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Tattoo You Revisited

January 3, 2013

Track By Track: Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones

Context: Transforming Base Metal Into Gold…

“There is a big difference in Keith’s personality” commented Tattoo You associate producer Chris Kimsey in the autumn of 1980. “His attitude towards the band is much more relaxed. He’s more secure. And of course he’s in love” (to new squeeze Patti Hansen). However what should have been a positive time for Richards degenerated into rows with Jagger and the Glimmer Twins only managed to write three new songs for the LP. Ronnie Wood was little help as he was heavily into freebasing cocaine and in no state to write new material.

Accordingly the decision was taken to comb through the archives to see what previously recorded songs could be used. Stephen Trousse called Jagger and Kimsey the “rock’n’roll Frankenstein and assistant, frantically scouring the tombs and catacombs for signs of life in dusty old performances they might stitch together and reanimate”. Key here was Bob Clearmountain who somehow took this disparate grab-bag of studio leftovers and via his mixing transformed it into a coherent LP that sounded like it had been recorded at the same session despite 9 years between the oldest and most recent tracks. Clearmountain made a further two crucial production decisions: he mixed Charlie Watts’ drums way up front and also brought the dual guitars of Keith Richards and (predominantly) Ronnie Wood more to the fore. The result was the Stones first stadium-friendly LP and eight tracks that were played live on the US and European tours that followed its release in 1981-2.

The album was noticeable for the absence of sleeve credits:  A disingenuous Jagger claimed “I just got fed up with writing all those credit lists out and everyone wants one above the other one, and then I couldn’t remember who is playing so I thought ‘Oh everyone got paid anyway’ “. This was certainly not true of Mick Taylor who sued.  The reality was that disclosing full credits would have shown just how ancient was some of this material.

Released in August 1981, Tattoo You was rated highly by the bands fiercest critic “Sixth Stone” and pianist Ian Stewart, who apparently claimed the LP to be “free from filler” . In retrospect Jagger was more equivocal: “I think it’s excellent. But all the things I usually like, it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have any unity of purpose or place or time.”

The critics were less impressed. “Tattoo You does offer a glimmer of what once was, and more important, what could be. It proves the snarl is still there even if the bite has gone” said Patrick Humphries in Melody Maker. Charles Shaar Murray of the NME was more dismissive: “Tattoo You is the Rolling Stones standing exposed as a rock band with severe musical limitations and a collection of well-worn mannerisms as all that stands between them and oblivion.” Veteran Stones associate Nick Kent reckoned “too little creative sparkle and too much raunch-by-rote for any kind of long-term satisfying listening experience.” However the commercial response was very different: Tattoo You was the last Stones LP to hit number 1 in the US, a position it held for over two months.

Side One

Start Me Up

Start Me Up was the first single from the LP and its immediate international success was instrumental in re-establishing the Stones as a valid commercial entity. Jagger claims credit for recognising the possibilities of this tune, which started life during the 1975 Munich Black & Blue sessions as a lengthy Keith Richards reggae track entitled Never Stop. ” I found it, put it together, wrote the lyrics and put it on and Keith said ‘I can’t believe it, it’s just wild’ “. The track had received a less enthusiastic reception when it was revisited during the 1978 Some Girls sessions – Richards sighed “Oh it’s Brown Sugar again” and ordered it to be wiped. Final studio touches were applied in New York in December 1979.

The result is a remarkably sparse dance groove that highlights the central guitar riff, underpinned by propulsive handclaps. All backing vocals are provided by Jagger, doing his best Richards impersonation.

A live version can be found on the Still Life 1981 tour LP, whilst a video version features in the tour movie Lets Spend The Night Together, filmed at Brendan Byrne Arena, New Jersey on 5-6 November 1981. For many fans it remains the last “real” Stones single and it has been played at virtually every Stones gig since 1981. Microsoft licensed Start Me Up to soundtrack the launch of Windows 95 and the track featured extensively throughout the London 2012 Olympics.

Hang Fire

This was the third and final single released in the US. It had originally been written as Lazy Bitch with different lyrics. The original track wasrecorded for Some Girls at EMI Pathe Marconi studios in Paris between January 1978 and October 1979. The track was shelved as Some Girls already had a preponderance of fast numbers. Musically Hang Fire is as close as the Rolling Stones have ever got to doo-wop inspired surf music. A six minute outtake exists with extended guitar solos by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, interspersed with piano solos by Ian Stewart. Played frequently on the 1981 US and 1982 European tours but not thereafter.


First recorded during the 1975 sessions in Rotterdam, this song had variously been known as Black And Blue Jam and Vagina. Finishing touches were applied between October 1980 and June 1981 in Paris and New York. The finished version features Sonny Rollins on tenor sax. Sonny Rollins had played with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie so his presence would have been warmly embraced by jazz fanatic Charlie Watts. Jeff Beck is allegedly on this track. He was rumoured to be the replacement for Mick Taylor and this track was a tryout see how he got on with the band in the studio. Pete Townshend’s presence on the track is harder to understand, or indeed hear. Out-takes exist which run up to nine and half minutes, and when Virgin remastered the Tattoo You CD in 1994 they added another minute and half to the familiar take.

Little T&A

T&A = Tits and Ass. This solo Keith Richards number was originally called Bulldog and contained the lyric “She’s my little rock’n’roll, my tits and ass with soul ” which offended some people who found it sexist: one who did not was its inspiration and Keith’s new love, NY model Patti Hansen. They met in December 1979 and were married exactly four years later. Musically we are in familiar Chuck Berry territory, although the song has a more playful feel than some of its predecessors such as Star Star. A breakdown towards the end reveals the biscuit-tin sound of Charlie’s drums. The track was released as the B side of Waiting On A Friend where it contains the production credit ‘Chris Kimsey for Wonder Knob’. The song was played frequently on the 1981 US and 1982 European tours, and again on Keith’s solo tours when he was backed by the Xpensive Winos. Is the line ‘the pools in but the patio ain’t dry” coded language for something salacious or a complaint about shoddy decorating? Only Keith knows. Possibly.

Black Limousine

This is a Jagger-Richards song started in 1973 in Munich. Ronnie Wood was given a rare songwriting co-credit in credit in exchange for relinquishing his writing credit to the song It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (one wonders how he feels about the deal today). The track was finished in Paris between January 1978 and October 1979. Ronnie Wood described its traditional structure and arrangement as a tribute to Muddy Waters or Jimmy Reed. Ian Stewart reluctantly joins in on piano but termed the result  “bloody Status Quo music”. A live version was recorded at the ‘small club’ Brixton Academy gig on July 19 1995, and it was released on the UK CD Like A Rolling Stone.


An ode to Keith Richards’ domestic problems, this raucous track alludes to the problems caused by his liking for loud music late at night. It was released as the B-side to Hang Fire in the US. Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s witty video featured copulating couples and the gory hacksaw disintegration of a missing wife. Unsurprisingly it was banned by MTV, which may have been the point. Played frequently on the 1981 US and 1982 European tours: a version recorded at the Paris Olympia features on the Four Flicks DVD.

Side Two

Worried About You

One unusual feature of Tattoo You is that the songs were separated into a noisy side and a quiet side. After the preceding six rockers the soulful Worried About You provides welcome sonic relief.

The track is another relic from the January and February 1975 Rotterdam Black and Blue sessions and features Wayne Perkins on lead guitar, a track recorded during his audition for the vacancy subsequently filled by Ronnie Wood. Also prominent is Billy Preston on electric piano, sympathetically backing up Jagger’s falsetto croon which is deployed more effectively here than on Fool To Cry from the same sessions. Subsequently the track was worked on in Paris between June and October 1979.

The song was only occasionally played live, although an embryonic version with a lyrical Ronnie Wood solo can be found on bootleg recordings of the Toronto El Mocambo gigs from March 4th 1977. These small club gigs were recorded for the 1976 double LP Love You Live, but only one side came from the El Mocambo so the live version of Worried About You remained unreleased. The band clearly like the song since a version recorded at the Paris Olympia features on the Four Flicks DVD


This track was started at Dynamic Sounds in Jamaica in late 1972. Even the most cursory listen reveals the presence of Mick Taylor on lead guitar . Despite this Taylor was forced to sue for royalties and for credits. In lyrical terms Jagger is unusually honest as he reviews the casting couch mentality prevalent in showbiz.  Billy Preston’s electric piano provides a suitably sleazy support. The band tried playing Tops on the opening dates of the 1981 US tour but it did not persist in the live set beyond this.


Heaven is the least Stones-like music on Tattoo You. It is an eerie ambient piece, begun relatively recently in Paris (October 1980) and finished in Jimi Hendrix’s  Electric Ladyland  studio in New York during June 1981. Jagger plays guitar, Chris  Kimsey plays piano, Bill Wyman plays synthesizer. Amidst delicate percussion and whispered vocals this track could have become a chill-out classic had it not been completely forgotten. Never played live although recently remixers such as CJ Jeff and Mr Jools have put a dance beat under the track to good effect.

No Use In Crying

Ronnie Wood gets another co-writer credit on song that was released on the B side of Start Me Up. Originally recorded in Paris during summer 1979 the track was subsequently remixed between April and June 1981 at Electric Ladyland. At least four different outtakes exist, each with minor differences in piano, backing vocals and echo. A charming if slight song it has never been played live.

Waiting On A Friend

The final track on the LP began its life in Dynamic Sound Jamaica towards the end of 1972 and features Mick Taylor on guitar and Nicky Hopkins on characteristically delicate piano. Sonny Rollins’ saxophone was added to the song’s coda during later overdubs in New York. Michael Lindsey-Hogg filmed a touching video promo for the track in June 1979. Compadres Jagger and Richards saunter down to St. Marks Bar and Grill in New York where the rest of the band await, Keith with spliff in hand. The promo was made available on the highly entertaining  “Video Rewind – the Rolling Stones Great Video Hits “, scandalously never released officially on DVD. The track was played live consistently throughout the 1981 US tour but did not make the transition to the European tour of the following year. Jagger is in reflective mood on the line “making love and breaking hearts – it is a game for youth.” It would be interesting to get his perspective forty years later…



From → Music

  1. pools in but the patio aint dry is a line from lenny bruce. i thought everyone knew that.

  2. This is why I love the internet. Steve, thanks for this. I will now investigate further!

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