Twilight of the Gods Part III - Tattoo You 40 - "The Last Time"
Updated: Jun 24
And now for some much needed light relief...The Twilight of the Gods offerings via Dylan & the Beatles have become serious so who better than the Stones to bring some light hearted fun to the proceedings. Hot on the heels of the Goats Head Soup archive release Rolling Stones Inc are gathering no moss and hitting the reissue/archive schedule again with Tattoo You 40th anniversary set. This particular milestone seemed just to appear when Stones fanatics amongst us weren't expecting it . More so because it wasn't so long since the GHS Anniversary appeared ,then all the talk about the long mooted first album of new material since 2005 A Bigger Bang (lets see 17 years and still counting and no Lonesome and Blue from 2016 doesn't count).
Stones Mach III sometime in the late 70's
Tattoo You was originally pulled together to coincide with the 3 x yearly touring cycle that the Stones stuck to all through the 70's and sourced via the vaults that the Stones had accumulated through 3 x significant bouts of recording - Jamaica 72-73 (for Goats Head Soup) , Munich/Rotterdam 74/75 (Black n Blue and Paris 77-78 (Some Girls) . The latter sessions had already formed a major part of 1980's Emotional Rescue but a further trawl was in order to meet the album/tour cycle. To make matters worse the Glimmer Twins were not getting on , perhaps they would never be as close again (WWWIII & She's the Boss/ Dirty Work are 5 x years away at this point). So Jagger and co producer/engineer Chris Kimsey got to work in what is reported to be a very inhospitable part of Paris using a cheap recording studio that Jagger liked .
The reality was that Tattoo You was never a conventional album yet turned out to be the perfect Stones 70's album that didn't actually didn't appear in the 70's . It has funk, soul, shuffles, weirdness , ballads and in "Start Me Up ", the last of the great Keith "the human riff "riffs . It has a fast side, a slow side and appearances by the great Sonny Rollins, and a return to Stones Mach II with contributions by Mick Taylor, Nicky Hopkins & Billy Preston. Best of all perhaps Charlie & Bill are very, very good as they always were but put to the forefront of a glorious mix by Bob Clearmountain topped off with excellent album sequencing by Chris Kimsey and Jagger himself. As the videos from the time show, this is the Stones despite whatever tension there may be having a great time (well Jagger Richards Wood anyway with Bill and Charlie appearing as cynical as ever).
"Start Me Up"
If you want to try and unlock the secret of the Stones , then look no further than the first 30 seconds of the iconic Start Me Up. Keith kicks haphazardly into a standard 5 x string open tuned riff and Charlie changes the beat in an effort to keep in sync. Meanwhile Bill still seems to be playing the same reggae bassline (i.e. away from the first beat in any bar) that is identical to the 1977 demo on the bonus disc. Yes this should fall into a heap and in 99.9 % of any band it would. Yet these are no mere mortals we are dealing with here . And over the top of this Jagger has crafted a car based metaphor straight out of Chuck Berry that is basically disgusting and probably would only be tolerated today in hip hop. Meanwhile Charlie's snare shots ricochet through you in a pattern to be repeated throughout the album. An iconic track still very much played 40 years later.
Speaking of 40 years but it has taken me that long to grasp that the Stones in addition to Blues & Chuck Berry had other 50s influences such as the Big Bopper up their sleeves -see "Chantilly Lace" and "Twenty Flight Rock "(Eddie Cochran) in their tour set list of the time . Its all here in "Hang Fire" with the major/minor 4/5 chord sequence and the Doowop backing vocals. Hilariously Jagger goes after his fellow countrymen:
"In the sweet old country where I come from nobody ever works , nothing ever gets done we Hang Fire
You know marrying money is a full time job, I don't need the aggravation I'm a lazy slob Hang Fire."
It's a theme he returns to disastrously in the solo years with "Let's Work" but here he gets away with it, his tongue firmly in cheek . A jarring solo by Richards prior to the bridge is a mild annoyance and is a pointer to his awful lead playing over the following decades but overall this short track kicks butt.
A mid 70's jam Black n Blue sessions jam , this has to be one of the Stones most underrated tracks. I rate this up with the other extended jam "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" from Sticky Fingers in terms of impact however whereas CYHMK is tightly woven together Slave has air, feel and a thumping groove. Who knows if Pete Townshend is really on this or even Jeff Beck , the stars here are Charlie, Bill, Keith, Mick and the ultimate virtuoso Sonny Rollins on Tenor Sax . The story goes that Jagger said to jazz buff Watts that he was going to ask Rollins to which Watts responded "he would never want to play with us". Yet here he is and over the course of 3 x tracks Rollins provides a soloist musicality not seen since Mick Taylor left. An extended mix that emerged on a mid 90's reissue remains here meaning we get a couple of extra minutes from the original release to keep the mood going. Not forgetting the keyboard stabs of the great Billy Preston who gave both of the greatest bands of all time a welcome shot in the arm.
I happened to be watching the award winning but forgettable movie Argo a few years back and over a scene involving a plane landing in Iran this track provided the backdrop..Huh? This was set in 1979 and did they listen to the lyrics? It's an ode to groupies and if we apply the 2021 Brown Sugar lyric test this track will never get another airing . During the tracks bridge Richards has his clipped MXR delay chord strumming in full force, ala "She's So Cold ". It's not the most memorable track on the album but the extent to which Charlie, Bill and Keith were perfectly in sync means we can still find something here.
Ronnie Wood claims it is his riff (though acknowledged and lifted from some obscure bluesman) that provides the backbone to this old school blues shuffle and he receives a rare writing credit to boot. Clearmountain has the harmonica mixed closely to the guitar riff giving the feel some extra oomph resulting in a track that serves as a reminder that when it comes to a blues groove the Stones have few peers. Jagger's lyric is Chuck Berry "car as a metaphor "again but introducing a glimpse of looking back and reflection (this is repeated to stunning effect later in the album with closing track "Waiting for a Friend" ).
Many think of Exile on Main Street with "Rip this Joint" and "Turd on the Run" as frenetic tempos that the Stones could only reach in the peak Mach II phase but never again . "Neighbours" can be added to this and is a fitting close to the first side of the album
"I got TVs, Saxophone playing, groaning and straining with the drummer in strife"
Jagger is complaining about apartment life in Manhatten with an hilarious accompanying video . Charlie Watts and Keith are providing a stomping background pace with Jagger needing to bring his A game to the vocal delivery to keep up. Ronnie Wood for once delivers a memorable guitar solo but again the proceedings are elevated by Rollins scratchy saxophone not to forget the invisible man Ian Stuart on Boogie Woogie piano. It was popular live around this time not hard to see why but I've seen clips of them in the later years with Jagger struggling to keep up with Charlie and Keith.
Side 2 aka The Slow Side - A Smile Relieves A Heart That Grieves
Worried About You
We gather our breath after the frenetic homage to 50 - 70's Rock n Roll on side 1 and we are immediately plunged into a mid 70's Philly soul ballad with "Worried About You". This is the Rolling Stones soaking up influences like a sponge and making them their own. How this didn't make the cut for Black n Blue or the two albums that followed is intriguing at the least. The Glimmer Twins must have thought something of it, even choosing it to close the legendary 1977 Mocambo club shows. It's the Stones at a glorious groove, equal parts outstanding . Sans Ronnie Wood who wasn't on this (despite what the low budget video suggests) .Instead consistent with the Stones trying out guitar players to replace Taylor has an equivalent virtuoso Wayne Perkins to deliver the blistering guitar solo (ironically sounding very much like Mick Taylor). Ian Stewart used to refer to them as 3 x chord pieces of sh*t but it is what you can come up with that counts and here we have via a C- F major verse and an equally simple minor bridge, a classic dynamic arrangement and the result is a piece of Stones magic.
One of the reasons suggested Billy Preston left the Stones camp was a frustration over lack of writing credit (most famously "Miss You"). Here could be another case in point . Apparently recorded originally in Jamaica as per the Goats Head Soup sessions , it certainly sounds like Preston on backing vocals and the whole gospel/soul keyboard feel seems all Preston. With Mick Taylor providing vibrato heavy riffs. Its possibly another example where Jagger was able to both gain inspiration and leverage Taylor's melodic approach to his playing to inform his guide vocals. which was a feature of Goats Head Soup. Lyrically it relates to "Star Star "from the same album with the difference that the falsetto provides.
One of the most unusual tracks the Stones ever presented on disc . Only Jagger, Wyman & Watts with Chris Kimsey on keyboards though you could be forgiven the heavy strumming on guitar is Keith (little known guitar nerd fact - apparently Richards is very light touch on the guitar whereas Jagger is all right hand strumming meaning he breaks strings often). Still he presents a vocal again in full falsetto but it can't be said the influence is soul this time as with "Worried About You" Its hard to see where the influence is on this at but somehow it works. Think Satanic Majesties Request in 1981 and not 1967.
Aint No Use in Crying
Another Ronnie Wood credit and it 's easy to forget that Ronnie had his own success in the late 70"s with his star studded Gimme Some Neck album . There are indeed similarities to "Lost & Lonely" from that album, again soul inspired which was where Wood was heading with his frequent collaborations with the great Bobby Womack. Jagger lifts this with more falsetto , and with Bob Clearmountain cleverly bouncing the backing vocals between the left and right channels the results seamlessly fitting into the the second side of Tattoo You.
Waiting on a Friend
Bringing Tattoo You to a glorious close it's a lightening in a bottle moment in the Stones canon. It can't be categorised, is it folk, pop, country , even a hint of bossa nova?. Whatever, the mix ensures Nicky Hopkins provides the lilting , melancholic piano part above everything else and Jagger for once abandons the teenage lust or car metaphor lyrics and embraces middle age with an undertone of looking back acknowledging "making love & breaking hearts is a game for youth". It has the feel of a GHS session with Charlie being typically inventive but unobtrusive behind the kit (live clips from the 90's show that the recorded "feel" can't be replicated. Sonny Rollins brings a calypso inspired tenor solo to add the fairy dust to the track. No-one else could sustain the top D near the end of the solo and breathe the sound in and out . In the days when I played Tenor Sax I tried to copy this but couldn't go near it. A jazz head tried to explain that Rollins is using the pentatonic scale throughout this , who really cares its just sheer brilliance . The Michael Lindsay Hogg video from the East Village perfectly sums up the Stones during these times.
The Deluxe package arrives with a repeat of the GHS reissue approach in that there is a full disc outtakes/rarities as well as a live recording from the post Tattoo You 1982 European tour (known as Still Life but not to be confused with the "official" Still Life album) extensive liner notes and a picture disc. The book is excellent with essays and interviews with Chris Kimsey and Mick Jagger . However although there is indeed rolled gold in the vaults, the treasure has been mined before with the Exile, Some Girls and Goats Head Soup Reissues . Hence it is a grab bag of Stones Mach II and Mach II, covers and originals some outstanding ("Fiji Jim", "Shame Shame Shame", "Troubles A Comin" ) some mediocre (Living in the Heart of Love reviewed here and Drift Away ).
Jagger also has an annoying habit of re recording vocals to the original backing tracks where Stones freaks like myself just want to hear the original audio and guide vocals. Hence the "Start Me Up" reggae version is cleaned up with a new vocal and Ronnie Wood guitar line and there is no place for original demos of the likes of "Waiting on a Friend" or "Worried About You" .
Is it worthy of the Deluxe Treatment?
Make no mistake this is both good time party music and reflective , sensitive ballads for times gone by played by a band with no equal. However it really was the end as though Mach III had delivered countless good times from here on in Jagger thought he was above everyone else (one suspects he still does) and had an eye on being hip to each succeeding generation when what had sustained them up to this point was just playing for the joy of it , sponging up sounds they liked (eg reggae)and acknowledging no-one. The cutting edge humour and good times within the band became wrapped up into a franchise with many others joining and someone like Bill Wyman being allowed to leave (a huge loss). It's no wonder Brett Morgen's excellent Crossfire Hurricane 50th anniversary documentary ended in this era. However we always much to enjoy with all the Stones did in the 60's and 70's and with Tattoo You it was an excellent way to sign off and a fitting epitaph to Charlie.
"Tattoo You 40" Reissue- The Rolling Stones rating:
Box Set 9/10
Outtakes & Rarities 8/10
Still Life Live 7/10
Overall comment - Nicely done Stones Inc but with music this good it could hardly miss .