Tattoo You

The Rolling Stones

Tattoo You

Released August  24, 1981

by Madeline Bocaro

© Madeline Bocaro, 2022. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part, in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.

All my life, the idea of taking drugs really scared me. I have never been high. I’ve gone through my whole life entirely straight. A friend once insisted upon putting a little dusting of coke on my tongue. Over the next few minutes, nothing happened. It was 1981. We were watching MTV, and the Stones’ new video for ‘Start Me Up’ came on. It was so great to see them again, and Mick’s moves were so hilarious and incredible that I felt an adrenaline rush. My friend said, “See, it’s working!” but I knew it wasn’t anything to do with the coke. It was Mick giving me that beautiful buzz!

Ironically, although Mick and Keith’s faces appear on the front and back covers of the album, graphically adorned with tattoo art, neither of them had tattoos! The cover won a Grammy award. The album, however, did not win any awards!

The album was the Stones 16th British LP, and their 18th American studio album.

At the time, there were relationship problems between Mick and Keith. There was an immediate need to release an album in order to go on tour. Therefore, Tattoo You is a compilation of left-over songs from previous sessions (some as far back as ten years) which were worked on and updated. This is not at all obvious, as Tattoo You holds up as a singular album, with a rock side and a ballad side. Both sides R&B driven. Of course, we have a true blues song, ‘Black Limousine.’ One track, ‘Waiting on a Friend’ features a sax solo by Sonny Rollins.

The hit single was ‘Start Me Up.’ There’s a cool allegory in this song, about a car – but it’s also overtly sexual. The line, “You make a dead man cum” is something that only the Stones could get away with on the radio.

If you rough it up
If you like it, I can slide it up
Slide it up, slide it up, slide it up

Side One is a return to full-fledged rock after dabbling into disco and punk on their previous two albums. On Some Girls released in summer of 1978, the Stones went all-out with the dance track ‘Miss You.’ Jagger’s falsetto mirrored The Bee Gees’ 1977 Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. They also veered into punk on Some Girls with the noisy ‘Shattered,’ and ‘Respectable’ with Jagger performing the latter two songs in a ripped T-shirt on American television show Saturday Night Live.

Tattoo You was released in the summer of 1980, following the Stones’ Emotional Rescue album which had a disco-tinged title track – another homage to Jagger’s hangout, Studio 54. It was also a nod to the Bee Gees’ SNF soundtrack. John Lennon loved the song ‘Emotional Rescue’.  Jagger also brings his falsetto on the first one of two soulful songs on Tattoo You, ‘Worried About You’ (the other being the incredible ‘Tops.’)

I never understood the creepy and hideous high-heeled hoof image on the ‘Start Me Up’ picture sleeve single and on the inner sleeve. It was as repulsive as the goat head in a vat of soup (which was to be the cover of Goat’s Head Soup) before David Bailey dressed up Jagger as Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen, with his face and head wrapped in a mosquito repellent scarf and hat, which was equally ridiculous.


The 40th anniversary edition of Tattoo You (released in 2021) features a bonus disc with these tracks, including a great outtake from the Exile on Main St. sessions at Nellcôte:


    Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 8-20, March 3 1974; RSM, Paris, France, Nov. 25-Dec. 1980; *RAK Studios, London, England, May-June 2021
    Guest musicians: Nicky Hopkins (piano)
    *With new guitar and backing vocals by Ronnie Wood
  2. ‘FIJI JIM’
    Also known as: FIJI GIN
    Recorded: EMI-Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, Jan.5-March 2 1978
    Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, Jan. 22-Feb. 12 1979
    Jimmy Reed
    Recorded: EMI Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, Jan. 5-March 2 1978
    Mentor Williams
    Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, Nov. 13-24 1973; Rolling Stones Mobile, Stargroves, Newbury, England, Jan. 14-28, May 20-25 1974
    Guest musicians: Nicky Hopkins (piano)
  6. ‘IT’S A LIE’(version #2 with harmonica intro)
    Recorded: EMI-Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, Jan. 5-March 2 1978
    Recorded: Rolling Stones Mobile, Nellcote, France, June-Nov. 1971; Dynamic Sound Studios, Kingston, Jamaica, Nov. 25-Dec. 21 1972
    Guest musicians: Nicky Hopkins (piano), Jim Price (trumpet)

9. ‘START ME UP’ (early “reggae” version originally known as ‘Never Stop’)
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studios, Boulogne Billancourt, France, Oct. 10-Nov. 29 and Dec. 6-15 1977

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