The Rolling Stones’ ‘Tattoo You’ Expanded Edition: Review

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Given the way the Rolling Stones Tattoo You came together, this 1981 album could have easily ended up as a disjointed mess. The group needed a successor to 1980’s Emotional Rescue to fulfill contractual obligations and because they had a U.S. and European tour set to start in September of 1981. But time was short, and the band’s members were reportedly not getting along particularly well. As a result, Tattoo You wound up being patched together from recordings left over from earlier sessions. Some were outtakes from Emotional Rescue (which itself included leftovers) and its 1978 predecessor, Some Girls; others dated from as far back as 1972.

Those vault picks were well chosen, however, and the Stones improved them by going into the studio to enhance their vocals and instrumentation. As a result, Tattoo You—which on the original vinyl delivers six rockers on the A-side and five mellower numbers on the flip—turned out to be pretty darn good. No, it’s not quite as focused or as satisfying as the Stones’ 1960s and early 1970s classics. But the record—which topped charts in the U.S. for a surprising nine weeks in 1981 and spawned several hit singles—is understandably often cited as the group’s last great album (though this writer would give that distinction to Some Girls).

While many fans and critics consider the lead-off track, “Start Me Up,” to be a highlight of the album, it has never seemed like one to yours truly, its memorable opening Keith Richards guitar riff notwithstanding. More interesting are numbers like the funky, Jimmy Reed–influenced “Black Limousine”; the soulful “Worried about You,” which incorporates Jagger’s falsetto; “Tops,” a Goats Head Soup reject from 1972; and “Slave,” which features Billy Preston’s organ and jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. (There are apparently also backing vocals by Pete Townshend, though you’d never know that without reading the credits.) And then there’s “Waiting on a Friend,” the album’s closer and best track, which features excellent vocal work by Mick Jagger, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and two terrific sax solos by Rollins.

A 40th anniversary “super deluxe edition” of the album comes loaded with carrots for anyone who might want to consider upgrading an old copy. Packaged in a sturdy slipcase, it includes a picture-disc vinyl copy of the LP; an oversized 124-page hardcover book with essays, interviews and abundant tour photos; and four CDs. The first of these contains a 2021 remaster of the original album while the second delivers nine previously unreleased tracks. The two remaining CDs preserve a two-hour, 25-song June 1982 concert at London’s Wembley Stadium.

The outtakes disc is consistently good, though there’s probably nothing here that many fans would consider essential to own. It includes a markedly different early version of “Start Me Up”; several other hard-rocking originals; a likable piano-based Jagger/Richards ballad called “Fast Talking, Slow Walking”; and a cover of Dobie Gray’s 1973 hit, “Drift Away.”

Watch the trailer for the expanded Tattoo You

The Wembley concert on the final two discs delivers more thrills than the outtakes CD—and many more than Still Life (American Concert 1981), a 1982 LP that draws on material from the same tour. For one thing, the Wembley recording is three times as long as the earlier 40-minute LP and, as such, it makes room for a much more expansive program, one that includes everything on Still Life plus another 15 numbers. And the performances suggest that months on the road left the Stones machine well-oiled.

The tracklist embraces lots of standouts from the 1960s and early 1970s, such as “Under My Thumb,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Time Is on My Side,” “Let It Bleed,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The set also draws five numbers from Tattoo You—“Neighbors,” “Black Limousine,” “Little T&A,” “Hang Fire” and “Start Me Up”—and five from Some Girls, including “When the Whip Comes Down,” “Shattered,” “Beast of Burden,” “Miss You” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” the Stones’ cover of the Temptations classic.

Speaking of covers, the concert embraces several more of those, among them a reading of the Big Bopper’s 1958 hit, “Chantilly Lace,” that—as reinvented here—seems so well-suited to the Stones that it could be mistaken for a Jagger/Richards original.

Jeff Burger

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  1. TyStick
    #1 TyStick 11 November, 2021, 09:46

    Tattoo You was the Stones’ last classic album. Mick Taylor was such an important influence on the Stones, during his tenure in the band. The Stones had to dig deep in their vault to make this album. The outtakes they chose had Mick Taylor’s guitar solos. When Tattoo You came out, the Stones didn’t tell Taylor they used his solos from 72-73. He had to sue the Stones for lost royalties.

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  2. kel vardon
    #2 kel vardon 20 September, 2022, 00:43

    their last great album. except for the band and insiders, who, on the album’s release, knew it was made up of fine tuned leftovers? who cares? what an incredible job by longtime stones engineer/producer chris kimsey in preparing this classic! #icanbesatisfied

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