Dirty Work was probably an album that should not have been made. Mick Jagger was concentrating on his first solo album and placed the Rolling Stones in a secondary position, creating a great deal of animosity between him and Keith Richards. It would take several years for these wounds to heal. Ron Wood and Charlie Watts were both having problems with addictions and Bill Wyman was just plain bored. Watts and Wyman would each only play on about half of the album’s tracks.
Ron Wood would write four of the songs (with Jagger and Richards also receiving writing credits). Keyboardist Chuck Leavell would also create one song leaving only three original Jagger-Richards compositions, which was not a good sign.
The lead single was a cover of the old rhythm & blues song “Harlem Shuffle.” I remember thinking at the time this was a good song played by the wrong group. The Stones would change the tempo toward a pop/dance direction. Soul artists Don Covay and Bobby Womack sang along with Mick and I wish they would have sung alone. The song would be an unlikely hit and reach number five on the national charts.
The second single would be the Ron Wood creation, “One Hit (To The Body).” While this release was less successful, only reaching number 28, it was probably one of the better songs on the album. Jimmy Page played along with Wood and Richards giving the track a three guitar attack. It was one of the few 1980’s songs by The Rolling Stones that would not sound totally dated several years later.
The Jagger-Richard song, “Hold Back,” features a vocal by Mick Jagger who seemed to at least be trying here. “Too Rude” sung by Keith is a competent reggae based slow song that would be a part of his solo act for years.
The bad, however, would outweigh the good. “Had It With You” and “Back To Zero” are forgettable filler songs. The title track, “Dirty Work,” returned the group to a woman and sex theme but this type of song had been overdone by the Rolling Stones. I remember someone writing that “Winning Ugly” sounded like a Robert Palmer B side in one of the most succinct criticisms of the record.
The final song, “Sleep Tonight,” with a Keith Richards vocal, featured an Ian Stewart boogie piano run on the fade out. This was added after the fact to honor him. Stewart died of a heart attack on December 12, 1985 at the age of 47. He and Brian Jones had founded The Rolling Stones and he had graciously stepped aside when their first record company wanted a five man group and not six. He would remain as the Stones caretaker, manager, and harshest critic. He was about the only person on the planet to whom the group members would listen too. Stewart has never gotten enough credit in the history of The Rolling Stones. Dirty Work would be dedicated to him. Keith Richards would say at his funeral that now there was no one to keep them all in line.
The Rolling Stones wisely decided to not tour in support of the album. Wood and Watts would have physically been incapable and Jagger and Richards might have torn the group apart. The Stones took some time off and were better off for that decision. Dirty Work remains an album that the Stones themselves dismiss and the songs are rarely, if ever, performed live.