August 24 – Starts And Ends For The Stones

It’s an important date on the Rolling Stones calendar. Of course, when you’ve been around 60 years, there come to be a lot of those!

Of course, sadly enough, their drummer Charlie Watts passed away one year ago from cancer on this day. But 40 years to the day earlier, in 1981, was a much brighter moment for them. That marked the release of their 18th studio album (in North America, in Britain, with different track listings early on in their career it was merely their 16th), Tattoo You.

The album was something of a return to form, if one considers their “form” to be pretty much straight-ahead rock, compared to Emotional Rescue, which came out a year earlier, or Some Girls from ’78. What makes that surprising is that far from a unified album it was basically a reworking of outtakes they had from the past decade! The Stones had agreed to go on a massive world tour starting that fall, and hadn’t got anything much in the way of new songs to record. Associate producer Chris Kimsey explains it “really came about because Mick and Keith were going through a period of not getting on. There was a need to have an album out and I told everyone I could make an album from what I knew was still there…I spent three months going through (outtakes of) the last four, five albums.”

He succeeded surprisingly well, coming up with a solid collection of 11 songs, some dating back to 1972. So far back did he look in fact, that Mick Taylor is the guitarist on two songs…and he had left the band seven years earlier. That done, the band got back together briefly over the winter of ’80-81 in New York to finish off the tracks, in a few cases adding new vocals (the lead-off single “Start Me Up” for example had been “Never Stop” in the demo they worked from) and a few overdubbed instruments, like Sonny Collins sax on “Waiting on A Friend.” Looking back on it, Mick Jagger says “I think it’s excellent. But all the things I usually like, it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have any unity or purpose or place or time.”

Remarkably, fans and critics found it did have a sort of unity and took to it in a big way. The magazine that more or less shares its name with the band (Rolling Stone) rated it 5-stars, declaring “the Rolling Stones are back…(with a new record that) dances – not prances – and rocks – not jives – onto the scene.” The New York Times suggested “Tattoo You is something special”, liking how there were “no Chuck Berry retreads, none of (the songs) are disco, none of them are reggae. They are all rock’n’roll.” Later on, Udiscover Music summed it up as being a record which “consilidated the finest elements of the Stones music, demonstrating their willingness to change while never betraying their roots.”

That was pretty much the case, although they did separate the songs into a rock side of the record and a ballads one. The former generated two hit singles while the latter added one. The “ballad” was “Waiting on a Friend,” a song originally done for Goat’s Head Soup back in ’72; it got to #13 in the U.S. and #10 in Canada. The rockers were “Hang Fire”, a top 20 hit in the States, and memorably, “Start Me Up.” That one had originally been created during the Some Girls sessions (long before Microsoft existed let alone used it for software commercials) and was their first real, prototypical rock song to connect in years. It topped Aussie charts, and got to #2 in the States and Canada. It also was their very first “Mainstream Rock” #1 hit on Billboard. But that’s a bit misleading as the chart had only been begun about six months prior…had it been around in the ’60s there is little doubt they would have been scores of them.

All in all, Tattoo You reached #2 in their homeland, but #1 in a number of other lands including the U.S. (where it was their eighth-straight …but also their last one to date) ,Canada, France and Germany. Although it only hit gold status in the UK, it was 4X platinum in North America.

It helped them make the fall tour in North America the year’s biggest, taking in over $50 million and playing to crowds as big as 181 000 over two nights in Philadelphia, and 87 000 or so in New Orleans’ Superdome, which at the time was the largest-ever indoor crowd for a concert. Fans wanting to relive the experience got the chance in 2012, when they released a double-album called Hampton Coliseum, a recording of their December show in Virginia, which included six of the Tattoo You songs, including “Black Limousine” and “Little T&A” besides the better-known hits.

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15 thoughts on “August 24 – Starts And Ends For The Stones

  1. Far better as an album than I would have suspected from the way it was pieced together. I also like ‘Black Limo’ a lot, and ‘Tops’ has a nice feel, not typical Stones, but both have somehow been lost in the wash.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Badfinger (Max)

    I loved the album… Start Me Up had no power in that early version at all…it has a reggae feel to it. I’m with Obbverse… Tops was one of my favorite songs on the album…and Before They Make Me Run.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. it seemed like a traditional kind of RS album, which the two before and the two after didn’t. I thought ‘Waiting on a Friend’ was a real good song (the sax add was a smart move) and ‘Hangfire’ was not bad for rock songs. ‘Start Me Up’… well, it didn’t start me up much unless it was to get to the dial to change stations honestly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was never big on it, then it kept being overplayed and then when it was used to flog windows, it just went out the …’window’ for me. I mean, that was the 90s, records were still selling. I could understand modern English selling ‘I Melt With You’ to Burger King for ads since they really only had that as their sole source of income basically. But the Stones? why did they really need an extra million dollars?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Badfinger (Max)

        Oh and there is another story to it…Mick and Keith wanted to give them a recent live version….Microsoft wisely said no… here it is from a guy at Microsoft…
        The final version of the song was delivered for the commercial. We noticed though that it was not the studio version, but rather a more recently recorded live version. We pushed back and got the familiar studio version. The reason we got the other version was some of the band members in the newer version were more recent, and Mick/Keith got much higher royalties for themselves from that version than the studio one. Nice try. But it was tense till the very end.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The Tattoo You tour was my first time to see them live. They seemed so old, haha! I assumed it was their last tour. I think they even billed it as a sort of farewell tour. I wasn’t a fan of Start Me Up, and I’m still surprised at its continuing popularity on the radio and at various other settings, like sporting events. I really liked several of the other songs on the album, like Waiting on a Friend, Hang Fire and Little T&A.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is funny, but I recall that too, there were ALREADY jokes about them being old and needing walkers and all that…and they’re still going, 40+ years on! Seems like The Who was also almost always on a ‘farewell tour’ back then too. Ya, ‘Start me Up’ is a massive hit but it never did much for me- the other singles were more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think most people agree with you, though I’m in the minority who prefer their more experimental type records typically. They did an amazing job though on the album , making it seem like a real, complete new entity not a cash-grab potpourri of leftovers .

      Liked by 2 people

      1. that is very true!! Although apparently most rock radio in the country doesn’t realize that not every last person’s two favorite songs of the late-20th C were ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

        Liked by 1 person

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