When it comes to The Rolling Stones, I most often find myself listening to the five albums produced by Jimmy Miller. Starting in 1968 with Beggars Banquet all the way up to Goats Head Soup from 1973, these recordings contain some of the best rock songs ever released, and some of the best guitar riffs ever imagined.
“Can't You Hear Me Knocking”
Keith Richards came up with the classic open-G tuned intro for “Can't You Hear Me Knocking.” Keef had the following to say about the song in his 2010 autobiography Life: “ I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we're thinking, hey, this is some groove. So it was smiles all around. For a guitar player it's no big deal to play, the chopping, staccato bursts of chords, very direct and spare.”
The main riff in “Midnight Rambler” is quite simple in that it is based around a basic blues progression, but Keith Richards unique style make it instantly recognizable. Richards played all the guitars on the track that appeared on the Let it Bleed album, since the band was in transition between original guitarist Brian Jones, and his replacement Mick Taylor.
Check out this recent version of “Midnight Rambler” at London's O2 Arena last year. It has Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood on Les Pauls, and Richards rocking out on a double cutaway Les Paul Junior:
“Street Fighting Man”
The overdriven strummed intro riff to “Street Fighting Man” is actually played on an acoustic guitar, supposedly a Gibson Hummingbird. The riff was recorded on a simple Phillips cassette recorder without any limiting circuitry, which allowed for quite distorted sounds when recorded with the device's built-in microphone.
“Jumpin' Jack Flash”
The main riff to “Jumpin' Jack Flash” might be one of the most known Stones riffs, and a live favorite ever since its inception in 1968. Just like with “Street Fighting Man,” “Jumpin' Jack Flash” is also played on an acoustic guitar recorded on that same Phillips cassette recorder. Richards talked about the recording technique in an interview with Guitar World: “The acoustic guitar is all about what comes off the fingers. That's what's important. Once you put a microphone in front of any guitar, it's automatically electric.”
“Gimme Shelter” is the ultimate Stones song in my opinion. I never get tired of it, no matter how many times I've heard it. The opening riff and its variations must be one of the most recognizable riffs ever put to tape. Richards recorded the riff playing in an open-E tuning, but live he plays it in standard tuning. Richards has stated in several interviews that the neck of the guitar actually fell off at the end of the recording. Guess the guitar knew it had just produced the performance of a lifetime and felt no need to go on.
Check out “Gimme Shelter” from the Stones' One More Shot TV broadcast in December last year:
“Brown Sugar” is mostly a Mick Jagger composition, and an excellent one at that. What is most surprising is that the awesome intro riff in open-G tuning is supposedly also written by Jagger. Both Mick and Keith have said so in interviews over the years. So in essence Mick managed to come up with one of the most Keith Richards' sounding Stones riffs.
“Dancing With Mr. D”
The intro and main riff by Richards to the opening track of 1973's Goats Head Soup is infectious and instantly memorable. It is in my opinion the strongest song on the album, which was the last one that Jimmy Miller produced. Sadly it was only played during their 1973 tour. Might be time to dust off this gem if the Stones decide to tour again in 2013?
Who doesn't recognize the sweet acoustic intro to Angie? Keith says in his autobiography that he wrote the music for the song after having been released from a drug rehabilitation clinic, and finally being able to play guitar again. The song was definitely new ground for the Stones, especially when compared to the raw sound of their previous album Exile on Main Street. It is an excellent example of Richards' prowess at writing melodic hooks, be it on an electric or an acoustic guitar.
This slow blues number from Exile is driven by Mick Taylor's slide riff that keeps repeating throughout the verses. The title alludes to the poor ventilation in the basement of the French villa where the song was recorded. It is also the only Stones track that Mick Taylor shares a writing credit with The Glimmer Twins.
This song about gambling has been in the Stones live repertoire ever since its release in 1972. Based on a song with the same chord structure called “Good Time Woman“ that the band was working on during the sessions for Sticky Fingers, it finally came together during the Exile sessions, as Keith explains in the liner notes to the Stones compilation Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones: “I remember writing the riff upstairs in the very elegant front room, and we took it downstairs the same evening and we cut it.”