Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Start Me Up: The Rolling Stones' Tattoo You is 30

 The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
The Rolling Stones
Tattoo You
1981
Rating: ****

The 1980’s would be an interesting decade for the Rolling Stones. In 1981, the band would release what many think is one of the band’s best albums. That album, Tattoo You, was released on August 24, 1981. What some people don’t know about Tattoo You was that the songs were not all new songs but instead outtakes revamped. Still, Tattoo You is a milestone in the long career of the Rolling Stones.
            By 1981, the Rolling Stones were Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood (who joined in 1975). A year earlier, the band had released Emotional Rescue. While the album did fairly well in sales, reviews weren’t all positive. When it came time to make the next album, the band thought about resurrecting rejected songs from previous albums. Aside from two or  three songs, every song on Tattoo You was a rejected song. However, the band overdubbed all the songs. These songs were from the albums Goats Head Soup, Black And Blue, Some Girls, and Emotional Rescue. The oldest songs off the album are “Waiting on a Friend” and “Tops”, which were recorded for Goats Head Soup during its 1972-1973 sessions.
             “Start Me Up” fittingly opens the album up. This song has gone on to become one of the band’s most popular songs. The opening guitar lick is very much like “Brown Sugar” and “Jumping Jack Flash”: you know what song it is before it even starts. The song was originally recorded for 1976’s Black and Blue. The band originally recorded it as a rock song but then decided to make it a reggae-type song. For the album, the band chose Take 2 which was the rock version. The band did the right thing: it’s a great song and it’s very catchy.  “Hang Fire” is a bit of an underrated track. It’s the shortest song off the album, clocking in at two minutes. It was to be on 1978’s Some Girls. The lyrics are said to be about England’s economic decline. It’s a great, fast paced rock song that the band should think about playing live again. “Slave” is a down n dirty funk-rock track. The chorus of “Don’t wanna be a slave” is really cool. Pete Townshend is said to be on the song singing backup vocals. The song would’ve been on Black And Blue and you can hear that. The LP version has the track runs at 4:59 but CD versions have the song running at 6:34 instead. Keith takes over lead vocals for “Little T&A”, a simple little rocker. The guitar tone makes it sound like a rockabilly track but done “Stones style”. While Keith doesn’t have the best voice, it suits song still. Things get bluesy on “Black Limousine”. The song is credited as a Jagger/Richards/Wood composition. According to Ronnie, he fought hard for his a co-writing credit. It’s easy to see why: Woody carries the song with his slide guitar-like playing, which he says was based off a guitarist named Hop Wilson. “Neighbours” is an uptight rocker with a back story to it. The song is about Keith and girlfriend/soon-to-be-wife Patti’s pun ins with neighbors in their New York City apartment. When Mick had heard that the couple had been evicted, he decided to write a song about it.
            Side two starts off with the wonderful “Worried About You”. It’s a ballad of sorts with Mick singing falsetto. The song was recorded during the making of Black and Blue in 1975. Billy Preston is on electric piano and Wayne Perkins is playing the impressive guitar solo. The song, believe it or not, was performed for the first time before it was even on a Rolling Stones album. The band played it on March 4-5, 1977 in Canada. It remains a favorite amongst hardcore fans. “Tops” is a very moody soul/R&B based song that was originally recorded in 1972 for Goats Head Soup. This means that Mick Taylor plays on guitar not credited (which Taylor wasn’t too happy about). “Heaven” is a beautiful and spacey track. Sources said that only Mick, Bill, and Charlie are on the song. It’s pretty impressive that this song was made with just three guys playing. Mick is playing guitar and Bill is playing synthesizer. For “No Use In Crying”, the mood is still down beat but beautiful at the same time. The song was recorded in 1979 and then touched up in 1981 for this album. The last song on the album is probably my personal favorite: “Waiting On a Friend”. The song was recorded in Jamaica in 1972 for Goats Head Soup (and yes, Mick Taylor is playing on this song as well). With the band recording it in Jamaica, it’s obvious they were inspired by their surroundings as the song has a very reggae feel and sound to it. Sonny Rollins is playing the saxophone and producer Jimmy Miller is on percussion. I like that the song is about a man who doesn’t want to be with a woman but just a good friend. It’s just a great way to end the album.
            Critics and fans alike praised Tattoo You for being a great album by the band and almost a return to form. The album stayed at #1 for nine weeks in the US while it was at #2 in the UK. Tattoo You catapulted the Rolling Stones into the 1980’s and interest in the band was renewed. Today, the album is still seen as one of their best. Mick Jagger is quoted to saying that Tattoo You is an “excellent” album. For me, Tattoo You ranks at #92 in my list of favorite albums. I think I like Some Girls a bit better but there’s no doubt that Tattoo You is a great album. 

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