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The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You - Album Of The Week Club review

The Rolling Stones' Tattoo You was assembled from long forgotten songs and instrumentals jams, with choice snippets recalibrated with contemporary vocal performances

The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You artwork
(Image: © Polydor)
The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You

The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You artwork

(Image credit: Polydor)

Start Me Up
Hang Fire
Slave
Little T&A
Black Limousine
Neighbours
Worried About You
Tops
Heaven
No Use in Crying
Waiting on a Friend

Who would have thought it? Sent into the vaults to conjure up an album for the Rolling Stones to tour behind in 1981, producer Chris Kimsey returned with pure gold. 

Tops and Waiting On A Friend date back to 1972’s Goats Head Soup sessions and feature Mick Taylor, while the career-reinvigorating star of the show, Start Me Up found its unlikely genesis in the single rock take of a Black And Blue-era reggae cast-off by the name of Never Stop

Long forgotten songs, instrumentals jams and choice snippets are recalibrated with contemporary vocal performances, but little production sheen and the end result gives the impression of a band returning to both their roots and their very best form.

The band will celebrate the albums 40th anniversary of Tattoo You with a new, expanded edition that'll arrive on October 22 through Universal Music. It'll include a new remaster of the original 11-track album along with nine previously unreleased tracks which have been newly completed by the band with additional vocals and guitar.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in August 1981

  • Torch - Carly Simon
  • Shot of Love - Bob Dylan
  • Give the People What They Want - The Kinks
  • Dark Continent - Wall of Voodoo
  • Sleep No More - The Comsat Angels
  • Pretenders II - Pretenders
  • Scissors Cut - Art Garfunkel
  • Fire of Love - The Gun Club
  • Brothers of the Road - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Maiden Japan - Iron Maiden
  • New Traditionalists - Devo
  • Short Back 'n' Sides - Ian Hunter
  • Time Exposure - Little River Band
  • Whitford/St. Holmes - Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes

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What they said...

"Tattoo You doesn’t address the subject of maturity, or deny its onset, in a burst of satyriasis. Instead, maturity serves as the backdrop for rockers with real momentum and love songs with real objects, beginning with Start Me Up, the catchiest Stones single in ages. 'You make a grown man cry,' Mick Jagger sings amid a clatter of handclaps and Charlie Watts’ precision swing, almost as if he hadn’t spent half his life trying to hold back the clock." (Rolling Stone)

"Considering how quickly The Stones would crack apart within the next three years, it’s amazing how tight the band sounded on Tattoo You. Fans may have soft spots for other later Stones records, but Tattoo You truly feels like the last moment when the band sounded like legitimate acts instead of just old timers banking on world tours." (TheYoungFolks)

"Side Two of Tattoo You... is the last truly outstanding music of the Stones’ recording career, and certainly the most “mature” they ever dared to sound. If Side One is about whipping up pumped-up flash for the joint-smoking burnouts in the cheap seats, Side Two feels more personal and grown-up, the sound of guys who have been around the block dozens of times starting to come to terms with the wreckage they’ve created by so much rapid movement." (AV Club)

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What you said...

Marco LG: The year is 1995, internet is the new big thing and Microsoft are about to release the latest version of their operating system, designed to work seamlessly on and off line. The key feature? At the bottom left of the screen there is a rather reassuringly ‘start’ button. The marketing piece of genius? Associating the ad campaign to the song Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones!

That ad campaign had two major impacts on my life: it made me buy my first PC and it introduced me to the music of The Rolling Stones. Up until that point I knew of them, but I could not mention any of their songs, besides perhaps the ubiquitous Sympathy For The Devil

But that doesn’t mean I became much more than a casual listener, in fact I listened to Tattoo You for the fist time this week, and there are probably only another two albums I can say I am familiar with. For me The Rolling Stones remain a cultural phenomenon that transcends their music, together with The Beatles they are so much part of the tapestry of my cultural background that I have always taken them for granted.

The death this week of Charlie Watts is a stark reminder that all things have to end at some point, that it happened at the age of 80, at a time when the band was preparing for yet another world tour, is testimony of a lifetime dedicated to rock n’ roll. It is not a very transgressive way of saying goodbye, and maybe it won’t leave behind the same aura of legend that Brian Jones left, but it is a very dignified way from one of the greatest musicians in rock.

As it happens, this week saw the release of the latest Iron Maiden album, Senjutsu. As a life long fan I increasingly find myself talking about them as they were family. Discussing the music on the album I can’t help but mentioning all the milestones of my life that have been soundtracked by the music of the band. 

I grew up with them, and they mean to me way more than just their music. I can certainly appreciate there are people out there that feel the same for The Rolling Stones. To all of those I extend my most sincere condolences, the music will live on but you have lost a relative this week. I can feel it, and I respect it.

As for Tattoo You, my opinion is irrelevant at this point. I might add a couple of deep cuts to my playlists and leave a score of 7 for the record, but this is more about Charlie Watts than just one album.

Edward Fortney: The dirty little secret about Tattoo You is that it’s mostly reheated leftovers from the previous decade. Fans ate it up, as Tattoo You vaulted to the top of the charts in six different countries. It was the last #1 record to date for the Stones in America.

It’s not often that leftovers taste better, but this is one of the rare records that pulls it off. This is vintage Stones, with nary a hint of disco or reggae.

Start Me Up kicks of the record with one of their most iconic riffs, which is saying something, given that their back catalogue features Satisfaction. The laidback swagger of the groove is undeniable. Thankfully, they left out the reggae-infused breakdown that was in an early demo of the song. That demo is called Never Stop, in case you want to go on YouTube and check it out. Or, you can just wait until October 22 when the expanded reissue of Tattoo You is released.

The rest of side A is pure, straight-ahead rock'n'roll. Slave changes it up with a greasy groove that borders on slow funk, illustrating why drummer Charlie Watts is one of rock’s unsung heroes. The Who’s Pete Townsend chips in with backup vocals, while Sonny Rollins provides deft saxophone licks to the proceedings.

Little T&A brings some rockabilly a la Chuck Berry to the table, featuring Keith Richards’ gruff but affable lead vocals. The song was originally recorded for their previous album, Emotional Rescue.

Black Limousine, a leftover from the Some Girls sessions, sonically hearkens back to the band’s early years. Ronnie Wood gets a rare co-writing credit here, as Mick Jagger’s screeching harmonica and Ian Stewart’s tinkling piano flesh out the arrangement.

The B in side B must stand for ballads, as that’s pretty much all you get. Fortunately, the B doesn’t stand for bland or boring. These are great songs.

The unexpected bonus here is that side B has the best soloing on the album. Wayne Perkins takes a spiralling and emotive guitar solo in Worried About You, and it’s brilliant. Former Stone Mick Taylor also delivers the goods during his searing melodic solo turn on Tops, which dates back to the Goats Head Soup sessions. And Sonny Rollins absolutely nails his sax solo with flash, finesse, and feel during Waiting On A Friend. This is high level musicianship.

Tattoo You is a triumph. In hindsight, it’s the best of their 1980s releases, and a capstone to what Ultimate Classic Rock termed the Stones’ “last era of brilliance.” After 40 years of listening to it, I still don’t skip songs. It’s all killer, and no filler. It has the all of the swagger, the rock, the roll, and the balladry we expect from The Greatest Rock And Roll Band in the World. Bon appetite!

Rocky Taylor: Probably the last Stones album worth owning, even if it feels more like a b-side collection rather than a true LP. But they’re good b-sides, and plenty of these songs have staying power for a reason.

Brian Carr: Listening to Tattoo You earlier today made me realize I really don’t listen to the Stones that much. I like them, they have loads of songs that I like, but as someone else noted, they’ve generally seemed to me to be a better singles band than an album band. I may have to re-evaluate that idea, because Tattoo You has a lot to like.

Ironically, this might be the oldest vinyl in my collection that was originally purchased in my household (though it could be beaten out by the K-tel compilation Pure Rock). I couldn’t even venture a guess the last time it was played, though. Despite the time, I remembered some of the songs beyond the bookend hits. Hang Fire rocks okay, but I always loved Little T&A

For me, the funky groove of Slave works so much better than the disco experiment Miss You from years prior. But those ballads! It might be odd to hear multiple slower songs in a row, but like other reviewers, to me they are absolute gems despite the fact that my ears detected in No Use in Crying some mild theft from the sixties hit Time is on My Side by… oh, The Rolling Stones.

Regarding those hits: Start Me Up is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to ignore, but listening without skipping was a good move - it’s really a damned good song. Waiting On A Friend is probably one of my top five favourite Stones songs and an excellent choice for a single above the other fine sounding ballads.

There are some fine performances throughout the album. I repeatedly enjoyed the assorted horn solos. The guitar work is understated but very tasty throughout. I may be due for a deeper dive into Rolling Stones albums (even if I still can’t figure out the fascination with Exile as I tried again this week).

Alex Hayes: I'd only gone online to check out the football scores. My sister had been to a match in Huddersfield that evening, and I was just casually checking to see how the game had finished up. In doing so, I came across a far bigger news story, one that left me feeling pretty empty.

I'm a fan of plenty of rock and metal bands, but The Rolling Stones are one of the select few right up there on my own personal Mount Rushmore. The word 'iconic' is thrown around far too often nowadays, but perfectly sums up this legendary band, its huge body of music, and its principal members. These guys are the absolute epitome of rock'n'roll to me. Sadly, we were reminded last week that they are regular mortals after all.

The Stones' ever-steady heartbeat and sartorial overlord Charlie Watts has left us. Technically speaking, as the Stones' music is actually led by Keith Richards' rhythm guitar as opposed to the drums, there's really nothing to stop the band from soldiering on, and I suspect they probably will. Without Charlie there though, providing that rock solid foundation through his almost metronomic sense of timing and swing, the Stones will never be the same. He was a one in a million and will be greatly missed. Rest in peace Charlie.

This all happened in the week that the Stones' classic Tattoo You album celebrated its 40th anniversary. I love Tattoo You. It's a far better album than it really has any right to be, given the piecemeal way that it was assembled.

Speaking of my sister, I mentioned to her yesterday that Tattoo You was this weeks album for the Club, and got a non-committal, 'meh, never listened to it' kind of reply. Of course, that sentiment wasn't entirely true. Tattoo You just so happens to open with one of the Stones' most recognisable songs. Non-fans of the band may well have never taken the time to listen to this album, but they've almost certainly heard at least one track from it.

In a perfect world, all albums would kick off with a riff as iconic - there's that word again - as Start Me Up. The Stones' biggest hit of the 1980s, it's also the opening salvo of Tattoo You's more uptempo, rock'n'roll-centred first half. Side One consists of pretty good tracks overall, although the likes of Hang Fire and Black Limousine never quite manage to scale the heights set by Start Me Up. What turns Tattoo You from a decent Stones album into a great one is its stellar second half though.

Side Two is where the gears change and this album really comes into it's own. Here, the tone shifts towards the kind of loose balladry that the Stones excel at, lifting Tattoo You to new levels of brilliance. This five song sequence, Worried About You through to Waiting On A Friend, is slow-burning Stones at their atmospheric best, and is chock full of the kind of moments where the Stones truly earn their honorific nickname of 'Greatest Rock And Roll Band in the World'. And these songs had actually been kicking around unused for years? Jesus.

Is Tattoo You the last great Rolling Stones album? Not sure. I think Steel Wheels might have something to say about that. A case could possibly have been made for Voodoo Lounge also, if they'd managed to trim off some of that albums excess fat. It would easily place highly in my personal top 10 though. Not Sticky Fingers quality, but mighty fine nevertheless. It certainly belies its meagre origins of simply being a collection of old riffs and leftover songs, thrown together just so the band had a reason to head out on yet another tour.

That fact, in itself, is just astonishing. It's how we ended up with Tattoo You, Whether it's the last genuinely great album from the Stones is up for debate. That the Stones themselves are one of the most important bands in musical history isn't up for argument though. Cheers.

Andrew Cumming: Great choice, great tribute, great album. Side one the last real blast of Stones rockers. What a great sequence: Start Me Up, Neighbours, Black Limousine. And Slave! What a great song. Now, side two: Worried About You? Great. Waiting On A Friend? Great. Tops, Heaven, No Use In Crying? Not so sure. It's a lot of slow Stones all in one place. None the less, still amounts to a great album

Shane Reho: After two rather mediocre albums in the mid 70s (It's Only Rock 'N Roll and Black And Blue), with the releases of Some Girls and the seriously underrated Emotional Rescue (something this group should review at some point), the Stones were rolling once more. This album continues (and if its reputation is accurate, brings an excellent close to) that streak. 

While I wouldn't say most of the songs sound as good on their own, when taken as a whole, this is a really solid LP. Even more interesting is the sequencing, with all the harder songs on side one and the mellow ones on side two (similar to James Gang Rides Again, another album this group should review if it hasn't, hard to keep track). When considering this album's leftover nature, it does leave room to wonder what those 70s albums could've been with the tracks here that had been left off. 

Track by track: Start Me Up is a classic for a reason, everything that can be said about it has been, Hang Fire is fun enough, Slave has a good groove, Little T&A carries on the fine tradition of Stones sex songs, Black Limousine is a rather odd instance of self reflection from them, and one of the better songs on side one, Neighbours doesn't really do anything. 

Worried About You shows the Stones could do emotional love songs as well as their patented rock sound (if All About You from Emotional Rescue didn't already prove that), Tops isn't all that but there's nothing really wrong with it either, Heaven is a strange but cool son - it is to Tattoo You what I Just Want to See His Face is to Exile On Main Street - No Use in Crying has some soul to it, then Waiting On A Friend closes the album with one of their greatest songs. The lyrics (as uncharacteristic as they are, but universally relatable), the music, everything about that track is perfection. 

I'd give this album either an 8 or 9 out of 10. Track picks: Start Me Up, Worried About You, Waiting on a Friend.

Mike Canoe: In this instalment of the continuing soap opera that is the Rolling Stones, the Glimmer Twins are feuding (again) and the other band members are working on various side projects. How will the new album ever get made? A surprise hero emerges in Chris Kimsey, their engineer and associate producer. Stitching together the scraps and tatters from four different past albums with new vocals from Mick Jagger, the Stones release an album that saves them from rock'n'roll oblivion (again). The curtain rises on Tattoo You.

Mick Jagger, the lascivious lothario we love to loathe, turns in one great vocal performance after another. Lustful Jagger? Big hit Start Me Up and casting couch come on, Tops. Funky Jagger? Slow burner Slave. Flat out rocking Jagger? The politically subversive Hang Fire and the teeth-rattling Neighbours. You even get surprisingly introspective Jagger on Waiting On A Friend. Two of his best moments are the pair of bitter ballads, Worried About You and No Use In Crying. Our man may be a jerk to the ladies but he can surely sell a song.

The rest of the band is in as fine form as usual - whenever they recorded their parts, including former (and uncredited) guitarist Mick Taylor, who was as surprised as anyone else to hear himself playing guitar on the album. Other mystery guests that show up here or there include modern jazz godhead Sonny Rollins on sax, R&B superstar Billy Preston (when it's not Stones regulars Nicky Hopkins or Ian Stewart), and Sugar Blue, who made Miss You with his harmonica playing doing the same for Black Limousine. Possibly the only person not screwed over regarding credits is guitarist Ron Wood, who increases his songwriting credit on a Stones albums 100%, doubling it from one to two.

The shell game with the musician credits reminds you that the Stones (at least Jagger and co-conspirator Keith Richards) aren't really the heroes of the story, more like the villain protagonists you root for in spite of yourself. But, damn, can they play some fine rock'n'roll, and Tattoo You contains some of the best evidence. Sometimes the emperors' new clothes are worth getting excited about after all.

Brett Deighton: A stones album that I have grown to love more over time. Always loved the two singles that bookend the album, but I’ve really come to appreciate some of the other tracks. I think Worried About You is under appreciated. Great choice and a fitting time to listen to it again.

Chris Ottewell: The first Stones album I bought and still one of my favourites. Saw them at Wembley in 1982 or 3 as the press reported that they were about to split up as they were "too old".

Randy Webb: Saw the Stones on this tour, and still enjoy this album to this very day. Every song on this album plucks a string in my life.

Evan Sanders: Tattoo You is a solid 4 stars out of 5, and has not been equalled by any of the subsequent Rolling Stones studio albums. It is bookended by two classics, Start Me Up and Waiting On A Friend. There are several other strong songs, and a pleasing format of rockers on Side A and ballads on Side B. In retrospect, this album is even more impressive knowing that it was assembled mostly from half-finished songs over the previous decade. And a nice cover too, in the days when album covers mattered!

Keith Jenkin: A album that for me hangs on it's two superb singles. I know I am in the minority but the rest for me are mostly cuts never used first time round for good reason. Hang Fire is pretty good but Slave is a wasted six minutes, while Little T&A would be fine on a Keef solo album but not here. Black Limousine and Neighbours are lazy jams and side two is pretty dull until Waiting On A Friend saves the day. Yes it's better than Emotional Rescue and the two that followed, but I actually prefer 1989's Steel Wheels to this one.

John Davidson: OK, despite my love of prog rock I always preferred the Stones to The Beatles. They had grit alongside the melodies and were ramshackled rather than buttoned up. They were in short a proper rock band.

That said, the only album of theirs I ever felt the need to own on CD was The London Years. Nothing after Sticky Fingers did much for me. Indeed as with most 60s icons they were a singles band first and foremost. There's no criticism intended. that was the premiere format of the day.

After the lacklustre end to the 70s they seemed strangely lacking in confidence. Out of touch with punk and trying to polish their scuzzy bar room country blues for a modern post disco AOR generation.

Perhaps the need to throw Tattoo You together quickly worked in their favour as it has less polish and more charm than anything recently preceding it. Sure it's uneven and bookended by the two best songs but there are no turkeys on here and some fine guitar work livens up even the lesser songs like Black Limousine. Slave has a good groove and although it's a bit repetitive it also has that hypnotic quality that means I'm even prepared to overlook the saxophone.

As someone who doesn't often put the Stones on (but who enjoys hearing their 60s hits when my random play list queues them up) I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this. 7/10.

Adam Ranger: Possibly the last great Stones album. Steel Wheels was OK and BlAnd Lonesome was brilliant, but that was a covers album

Opening with the energy of Start Me Up. (a song tainted a bit for me since they sold it to Microsoft for adverts, but still a great song), the rest of the album - with a few exceptions, such as Neighbours and Hang Fire - is a more laid back affair. We have the blues of Black Limousine thrown in too, just to remind you of their roots.

This album was released at the same time as Abacab by Genesis. Both were greatly anticipated by me at the time. Abacab was very disappointing. I hated it. Tattoo You , I loved. It was a perfect blend of the Stones style. Saw the Tour in 1982, which was still one of the most fun days out at a gig I have ever had.

Richard Cardenas: This record came out my sophomore year of college. I remember driving to Dallas, to catch this show with a bunch of buddies excited to see the band for the first time without a parent tagging along. Not as great as the 1975 tour but a hell of an experience. 10 stars for me.

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Final Score: 7.11⁄10 (203 votes cast, with a total score of 1445)

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