What makes the Rolling Stones so great? Is it their never-quenched rebellion? Keith Richards's death-defying lifestyle? Mick Jagger's lips? Those distractions will always play second fiddle to the music, where strong lyrics enliven wonderful melodies played with both precision and abandon. The bands below manage to capture similar bolts of lightning in a bottle.
See also: Rock photographer snapped young Jagger.
The Smithereens — "Blood and Roses" (1986)
Named after one of Yosemite Sam's favorite words, this New Jersey band specializes in melodic detonations. Their volume and scruffy energy — note the blend of opposing forces in the song title — place them solidly in Rolling Stones terrain. "Blood and Roses," featuring a fiery guitar solo by Jim Babjak and nice walking bass by Mike Mesaros, became one of the Smithereens' best-known songs. (It's been featured in several films, notably Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.)
The Replacements — "Can't Hardly Wait" (1987)
An opening guitar riff that evokes "Satisfaction." Horns that would be at home on Sticky Fingers. No-nonsense drumming to make Charlie Watts proud. Lyrics that are melancholy, ironic and funny. Slightly hoarse vocals careering from heartbreak to triumph. Meld these on "Can't Hardly Wait" and you begin to understand why so many people consider this Minneapolis band the Rolling Stones of 1980s America.
Uncle Tupelo — "The Long Cut" (1993)
Two kids meet as school friends and decide to make music. Mick and Keef at the Dartford train station in 1960? No, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy at Belleville Township High School in Illinois in 1981. Loving country as much as punk, the pair helped create a new sound: alt-country. No 50-year collaboration for these two, sadly: As the friends grew up they grew apart, and the band imploded. Farrar formed Son Volt, while Tweedy founded Wilco, one of the most popular groups of the past 15 years. "The Long Cut," with its countrified rock guitars and plaintive lyrics, makes you wish they'd stayed together.