets’ ‘Not Fade Away’ is readily acknowledged as the song that broke them in the States. Musically, the track stays pretty close to 1957’s original with the Bo Diddley beat, but Jagger replaces Buddy Holly’s hiccuping style with something slightly more menacing.
‘Love in Vain’
The original 1937 version of ‘Love in Vain,’ written and recorded by blues legend Robert Johnson, is spare, haunting and mournful. The Stones’ cover 32 years later doesn’t pick up the pace any, but they add a back beat, mandolin, and a sense that maybe all is not lost. Johnson’s desolate version offers no such hope.
‘Time Is on My Side’
The original version of ‘Time Is on My Side’ was recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding in 1963, but not too many people heard it at the time. The Stones borrowed their arrangement and soulful groove from New Orleans legend Irma Thomas’ also sorta-obscure cover, which was the B-side of a 1964 single. It became the Stones’ first Top 10 hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 6.
‘It’s All Over Now’
The Stones first heard ‘It’s All Over Now’ — written by soul singer Bobby Womack and performed by his group the Valentinos — during a promotional visit to a radio station on their inaugural U.S. tour in 1964. A few weeks later they scored their first British No. 1 hit. At first, Womack wasn’t pleased with the band stealing his song. But he eventually warmed to the group, even singing backup on their 1986 hit ‘Harlem Shuffle’ (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Rolling Stones Cover Songs) and being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Ron Wood.