Barry Egan: The ultimate Rolling Stones set list for Croke Park
As the Rolling Stones gear up to kick off their No Filter tour at Croke Park on Thursday, Barry Egan charts the top 20 songs he wants to hear from their extensive back catalogue
Putting together your fantasy Rolling Stones set-list is not as easy as it sounds. Like compiling your fantasy football team, you can’t — unless you're Jürgen Klopp — have eleven Mohamed Salahs/Ronaldos/George Bests/Messis/Peles/Maradonas/Marco van Bastens etc.
Or - because it is Mick Jagger’s favourite sport, after chasing the ladies - in your fantasy cricket team, you can’t have 11 Donald Bradmans/Brian Laras/Viv Richards/Allan Borders/Sachin Tendulkars etc.
In a Stones show, you can’t just go for all the big hits (twenty Brown Sugars/Tumbling Dices/Satisfactions or Start Me Ups) or it will lack all balance.
Still, balance my backside.
The rules — and the budget to fly in whoever you like, living or dead — go out the window with this fantasy Stones list of songs I would love the band to play in this order tomorrow night at Croker.
The sun doesn’t go down until after 9pm. That means you will have to leave Sympathy For The Devil and Gimme Shelter (two of the band’s darkest piece de resistances) until later in the show.
So, roll it there, Collette.
Keep it lit, Cynthia.
And get ready for the world's greatest, and most age-defying, rock & roll band — a group, ladies and gentlemen, that have remained true to its R&B roots...
1. Start Me Up
What a way to start up 70,000 people at Croke Park. Like Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar and so many Stones’ classics, Start Me Up has that instantly recognizable opening guitar riff.
Originally conceived as a reggae track for the sessions for the Black & Blue album of March, 1975, this eventually became perhaps the last truly great Stones rocker when it was released as the lead single on the August 1981 album, Tattoo You.
One reviewer described Start Me Up as reaffirmation of rock music’s vitality, with the Stones “keeping the torch alive, as lascivious and as powerful as ever”, with their mix of soul, blues and urban music.
“Maybe that’s why the Stones were better than any other rock band at assimilating those styles. They understood this reality and, rather than running from it or prettifying it, they reveled in it, pure and unadulterated. Start Me Up is the epitome of that.”
The Stones remain the epitome of something raw, something true. Yes they're very rich and they got old, but cut them and they still bleed the Chicago blues.
2. Brown Sugar
Its lyrical concerns being degradation, whipping, slavery, and a type of inter-racial oral sex that rhymes with Aer Lingus - ok: cunnilingus - this is no ordinary song.
It is also about heroin.
Brown Sugar, from the 1971 Sticky Fingers album, is another in a long line of Stones masterpieces that you only need to hear a note of and you are forever hooked by its supernatural Delta blues.
Brown sugar indeed.
It is easy to forget that the Rolling Stones in the 1970s, more than any other band or cultural entity, were on the front line of something that hadn't happened before. They were a band on the run.
3. Tumbling Dice
The first single from possibly the Stones' best ever album, 1972’s Exile On Main Street. Enough said. You wouldn't want to say its lyrics too loudly in the post-Harvey Weinstein, Me-Too era we live in now, would you? 'Women think I'm tasty, but they're always tryin' to waste me
And make me burn the candle right down...'
4. Going To A Go Go/She’s So Cold Miss You/Emotional Rescue/Waiting On A Friend
To keep the 70,000 fans on their feet and doing the Jones’ Road Shuffle Mick then leads his trusty troops into Going To A Go Go - the Miracles cover from 1965 that the Stones had a hit with in 1982 - before Mick segues into the preposterous pop pastiche of She’s So Cold from 1980’s Emotional Rescue album.
To keep the feel going, Mick then re-introduces us to one of the Stones’ greatest ever grooves: Miss You, the piece de resistance from the Some Girls album of 1978, with that bass-line holding everyone in a near magical disco thrall. We are definitely going to a go go now.
Like a big lipped prince from another planet, Jagger sings - and the crowd in blissed-out recognition sing the words back to him:
“I've been hanging out so long
I've been sleeping all alone
Lord, I miss you. ”
“There’s some Irish girls who are just dying to meet you!,” Jagger sings.
'We're gonna come around at twelve
With some Puerto Rican girls...some Irish girls that are just dyin' to meet you
We're gonna bring a case of wine. . .Guinness!
Hey, let's go mess and fool around
You know, like we used to.'
Then without stopping, straight into a bit of Emotional Rescue, with Jagger going into a falsetto go go, before we are treated to that laid-back homage to the bonds of friendship. A song that began during the sessions for the Goats Head Soup album in 1973, Waiting On A Friend emerged eight years later on Tattoo You. Waiting On A Friend is a very special moment tonight for a band who despite so many public rows and falling outs have stayed friends of sorts since they formed in 1962.
‘I’m just standing in a door way... I'm not waiting on a lady / I'm just waiting on a friend.'
The crowd suitably warmed up , we can take it up a notch...
5. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)
The call to arms of It's Only Rock 'n' Roll from 1974 never fails to get the crowd up and dancing. And so it will prove tomorrow night in my fantasy Stones set list.
6. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Again, another instantly recognizable opening riff. It still sounds as vital as it did when it was released as a single almost five decades ago. Some have said that Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s lyrics (‘I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag/I was schooled with a strap right across my back’)are partly inspired by William Blake's poem The Mental Traveller: 'She binds iron thorns around his head / And pierces both his hands and feet / And cuts his heart out of his side / To make it feel both cold and heat.' Who cares when the music is this good?
7. Mixed Emotions/Slipping Away/Coming Down Again
Mixed Emotions from 1989's kind of Mick ‘n Keef’s reunion album Steel Wheels, has lyrics that were possibly actual dialogue between the feuding Glimmer Twins:
'Button your lip, baby'
'Go for the throat'
'Let's bury the hatchet…wipe out the past'
- and 'You're not the only one with mixed emotions'
They end with a glimpse of the beautiful ballad from 1989's Steel Wheels album, Slipping Away: Richards on lead vocals and Jagger on the bridge. They swap around to do Coming Down Again about Richard's relationship with Anita Pallenberg from 1973's Goat's Head Soup: 'Share your thoughts, there's nothing you can hide / She was dying to survive,' Keith sings, soulfully, a thief in the glorious night.
8. Midnight Rambler
His Satantic Maj Jagger leads it with a harmonica in his filthy mouth, with Keith not far behind him. Despite being from upper middle class Dartford, Mick 'n' Keef still sound like they are poor boys from Mississippi, and never more so than on the blues-d-up menace of Midnight Rambler about a serial killer, Albert DeSalvo, who confessed to being the Boston Strangler:
'He don't give a hoot of warning
Wrapped up in a black cat cloak
He don't go in the light of the morning
He split the time the cock'rel crows'
As Keith correctly said in the 2012 documentary Crossfire Hurricane, "nobody else could have written that song." You could, of course, say that without fear of contradiction about a good many of the Stones songs (Brown Sugar, Under My Thumb, Sister Morphine, Satisfaction, Some Girls. The latter absolutely nobody else could have written except The Stones, with its racist and misogynist stereotyping of women, whoever tongue-in-cheek Jagger claims the context of the song:
'Black girls just wanna get f***ed all night
I just don't have that much jam
Chinese girls are so gentle
They're really such a tease
You never know quite what they're cookin'
Inside those silky sleeves.'
8. Before They Make Me Run
This was written by Keef in defiant, almost celebratory, response to his 1977 bust in Toronto for smack possession. It is the Stones at their best. Keith’s vocal here on Before They Make Me Run is almost reflective of a life lived to the full – both in terms of fun and pain: "Gonna find my way to heaven, 'cause I did my time in hell." This is Keith's gospel of heaven and hell.
And since Keith is in the mood for lead vocals, let's go straight into another classic Stones moment....
I don't think there would be a soul among the 70,000 fans who wouldn't echo the song's sentiment, not least on the lines:
'Always took candy from strangers,
Didn't wanna get me no trade.
Never want to be like papa,
Working for the boss ev'ry night and day.'
"We did it in an afternoon, four hours, cut and done. At noon, it had never existed," Keith said of the song from Exile.
10. Live With Me
With Jagger singing "The cook, she is a whore / The butler has a place for her behind the pantry door", you can perhaps see why London Bach Choir were a tad concerned about being listed in the credits of Let It Bleed.
And then, time to slow things down a little.
11. Beast Of Burden
"After all the faster numbers of Some Girls, everybody settled down and enjoyed the slow one, "Richards once said, correctly, of Beast Of Burden.
12. Fool To Cry
Their 1976 single Fool To Cry from the Black and Blue album has Jagger bearing his long plundered soul:
'You know, I got a woman
And she lives in the poor part of town
And I go see her sometimes
And we make love, so fine...'
13. Honky Tonk Women
Young men who were bound for the London School Of Economics don't normally sing such songs about meeting "a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis" who - readers of a more conservative nature avert your eyes now -
"tried to take me upstairs for a ride.
She had to heave me right across her shoulder,
'cause I just can't seem to drink you off my mind."
While still playing Honky Tonk Women, at this point in the night of my fantasy Stones show, Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie move to a smaller stage at the end of the ramp for an intimate, acoustic set of truncated oldies but goldies...
14. Country Honk/Dead Flowers/Sweet Virginia/ Faraway Eyes/You Got The Silver/Can't You Hear Me Knocking/Loving Cup/Love In Vain
The country soulfulness of Country Honk from Let It Bleed bleeds into the downhome melancholy of sweet country rock Dead Flowers ('Send me dead flowers to my wedding / And I won't forget to put roses on your grave') from the 1971 Sticky Fingers album before we head further south on Sweet Virginia from Exile. I think everyone in Croker now is imagining themselves in some smelly southern jukejoint swigging from a bottle of Jack with the ghosts of Gram Parsons and Billy Preston?
Before we know it, in this most intimate moment of the night, Jagger has spirited us quietly away to Bakersfield and a girl with Faraway Eyes.
Then Jagger hands the microphone over to his old mucker Richards for a vocal performance that ranks up there with Happy - You Got The Silver from Let It Bleed. This is the great Keith Richards - still alive having taking all the drugs, and then some, that the world's pushers had to offer him - at his primal best.
There is also a snatch of Can't You Hear Me Knocking ('Y'all got cocaine eyes/Yeah, you got speed-freak jive')with its killer guitar riffs from Let It Bleed. Then Jack White walks down the long ramp to join the band, as he did on the Shine A Light doc, for Loving Cup from Exile; he and Jagger trade lines with a cartoonish southern drawl that suggests they were from the same county.
To finish this part of the night, Jagger is leading us to the station with a suitcase in his hand.
Because expense is not a consideration with this gig I am having a hologram of Robert Johnson playing the guitar side by side with Ronnie and Keith on Love In Vain, the song Johnson recorded in 1937. And because Johnson is reputed to have sold his soul to the devil in return for being able to make a sound like that, the next song The Stones play in my fantasy show requires the band walking back to the main stage where in the darkness at Croker, we hear a familiar - even hellishly haunting - rhythm...
15. Sympathy For The Devil
As Jagger himself said of this track, "It has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music. It doesn’t speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove. Plus, the actual samba rhythm is a great one to sing on, but it’s also got some other suggestions in it, an undercurrent of being primitive – because it is a primitive African, South American, Afro-whatever-you-call-that rhythm. So to white people, it has a very sinister thing about it. But forgetting the cultural colors, it is a very good vehicle for producing a powerful piece. It becomes less pretentious because it’s a very unpretentious groove. If it had been done as a ballad, it wouldn’t have been as good."
For tomorrow night’s performance of Sympathy, the hologram of Robert Johnson has been replaced with holograms of five fresh faced young men: Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman. Then it is off backstage to drink virgins’ blood or whatever it is the Stones do these days at their ungodly age to ready themselves for the encore.
Rocks Off/Rocks with Primal Scream, Bittersweet Symphony/The Last Time, followed by When The Whip Comes Down, Gimme Shelter, Satisfaction and Paint It Black.
Bobby Gillespie et al appear with Mick and the boys for the Scream’s Rocks from their Give Out But Don't Give Up album of 1994 before they all go into Rocks Off from the headliner’s Exile album. "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me," sings Jagger. A line that has rarely been bettered.
Then once Bobby G has gone, Richard Ashcroft of the Verve appears to duet with Jagger on Bitter Sweet Symphony which then segues into The Stones' own hit from 1965 The Last Time. Where would you get it but at Croker at my fantasy Stones gig, eh? (I was trying to get the ghost of Muddy Waters to sing Baby, Please Don't Go with Jagger but I couldn't summon up his spirit with the budget I had left after paying Jack White. Primal Scream and Richard Ashcroft.)
The tempo then goes up, and takes a shift in the direction of America, with the rage of When The Whip Comes Down from Some Girls. The lord of the prance, Jagger sings:
‘Mama and papa told me
I was crazy to stay
I was gay in New York
Just a fag in L.A.’
The Stones then go straight into the apocalyptic post-Vietnam horror show of Gimme Shelter before we’re treated to (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and Paint It Black from a long, long time ago (1965 and 1966 respectively).
"I see people turn their heads and quickly look away," the greatest rock ‘n roll band in the world sing and then are gone.
Miss you. Is this the last time, Mick?
The Rolling Stones play Dublin's Croke Park on May 17