Recorded between July 1971 and March 1972, "Rocks Off" is one of the songs on the album that was written and recorded at Villa Nellcôte, a house Keith Richards rented in the south of France during the summer and autumn of 1971. Overdubs and final mixing for the song were later done at Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles, California between December 1971 and March 1972.
The lyrics to the song are wide-ranging, harsh and brutally frank at times; as in Richards obviously referring to an injection of heroin:
I'm zipping through the days at lightning speed. Plug in, flush out and fire the fuckin' feed. Heading for the overload, Splattered on the dirty road, Kick me like you've kicked before, I can't even feel the pain no more.
The song features a sudden divergence near the two minute fifteen second mark into what has been called a psychedelic jam of sorts, with Jagger's vocals electronically distorted and the guitar chords stretched:
Feel so hypnotised, can't describe the scene. It's all mesmerised all that inside me
Allmusic critic Jason Ankeny claims that the song "perfectly sets the mood for what's to follow -- murky, gritty, and menacingly raw, its strung-out incoherence captures the record's debauched brilliance with marble-mouthed eloquence." Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine considers the song a masterpiece. The song's mix is notoriously haphazard, as many instruments, and even the lead vocals, fade in and out of prominence. The villa's basement, where many of the songs were recorded, was extremely hot and many of the guitars could not stay in tune as a result. Jimmy Miller produced the track, and it features session men Nicky Hopkins on piano, Jim Price and Bobby Keys on brass, as well as regular band members Jagger (lead vocals), Richards (backing vocals, guitar), Charlie Watts (drums), Mick Taylor (guitar), and Bill Wyman (bass).