CK Retro Review: Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones

Leftovers can often be moldy and unappealing, but every once in a while, the juices sink in just so and they taste even sweeter than the freshest main course. Case in point: Tattoo You, the 1981 release from The Rolling Stones whereby they raided their estimable vaults for material because they couldn’t be bothered to come up with new stuff. With one side of brash rockers and one of soulful ballads, this album, which wasn’t really an album proper after all, is now held up by many as the standard for the post-Exile era Stones. And it’s hard to blame the folks who feel that way, so satisfying are the results of the band’s archaeological dig. Here is a song-by-song review:


11. “Slave”- The longest track on the album is probably the most disposable, but, as instrumental jams go, this one has some bite. There is a long list of guest stars participating here including Pete Townsend on backing vocals, but the star is Charlie Watts and his beat that’s potent and in the pocket all at once.

10. “No Use In Crying”- There’s seemingly not much to this slow roller, a kind of rewrite of “Time Is On Your Side,” but Mick Jagger, via both some existentially sorrowful lyrics and his impassioned delivery of them, pushes it further than it has any right to go.

9. “Heaven”- A hypnotic little mood piece, with Jagger’s vocals altered to add to the hazy vibe. You can understand why it wouldn’t have made the cut for other albums, as it’s sort of an unfinished idea. And yet it works in its fragmentary way, with Watts again playing a big part in that with his nimble patter.

8. “Little T&A”- “Nice and dumb” is how Keith Richards once described this track, and that seems as solid an observation as any. Back in the day classic rock radio played it so much that I was surprised upon my research to find it wasn’t a single. It’s Keith in mischievous mode, and while I actually prefer him when he’s going for the more soulful stuff on lead vocal, you can’t deny the guitar attack is quite catchy.

7. “Neighbours”- A fine rip-snorter this one, it was apparently inspired by Richards’ tendency to get booted from his place of residence. Jagger decides to play the oppressed neighbour in the son and he has a ball with it, braying his frustrations with hilarious brio. Same goes for Sonny Rollins, who sprints through his saxophone parts as if he’s being chased out of the building.


6. “Tops”- We’re going way back with this one into the Goats Head Soup era, which is made clear by Mick Taylor’s lyrical solo. Nicky Hopkins is also in typically fine form on piano. Jagger is once again in character mode, this time playing the Hollywood producer who can’t help but seduce a young innocent. So smarmy and obvious are his come-ons that the song ends up acting as a cautionary tale.

5. “Hang Fire”- You can get into the sarcastic social commentary here, with Jagger portraying a jobless, prospectless bloke too lazy to game the system to get by. At the time England’s jobless rate was high and the safety nets were fast disappearing, so the context is key here. Yet you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the brazen, unkempt nature of the music, especially Richards’ snotty solo and the wordless “doo-doo-doo” refrains.

4. “Black Limousine”- These gents used to play the blues a little, right? They sink right back into it effortlessly here, the groove a thing of lubricated beauty while Wood’s solos and Jagger’s harp take the lead roles. The titular vehicle is an indication of the high life that the protagonist and the girl he’s addressing used to live. Alas, the unspoken message is that, considering the hard times which have befallen them, a far more somber black limousine might just be waiting on the next block.


3. “Worried About You”- Such is the goofy nature of Tattoo You that this track features Wayne Perkins, the long-forgotten by that time guitarist from Black And Blue. He knocks it out of the part on this wonderful ballad, while the rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Watts are minimalists here, nimbly nudging the song from the stark verses to the filled-out choruses. Jagger wields the falsetto in the early sections but gives full-throated evidence of his anguish in the refrains, Richards joining along for the high lonesome harmonies. It probably escaped Black And Blue due to its similarity in temperament and style to “Memory Motel,” but it makes a soft, soulful landing here.

2. “Start Me Up”- They tried to make it into a reggae song when it was originally essayed for Some Girls; some evidence of that can be found in Wyman’s skittering lines and the hitch in Watts’ giddyup. Once those guitars kick in, their full-throttle blast plays off that off-kilter bottom end in wondrous ways. Jagger takes every critical snipe about the band’s boorishness or sophomoric behavior and doubles down on them in the lyrics, until the line about making a dead man come seems almost tame compared to the innuendo that preceded it. Thank goodness for producer Chris Kimsey, who unearthed this song and convinced the band that an album of outtakes was just crazy enough to work.

1. “Waiting On A Friend”- They had no lyrics for it originally, which is how this intoxicating warm breeze of a track slipped out of the Goats Head Soup sessions. Richards proves that not all great riffs need to be attached to fast tempos, while Hopkins goes off on dreamy runs on the outskirts. Once Jagger figured out what the song would be about, he came up with one of the all-time great songs about friendship, one that lets all Stones fans indulge in the notion that he and Keith are indeed as thick as thieves, magazine articles and autobiographies be damned. Rollins takes the song and the album home with jazzy improvisations on saxophone that classed Top 40 radio up something fierce. What a beauty.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Stones, check out my new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, available at the link below and all major online booksellers.)







One Comment on “CK Retro Review: Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones”

  1. hans altena says:

    proof of how the almost forgotten art of building an album, instead of stapling as much acceptable songs on a too long cd, can bring up the best… for me it brought back my respect that I lost a bit after the mistake of Emotional Rescue, just as Voodoo would years later after the awful eighties that really started somewhere in 1983… although some of the slow songs on side two, nice enough, are a bit too long and almost syrupy for me… Heaven gets me dreaming nonetheless… and what a start and ending this one has!

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