WHEN ASKED TO describe Mick Jagger, Keith Richards famously replied, “He’s a nice bunch of guys.” On this birthday, let’s celebrate all of them. There have been so many Mick Jaggers over the years, with their different highs and lows. Here’s a salute to the 80 Coolest Mick Jagger moments: a mere 80 of the countless moments when Mick reminded us all why he’s the ultimate rock star. He’s always been the most visible of rock stars — but also the most mysterious, the most slippery, the one you’ll never figure out no matter how hard you try. This is Mick at his most seductive. Mick at his most decadent. Mick at his most comical. But it’s all Mick defining the outer limits of rock & roll cool. Let it bleed, now and forever.
Two 18-year-old English schoolboys — former childhood classmates — notice each other on the platform, all because Mick is carrying a couple of blues records. Keith’s on his way to art college, Mick’s off to the London School of Economics. But they start chatting when Keith sees the Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry albums under Mick’s arm. The beginning of music’s most bizarrely long-lived dysfunctional brotherhood.
Mick peacocks across Top 40 radio with the sleepwalk sex swagger of “Honky Tonk Women,” where the poor boy sounds exhausted by his busy bed-hopping schedule. He leers over the guitars and cowbell, as if if he’s slipping into a post-coital coma, chewing up the punchline: “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.” It hits Number One for four weeks — the Stones’ biggest U.S. single.
Monty Python’s Eric Idle and Neil Innes devised the fabbest and funniest of Beatles spoofs: The Rutles. In their TV mock-rockumentary All You Need Is Cash, they chronicle the Pre-Fab Four — “a music legend that will last a lunchtime.” But Mick steals the show as himself, totally deadpan, as he discusses the Rutles’ breakup, warning, “Cherchez la femme.” Mick gets the final word in the movie. Interviewer: “Do you think they’ll ever get back together?” Jagger: “I ‘ope not.”
Welcome to New York — it’s been waiting for you. Or as Mick would phrase it, “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple! Don’t mind the maggots!” “Shattered” is one of the nastiest, funniest NYC travelogues ever, with Mick bitching about urban decay and moral depravity, from the pimps on Seventh Avenue to the rats on the West Side to the bedbugs uptown. And he wouldn’t be anywhere else. “Shattered” comes at the all-time peak of America’s 1970s obsession with hating New York, in the aftermath of the Summer of Sam, upping the punk-rock ante on CBGB in a riot of “shedooby” chants and guitar sludge. Suggested slogan for the NYC Tourism Bureau: “Pride and joy and greed and sex, that’s what makes our town the best!”
In the early days of the Covid pandemic, the Stones get together long-distance for a Zoom version of their most hardass hit, on a global TV special. A spotlight for the Stones to strut their stuff as the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band — with drummer Charlie Watts bringing the thunder for what turned out to be his last live triumph.
As a student at the London School of Economics, a nice boy named Mike Jagger changes his name, to conjure up a little faux-Irish salt-of-the-earth street cred. Result: one of the all-time great rock-star names. His family keeps calling him “Mike” for the rest of their lives.
Mick makes the headlines for reportedly dallying with Trudeau — whose husband at the time just happens to be the prime minister of Canada. (As is her son Justin in 2023.) The first lady skips their wedding anniversary to party with the Stones, in the same Toronto hotel where Keith just got busted for dope. Even Charlie Watts admits, “I wouldn’t want my wife associating with us.” Mick is shocked, shocked, at the sex rumors, dismissing them as “insulting to me and insulting to her.”
His most infamous stage prop ever, from the 1975 U.S. tour.
In the star-studded chaos of the Stones’ brilliant concert film Rock and Roll Circus, Mick has a heart-to-heart sitdown with John Lennon. They reminisce about their early days together, calling each other “Michael” and “Winston,” but the tension is electric. “He said a lot of sort of tarty things about the Beatles,” John tells Rolling Stone in 1970, “which I am hurt by, because you know, I can knock the Beatles, but don’t let Mick Jagger knock them. I would like to just list what we did and what the Stones did two months after on every fuckin’ album. Every fuckin’ thing we did, Mick does exactly the same — he imitates us. And I would like one of you fuckin’ underground people to point it out.”
The most mythically significant urination in the history of rock & roll bladders. Mick and the boys get pinched for relieving themselves against the wall of a petrol station, one night on the road after a gig. The owner won’t let the Stones use the facilities because — well, look at them. He testifies Bill Wyman is a “shaggy-haired monster wearing dark glasses.” Mick insists, “We piss anywhere, man.” Keith later claims the cops swoop in before the band’s even done zipping up. The punishment: a three-pound fine each, plus the kind of publicity other bands would kill for. (John Lennon spent the rest of his life jealous this didn’t happen to the Beatles in 1965.) Their luck with the law would never again be so simple.
A fantastic deep cut from the early days — the hungry young Stones at their meanest, out to conquer the world with this raw, primitive electric screamer of a song. Mick yowls about how it feels to have an empty heart, and why that’s a good thing.
Mick gets hauled off to the clink, along with Keith, after a scuffle with a pushy photographer at baggage claim. He poses for one of the surliest mug shots ever. But Boston Mayor Kevin White gets them sprung in time for that night’s concert, fearing a riot. The Stones get rushed from jail to the stage in limos with a police escort, finally playing after midnight. They sign off at 2 a.m. with “Street Fighting Man.”
Angie appears on Joan’s TV talk show to claim she caught her husband David (who sang a brilliant version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together”) getting ziggy with Mick. Both gentlemen refuse to comment. But let’s just say that if it isn’t true — if Mick and Bowie went all those years without any dancing in the sheets — well, we’re not mad, just disappointed.
The most underrated moment of his solo career. Mick’s solo records can be divisive, to say the least — but this funked-out strut is unimpeachable, from his sadly neglected solo joint Wandering Spirit. Mick really knows his way around the word “sensual.”
Exactly the kind of song you’d sing if you wanted to sound heartbroken about a woman, but you had no idea what it was like to give a shit. He sounds like he keeps saying her name because he’s having trouble remembering it. (“Angie, Aaa-haaan-jaaay—it is Angie, right?”) Keith started writing this song while recovering from heroin detox, for the album Goats Head Soup, but Mick turns it into his own kind of melodrama.
For the 50th Anniversary edition of Exile on Main Street, Mick refurbishes some outtakes into finished songs, whipping up new lyrics. All he needs to do is go into his old Exile character, and out comes the brilliance of “Plundered My Soul.” It kinda raises the question of why he doesn’t do this more often? Jagger pulls the same trick for the Some Girls reissue, adding a whole new coat of NYC grime to “Do You Think I Really Care?”
In 2014, Mick’s granddaughter Assisi Jackson gave birth to a baby girl, and Mick, at 70, made great-grandfatherdom cool.
For “Waiting on a Friend,” the Stones invite one of their biggest heroes to blow his horn: jazz legend Sonny Rollins. But the Saxophone Colossus gets Mick to join the improvisation. As Mick recalls, “I said, ‘Would you like me to stay out there in the studio?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you tell me where you want me to play and dance the part out.’” So Mick dances, Rollins translates the moves into sax glory, and “Waiting on a Friend” turns into the magnificent finale for Side Two of Tattoo You.
There’s great Eighties album covers, and there’s terrible Eighties album covers. But this is easily the all-time greatest terrible Eighties album cover, doing for pastels what Altamont did for the Hells Angels community-outreach program. One look and you can see all the hatred and bad vibes in the room. You can see Mick can’t wait to walk out and never see these bastards again. But you can also see he’s stuck with them for life.
No other rock & roll singer could have gotten away with this teary ballad, but Mick relishes the role of a forlorn aristocrat, weeping over his lost childlike innocence. (Talk about a distant memory.) He and Keith originally wrote it for Marianne Faithful, but it takes Mick’s fab arrogance to put it over the top, as he sobs, “My riches can’t buy everything.”
The Stones’ triumphant 2019 tour — their last hurrah with Charlie — blasts off in Chicago, as Mick busts out his moves with a defiant “told you so” vibe. It’s almost like he feels — somewhere deep in his surgically reconstructed heart of stone — he’s got something to prove. People were worried whether this guy was in peak condition at 76? Picture yourself moving like this on the best day of your damn life.
Mick’s movie career has led him to some very strange places, but he’s brilliant in this Hollywood melodrama, as a high-class pimp running a posh male-escort service. In a fancy restaurant, he confesses to Angelica Huston that fame and fortune is meaningless without true love. “If you don’t use success to enrich your life, then you’re just putting failure into Gucci shoes.” She laughs in his face. Mick never expresses this sentiment ever again.
The Stones hit the ground running in the Eighties, with one of their leanest, meanest, funkiest hits. Mick rails against Reagan-era U.S. imperialism, ranting, “One hundred thousand disparus/Lost in the jails of South America.” The band mix the Clash, Grandmaster Flash, Lee Perry, and Duran Duran into their own electro-throb groove. Like so many Stones classics, it’s a boogie through a combat zone. In the video, Keith plays the kidnapper who pulls a gun on Mick — he’d probably spent years waiting for that moment.
The 2018 documentary shows Aretha recording her gospel-soul classic Amazing Grace live in a Baptist church in L.A., with a congregation full of churchgoers. But two prodigal sons appear in the back row: Mick and Charlie, in town to finish up Exile. For once, Mick doesn’t want attention — he’s just there to worship Aretha, clapping in awe at her sacred genius.
A deep cut cherished by Mick/Keith shippers — barely three minutes long, the Glimmer Twins’ voices weaving together like never before, full of paranoia and fear, with no hope except each other. When you hear “Connection,” you can hear why these two have put up with each other’s bullshit for so long. How do you walk away from a sound like this?
A country-blues sermon from the Rev. Robert Wilkins, transmuted into the strange love between these two blood brothers. It’s the Bible story of the rich man’s heir who goes crawling back home in shame. But Mick has no ability to feel shame, or even surprise — he never had a doubt they’d take him back. At the end, Keith lets out a hearty “heeey!,” as if he’s so caught up in the story — and in this musical mind-meld — he can’t help himself.
A startlingly candid song hidden on the Undercover album, where Mick dishes the dirt about how lonely it feels being a jaded roué with a heart of stone. He spots one of his old flames while he’s flipping channels, no doubt in some five-star hotel. As he sings, “I saw you on TV last night in a rerun soap/You were young and beautiful, already without hope.” He wonders why he’s doomed to live his life this way. Then he goes right on living his life this way.
A poison valentine for the Woodstock generation? A surly lament for Altamont? A hardass portrait of smiling young potheads turning into zombie-eyed junkies? A countrified obituary for the not-even-dead-yet Gram Parsons? “Dead Flowers” is all that and more.
Mick reveals the dirty details of playing the ladies’ man, for any fans out there who wish they could be him. He introduces the kids in the audience to exciting new concepts like child support, social diseases, alimony, court dates, legal bills — and lets them all know they can’t afford it.
The Stones take a huge leap forward with Beggars Banquet — the album where they finally shake off the Beatles influence and blow up the blues. “Jigsaw Puzzle” is his wildly comic ramble through modern culture, a spoiled rock & roll prince watching the castles crumbling. Mick crows, “The singer, he looks angry at being thrown to the lions!” He also notes that the guitarists look damaged, the drummer looks shattered, and the bassist looks “nervous about the girls outside,” which is probably true.
The early days of music video. “Hang Fire” is a zero-budget one-take quickie — no props, no concept, just five rock stars herded into a hallway for a couple of minutes of awesomely inept lip-synching. (Woody maybe had a little too much sugar in his tea this morning.) But Mick minces like a showgirl with the rent due, especially the moment where he sneaks up to a giant picture of himself to give it a great big kiss.
In the heyday of mystic-crystal revelations, Mick goes deep on an acid trip that leaves him more alienated — and more hilariously English — than ever. David Bowie basically founded his career on this song, especially the moment where Mick muses, “You’re talking in a most peculiar way.” In that moment, you can hear “Space Oddity” and all that followed.
A fashion peak for Mick, which for him means it’s also a philosophical peak. He’s the ringmaster of the Stones’ lavish concert movie Rock and Roll Circus. Sadly, the film gets buried, because they get cold feet when they see how great the Who are that night. But Mick has never made a prettier peacock, rocking his purple trousers off as he sings “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” In his skintight red shirt and leather belt, he’s the queen of the underground.
He brings filmmaker Robert Frank along to chronicle the Stones’ 1972 American tour, named after the obscene song they recorded as a final insult to their record label. “It was my idea to make that movie,” Mick says. But when the Stones get a look at the documentary, with its sordid on-the-road sex and drugs, they decide it’s too unflattering to show people — not to mention too legally dangerous. Cocksucker Blues has been a bootleg rarity ever since.
“That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that,” Jagger tells Rolling Stone’s Jann S. Wenner. “It’s a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens. Pillage and burning.” But somehow, the song feels even more terrifying today.
Mick plays the historic global-TV charity concert with Tina Turner, doing a steamy duet on “State of Shock” and “It’s Only Rock & Roll.” Mick shows that he’s deeply touched by this momentous occasion by removing her leather skirt.
A scathing portrait of male vanity — always Mick’s specialty, and always his favorite target for his mean streak. A gorgeous accordion waltz about a hypocritical upper-class snob and his secret working-class mistress, as he talks down to her: “Please take the favors I grant/Curtsy and act nonchalant.”
Mick is such a symbol of Western decadence, he creates an international crisis without even trying. In August 1983, at the peak of Cold War paranoia, a 16-year-old Russian kid — the son of a Soviet diplomat — tries to defect to the U.S. because he wants to be like the Stones. It doesn’t work, but as he’s boarding the plane back to Moscow, his parting words to reporters: “Say hi to Mick Jagger.”
The climax of one of the darkest, scariest of all rock films: Performance. Mick stars as a demonic reclusive rock star named Turner, hiding out in his London mansion in a decadent menage a trois with Anita Pallenberg and Michele Breton. As he warns, “The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.” The tension explodes when Mick howls this blues curse, “Memo from Turner,” with blues guitar from Ry Cooder. The song ended up in an equally druggy movie years later — it’s part of Ray Liotta’s coke-sweat freakout at the end of Goodfellas.
It was worth a try. The Stones tried to go psychedelic in this zany Sgt. Pepper’s omelette, which they quickly disavowed. But Satanic Majesties has always been one of their most underrated records, simply because it’s one of their most Mick records. He absolutely kills it in the dystopian sci-fi blues of “The Lantern,” “Citadel,” and “2000 Man,” a totally accurate prediction of our modern world’s doom-scrolling bait-clicking phone addiction.
In his comedy special Kid Gorgeous, Mulaney gives a hilarious description of his week of agony when Mick hosted SNL, shooting down his ideas for jokes. “Never to your face does a British billionaire in leather pants go ‘not funnaaaaay!’” When the two write a song together for a sketch, Mulaney has to ask, “Motherfucker, is this how you write songs? Just one word at a time, with verbal abuse?”
Yes, the Stones do a video for this absolutely insane country-gospel spoof, with Mick sitting at the piano and batting his eyes like the most wholesome preacher in Bakersfield. Everybody in the band looks like they’re dead asleep while standing up, except for that suspiciously perky Mick. Maybe, just maybe, drugs are involved.
This bittersweet Black and Blue soul jam has to be the best song ever written about a Rolling Stone photographer. It’s allegedly inspired by the great Annie Leibovitz, a friend of the band who took so many of their most iconic portraits. Ever the soul of discretion, all Mick would explain is that “the girl in ‘Memory Motel’ is a real independent American girl.”
A tiny French village in St. Tropez gets invaded by a horde of jet-set rock & roll maniacs. Mick asks Keith to be his best man, showing a touchingly optimistic faith in human nature. Needless to say, Keith passes out and snores through the reception. Mick’s long-suffering dad tells the press, “I hope my other son doesn’t become a superstar.”
Mick has brought down the house at 30 Rock so many times: belting “Shattered” in 1978, seeing Jimmy Fallon in the mirror in 2001, karaokeing “Moves Like Jagger” in 2012. But his greatest SNL hit has to be this Weekend Update appearance, with Mike Myers playing Mick and Mick all pirated up to play a zonked-out Keith. It’s a Point/Counterpoint debate on controversial rap lyrics, Ice-T, and censorship. Mick-as-Keith just mumbles incomprehensibly, behind his shades, headband, and cigarette. His best punchline: “Mick, you ignorant slut.”
Halfway through this tune, you hear a breakdown full of clicking sticks. Why? Because the police just barged into the studio. While the Stones hastily hid their substances, producer Andrew Loog Oldham had to distract the law. “The cops had come in — they were actually in the fuckin’ studio,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “And I had to dash out and go, ‘Hey — you’re exactly what we want, man! Could you please get your truncheons out? And I had ‘em standin’ there, bangin’ their truncheons together, while somebody removed the stash from the control room.” Artistic inspiration can come from anywhere.
Everybody wanted to do shiny, happy drug songs in 1967, greeting the new mind-expanding dawn. But it took Mick to go all the way down, where a psychedelic trip is just another way to feel total cosmic isolation. Inner space, man.
A soulful guitar ballad about adult heartache. But the money moment is when Mick licks his lips and slips into his falsetto reverie about “pretty-pretty-pretty-pretty girrrrrls.” It’s like he can’t wait for the chance to transform himself into the prettiest girl of them all. (Pretty-pretty! Such a pretty!) It inspired one of the all-time best Stones covers, from the punk band Wild Flag, with the dueling guitars and falsettos of Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Helium’s Mary Timony.
Just trying out his short-lived “hip poetry professor just divorced and seeing what’s out there” look.
He never tries that shit again.