The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You

Tattoo You (1981)


1. Start Me Up 2. Hang Fire 3. Slave 4. Little T&A 5. Black Limousine 6. Neighbors 7. Worried About You 8. Tops 9. Heaven 10. No Use In Crying 11. Waiting On A Friend


A bipolar collection of outtakes marketed as a new studio album that somehow became the Stones’ statement of purpose for the beginning of their third decade. Certainly, any momentum the band built up from Tattoo You didn’t last very long. But the nonstop shitstorm known as the 1980s wasn’t kind to any of rock’s dinosaurs – perhaps it’s indicative that they nearly had a number one hit with this album’s “Start Me Up,” which you probably know as the song they play twenty seconds of in the brief window between the moment Tim Tebow asks Jesus for another miracle and the moment when Tim Tebow gets brutally sacked by several 300-pound linemen, and were kept out of the top spot by none other than Christopher Cross. But for the time being, the Stones were somehow still cool, despite their grandfather status (yeah, people thought they were old back then. THIRTY FUCKING YEARS AGO).

How? Well, I mentioned “Start Me Up” which began life as a reggae song during the Black And Blue sessions and somehow morphed into yet another in a long line of swaggering open tuning Keith riffs that just can’t help but get the adrenaline going. Yeah, those tinny early 80s guitar tones mean it’s no “Brown Sugar,” but it’s more than close enough. Of equal commercial significance is the ballad “Waiting On A Friend,” which became one of the first ever MTV hits on the back of a classic video featuring Mick and Keith waiting around for each other on the stoops of New York brownstones before heading over to a bar to meet the rest of the band for a hilarious culminating dance scene. The song is pretty nice too, in no small part thanks to a long sax solo by jazz legend Sonny Rollins. Interestingly enough, it dates back all the way to the Goats Head Soup sessions, when it was first worked on sans vocal with Mick Taylor, whose guitar actually appears on the track. That would explain why it sounds so mushy and adult-friendly… but pretty.

“Friend” isn’t the only song on this album to originate from previous sessions. In fact, the only new songs here are the jovial party rocker “Neighbors” and the weird, rather crappy new age ballad type thing “Heaven” (featuring a fearsome guitar attack by Mick and Bill “I Just Want To Take Pictures Of Girls’ Legs” Wyman); all the other songs are outtakes from previous albums – the Soup, Black And Blue, Some Girls and Emotional Rescue sessions are all represented. The mind boggles how they could’ve sat on “Start Me Up” for a year while releasing freaking “Indian Girl,” but it’s all the better for this album. The Stones have so much quality material in the vaults that they could release twenty more Tattoo Yous tomorrow and they’d all be of similarly high quality. And diverse too, seeing as this album only scratches the surface and encompasses pretty much all 70s Stones styles. In between your rockers and ballads come treats such as an awesome, funky ass groove track (the near-instrumental “Slave,” featuring one of Keith’s best guitar solos), high-stepping electric blooze (the Woody-penned “Black Limousine”) and a bit of slow country (“No Use In Crying”).

The main criticism levied at this album is the sequencing, which is arranged so that side 1 is the “rocker” side and side 2 is the “ballad” side. Predictably, most people like side 1 for being a nonstop, rockin’ good time and then disparage side 2 for being, um… slow, I guess. Bullshit, I say. Yeah, yeah, side 1 is better because it’s so danged fun… dumb, catchy rockers like Keith’s smutty “Little T&A” and the punky boogie “Hang Fire” are never gonna wear out their welcome with me (an entry into the misheard lyrics file from the latter: I always heard “Marrying money is a full time job” as “My Aryan money is a full time job.” I mean, I had no idea what the phrase “hang fire” meant; for all I knew, it could’ve been some sort of National Socialist code and Mick was revealing that he’d been a Nazi the whole time. Turns out all the weird lyrics are just a bunch of hip British slang that the kids used back then. Guess that puts the whole “the Stones are white supremacists” theory to rest. Though I guess their obsession with black music might’ve sufficed as a hint). But side 2 is strong as well, although you may have to be in the right mood for it to hit you right. Try having sex to it! It’s great for that! But if you’re lonely and single or are out of boner pills, it’s still plenty easy to appreciate. Starts out real strong with the Black And Blue leftover “Worried About You,” where Mick goes to the falsetto again and manages a truly emotional, impassioned vocal performance, with help from some awesome Keith backup vocals. Old hired hand Wayne Perkins even reappears for a stunning, soaring guitar solo. Another lost Stones classic. Following is the simmering “Tops,” another Goats Head Soup outtake featuring Mick playing a sleezy, opportunistic talent agent (“You’re such a natural, you don’t need no acting school!”), as well as another Mick Taylor appearance – sure is nice to hear him burning up the fret board like the old days. “Heaven” is weak and I appear to be one of the only people on earth who likes “No Use In Crying,” but there’s always “Waiting On A Friend” at the end to look forward to.

So yes, the record generally looked upon as the last great—or at least very good—Stones album wasn’t really a new album at all. Lots of people think they haven’t done anything worthwhile since, and that the only reason Tattoo You turned out the way it did is because the vaults were opened in order to put it together. But I don’t see anything wrong with what they did with this record – turning nuggets from the past and making them sound current is no easy feat. The Stones do it seamlessly here.

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