The Rolling Stones were one of the biggest forces in rock and roll music and in popular culture in the ‘60s and ‘70s. By the ‘80s, many of their peers had broken up, or faded away, or were aiming to get play on adult contemporary radio and VH1. But somehow, every time the Stones released an album in the ‘80s, it still felt like an event. And while their ‘80s output wasn’t as revolutionary and world-changing as what they did during the prior decades, the Stones in the ‘80s still cranked out a number of classics, even as they released two of their weakest albums (Emotional Rescue and Dirty Work). But as Tattoo You celebrates its 40th anniversary, we thought we’d look at some of our favorite Stones jams of the decade.
One of a handful of Rolling Stones songs co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards with Ronnie Wood, it’s also one of their most bittersweet ballads. Jagger’s falsetto really shines on this one.
A lovely (and very adult-contemporary leaning) ballad credited to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Steve Jordan. Jordan was Keith’s drummer/co-writer and right hand man in his solo band, the X-Pensive Winos, and “Almost Hear You Sigh” was originally written by the pair for 1988’s ‘Talk Is Cheap.’ He brought it to the Stones and Mick made some lyrical adjustments. Jordan, of course, will be playing drums on the Stones’ 2021 tour, filling in for Charlie Watts.
A cover of a 1984 hit by Jamaican singer Half Pint (who titled his version of the song “Winsome”). Keith takes lead vocals on this one, and reggae legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jimmy Cliff sings backup.
Another song co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards with Ronnie Wood, this was written during the era where the Stones -- or at least Mick -- was influenced by funk and disco. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were up to the task, holding down a deeply funky groove, with the help of percussionist Michael Shrieve from Santana.
One of the Stones’ more political songs, it decries England’s political situation in the early ‘80s, with Mick yelping, “We've got nothing to eat/We got nowhere to work/Nothing to drink/We just lost our shirts/I'm on the dole/We ain't for hire/Say what the hell!”
Another funky jam which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards co-wrote with Ronnie Wood; it’s one of the few Stones jams that Wood played at his solo shows (you can hear it on his underrated ‘Slide on Live: Plugged in and Standing’ album).
The Stones, of course, first covered this nearly two decades earlier, in 1964, who were influenced by Irma Thomas’s version, released earlier that year. The Stones actually did two versions in ‘64, but the song seemed to have a bit more gravity as Mick and Keith were pushing 40 (Charlie was already in his 40s).
This song was actually originally written during the band’s Mick Taylor era. “Slave” sees the Stones getting a little help from their friends: jazz great Sonny Rollins plays sax, Pete Townshend apparently sings backing vocals and Michael Carabello from Santana contributes percussion.
A song originally written during the ‘Emotional Rescue’ era, Mick wrote the lyrics about Keith getting evicted from his New York City apartment when his neighbors complained. Keith Richards can be tough to have as a neighbor -- who’d have guessed?
In the ‘80s, the Stones weren’t writing many blues jams, but this is an exception. This song, originally written during the ‘Some Girls’ era, is also one of the handful of Jagger/Richards/Wood Stones compositions. Maybe Mick and Keith should let Ronnie into their writing sessions more often!
One of the Stones’ weirdest and most psychedelic songs, it came as something of a surprise on the mostly radio-friendly ‘Steel Wheels.’ The band collaborated with The Master Musicians of Jajouka from Morocco on the very complex and eerie track. They never played it live, but on the ‘Steel Wheels’ tour, they played an excerpt from the recording over the P.A. right before they hit the stage.
Featuring Keith on vocals, he wrote the song during the ‘Emotional Rescue’ era (you’ve probably noticed that a lot of songs from ‘Tattoo You’ are songs that didn’t make it to earlier records). Most likely, he wrote it mainly on his own, but Jagger and Richards always shared songwriting credit. Keith also played bass on the rated R track; Jagger sang backing vocals and Bill Wyman is credited with “handclaps.”
A song in which Mick Jagger seems to describe (a very small percentage) of his one night stands. It gets a bit explicit, but he’s still a gentleman about it. He ends the song, singing, “I wish you all the best, I hope we meet again!”
A 1965 hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles that the Stones covered about 20 years later on the ‘Tattoo You’ tour. While the pop charts tend not to love live recordings, the Stones had a #25 hit with this, probably thanks to a lot of play on MTV.
A cover of a 1963 hit by R&B duo Bob and Earl. “Harlem Shuffle” was the first single from ‘Dirty Work,’ the first time a cover was released as a Stones album’s first single since the ‘60s. And the song featured one of the Stones’ early influences: Bobby Womack (he wrote “It’s All Over Now”) sang on the track. The wild music video featured animation directed by future ‘Ren & Stimpy Show’ creator John Kricfalusi. MTV loved it, and it hit #5 on the pop charts.
One of the surprising developments of the second half of the Stones’ career is Keith Richards’ development as a balladeer… in the haggard, Tom Waits sense of the term. This song, which closed ‘Steel Wheels,’ is the first of a string of great slow jams sung by Keith over the next few decades.
Even in 1980, the Stones were causing controversy; the line “she's so goddamn cold,” was too much for some radio stations, causing the band to have to issue a clean version. That aside, there’s something comforting about knowing that Mick is trying to hit on a woman who just isn’t having it. Even rock stars get turned down!
Mostly written by Mick, who was jamming in the studio with Bill, Charlie and the band’s guitar tech Jim Barber. Barber’s playing is on the song - apparently, Mick asked him to play a riff like Andy Summers of the Police. The lyrics were inspired by the media and the entertainment industry’s fascination with violence. Of course, that would only get worse. During Jagger’s rap about ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood appear and chase him with chainsaws of their own, foreshadowing a few dark years for the band when Mick and Keith weren’t getting along.
After the success of “MIss You” from ‘Some Girls,’ it’s no surprise that Mick Jagger wanted to repeat that with another disco-influenced jam. And even if this song didn’t quite reach those heights, it’s still a pretty amazing song.
Most of the ‘80s saw Mick Jagger trying to steer the Stones through whatever trends were current at the time (he did this in his solo career as well, leading to the embarrassing ‘Primitive Cool’). But the first song on ‘Steel Wheels’ announced -- loudly -- that the Stones were playing rock and roll. And hey, it worked really well!
“Sad Sad Sad” was the album’s first song, but “Mixed Emotions” was the first single. To set some context, after ‘Dirty Work,’ most fans thought the Stones were history. It seemed that Mick was more interested in chasing pop trends with his solo career. The Stones hadn’t toured for their last two albums and even in their recent music videos, it just looked like they didn’t get along. But in this video, they’re smiling and clearly having fun. Indeed, Jagger and Richards wrote the song while on vacation in Barbados together. It was the perfect comeback song. “Let's bury the hatchet/And wipe out the past” seemed to be the band’s new mantra, as they learned to be a band -- and have fun -- again.
Of course, the Stones getting along was great. But the tension when they *weren’t* getting along produced one of the best jams of the decade (albeit on what is probably their worst album ever). Co-written by Mick, Keith and Ronnie (but many suspect that it was mostly Keith and Ronnie), the song features a wild guitar solo courtesy of Jimmy Page. They also had a pretty star-packed backing vocal section, which featured Bobby Womack, Don Covay (the Stones covered his song “Mercy, Mercy” in the ‘60s), Patti Scialfa and Kirsty MacColl.
Clearly film director Julien Temple was picking up vibes from Mick and Keith as he worked on the Stones’ music videos for the “Undercover” album. In “Too Much Blood,” Keith comes after Mick with a chainsaw, and in “Undercover (Of The Night),” the two are on opposite sides of a firefight. This video was deemed too violent for MTV and was recut… and even that version couldn’t be aired before 9 pm. Mick wrote in the liner notes to the 1993 compilation ‘Jump Back,’ “This song was heavily influenced by William Burroughs’ ‘Cities Of The Red Night,’ a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression. It combines a number of different references to what was going down in Argentina and Chile.”
One of the Stones’ sweetest songs closes what many consider to be their last classic album, ‘Tattoo You.’ Weirdly, the song’s origins date back nearly a decade; the band started working on it during the ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ sessions. In the liner notes to 1993's ‘Jump Back,’ Mick Jagger said, "We all liked it at the time but it didn't have any lyrics, so there we were... The lyric I added is very gentle and loving, about friendships in the band." It showed him growing up a bit as he was approaching 40: “Don't need a whore, I don't need no booze, don't need a virgin priest. But I need someone I can cry to, I need someone to protect.” Strangely, the song didn’t turn off long-time fans! The gorgeous sax solo on the song comes courtesy of jazz great Sonny Rollins. And here’s another fun fact: in the music video, Mick Jagger is seen waiting for Keith Richards in the doorway of a building, at 96–98 St. Mark's Place in Manhattan. That’s the same building that is on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Physical Graffiti.’
The Rolling Stones could get away with playing concerts only drawing from their ‘60s and ‘70s songs… almost. “Start Me Up” holds up to their best songs from their first two decades. And it, like many of the songs on ‘Tattoo You,’ derives from the ‘70s; they started working on “Start Me Up” as a reggae number during the ‘Some Girls’ era, they revisited it during the ‘Emotional Rescue’ sessions and finally got it right on ‘Tattoo You.’ The song was constantly on MTV (even as the video is pretty “naff,” as Brits would say) and it hit #2 on the pop charts. Not bad for a song that was rejected from two albums.