The Rolling Stones were about to head out on a world tour that would last for a year. They wanted a release they could tour behind and so Tattoo You was born. Rather than creating a totally brand new album the Stones searched their archives for out takes, abandoned songs and unreleased material. The tracks selected would cover the years 1972-1981 and feature such former contributors as Mick Taylor, Bobby Keys, Billy Preston, Wayne Perkins, and a host of others. Mick Jagger would oversee the re-working and updating of these tracks plus the Stones would cut two new ones for this release. This would not seem to be the best way to create an album but in the case of Tattoo You the results were excellent.
Tattoo You, released August 24, 1981, would become the Stones eighth consecutive, and last, number one album in the United States. It would also sell more copies than any other Stones studio album with the exception of Some Girls.
The opening guitar chords of “Start Me Up,” which lead off the album, immediately show that the rock ‘n’ roll Stones are back and all is well with the universe. This all time modern Rolling Stones classic song had been re-worked from its reggae roots in the Miss You sessions. If ever a song deserved to be a number one hit this was it. Unfortunately, it stalled at number two for three weeks behind “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates. “Start Me Up” has probably been the opening song for more live Rolling Stones concerts over the last twenty-five years than any other. If you want to hear this song in all its glory just check out the live Flashpoint album.
There were a number of other good to very good songs on the album. “Hang Fire” featured some nice piano from Stu and falsetto vocals from Mick Jagger. “Slave” is a mid-paced song from the Black and Blue sessions and features nice guitar work by Keith Richards and brilliant sax lines from Sonny Rollins. I happen to like “Little T&A.” This is a Keith Richards sung ode to his girlfriend Patti Hanson and basically the title says it all. “Waiting For A Friend” would bring the album to a soulful and peaceful conclusion. This easy flowing track from 1972 would be released as a single and reach number 13.
There were some misses on the album as well. “Neighbors” was more noise than melody. “Tops” was an average Mick Taylor era song about the pitfalls of show business. “Heaven” contained one to many Mick Jagger falsettos.
There were several other interesting developments connected to Tattoo You. Mick Taylor sued the Stones for royalties as he played on some of the songs. Ron Wood received an unprecedented writing credit on not one but two songs; “No Use In Crying” and “Black Limousine.” Mick Jagger was alone in the studio for the final mix of the album and as such played the guitar on a number of the tracks. Jagger was ultimately an average guitarist at best and the quality of this album would have been better if Richards and Wood had attended these final sessions.
Tattoo You was a good effort for the Rolling Stones and provided a nice send off for their tour. It was a reminder to millions of fans that The Rolling Stones were after all a rock ‘n’ roll band.