The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
Released August 24th, 1981 on Rolling Stones Records
Produced by The Glimmer Twins
Peaked at #1 U.S., #2 U.K.
“Start Me Up” (#2 U.S., #7 U.K.)
“Little T&A” (#5 U.S. Mainstream Rock)
“Waiting On A Friend” (#13 U.S., #50 U.K.)
“Hang Fire” (#20 U.S.)
[Editor’s Note] Charlie Watts died today at the age of 80. I delayed posting this one for a moment while I thought about it: he – and with him, the Rolling Stones – died 40 years to the day after the release of the band’s last great album. Rock ‘n’ roll mythos: your grandkids will discover it again one day.
By 1981 most of the alleged great rock ‘n’ roll bands of the Sixties were dead or spinning their wheels. The Beatles had long since broken up and their various members were engaged in solo work. Led Zeppelin were over, a victim of their drummer’s demise. The Who were on a downward spiral into oblivion. The various members of CSNY were filed away under stodgy old folks music, except maybe Neil Young but he was busily engaging in self-sabotage that would ramp up over the next few years. Punk rock had rendered most of the pillars of Boomer rock into dinosaurs, and flashier, speedier metal bands were busy supplanting Black Sabbath and their ilk.
The Stones, though, were still going. They’d responded to punk rock by releasing the beefy, disco-tinged Some Girls, one of the best albums in their catalog. As the Eighties dawned they were touring and turning the outtakes from the various albums they’d released throughout the Seventies into yet more albums to tour behind. Emotional Rescue, released in 1980, was one such record. The other was Tattoo You, often considered the last great album in the Stones canon spearheaded by “Start Me Up”, often considered the last great single (although I have a soft spot for “Undercover Of The Night”). Despite the fact that it was made up of cast-offs from earlier albums, Tattoo You displays a lot of the qualities that explain why the Stones have lasted into their eighties playing their own brand of rock ‘n’ roll. The lead single is a big one, of course, even if it is slightly tainted from its use as the promo song for Windows 95. “Tops” and “Waiting On A Friend” have that classic golden era sound, which makes sense since they had been floating around, unfinished, since the Goat’s Head Soup sessions. “Hang Fire”, one of the album’s stronger tracks, was considered for both Some Girls and Emotional Rescue before it finally found a home here. Many of the tracks were left from the Black & Blue sessions, which Keith Richards remembers as being basically a series of extended auditions to be the new rhythm guitarist. Given that, Tattoo You is also a rather expansive Stones album, with a number of bit and session players hidden here and there amongst the grooves. The band was and is no stranger to bringing in people to guest in subtle places but the range of performances across Tattoo You make it a fitting “last great” record for a band as roots-influenced as the Rolling Stones.
For further Stones-related musings, see my discography guide to the Rolling Stones.