Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Last Great Rolling Stones Album

I have friends who would say that 1978's "Some Girls" was the Rolling Stones' last great album.

And it was a good one for sure.

But I would disagree that it was the band's last great album. "Tattoo You," which was released on this day in 1981, was the Stones' last great album. It just didn't have as much of a radio presence as "Some Girls" did.

Oh, sure, it had a huge hit in "Start Me Up" — which, in hindsight, seems to have been written to be played on sports arena loud speakers. It's a song that pumps up its listeners, which is what you want to do with a home crowd at a sports event. I saw the Stones in concert a couple of months after they released "Tattoo You," and probably no other song on their play list got such a raucous response.

Not even the classics.

It was still new, then, of course, and it had that fresh appeal that goes along with being something new. But it also had something that "Some Girls" and all the albums that came before it did not have — MTV.

MTV was new then and still finding itself. Playing a role in the promotion of new music was essential to its success, and "Start Me Up" was an enormous hit, rising to #2 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Like "Emotional Rescue" the year before, "Tattoo You" was mostly outtakes from the sessions that spawned "Some Girls" — filler, for lack of a better term. But there is filler and there is filler.

"Start Me Up" was the first single released from the album. In fact, it was in the stores 10 days before the album.

The second single, "Waiting on a Friend," was released as a single about three months after the album hit the stores and rose to #13 on the U.S. singles chart. The song had existed for nearly a decade, going back to the "Goats Head Soup" sessions in the early '70s. Well, it was a tune with no lyrics, but it became the Stones' first song to be packaged specifically with an MTV video in mind.

And the video became enormously popular, no doubt contributing to the song's success.

I liked the melody better than the lyrics.

By the way, if the setting of the video seems familiar, it should. It was featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti" album.

The album's third single, "Hang Fire," was released in the spring of 1982. I didn't think much of it, frankly. To my great surprise, it managed to get to #20 on the charts.

Most Americans probably didn't realize that the lyrics represented one of the few times when the Stones have been political in their music. Their largely satirical lyrics skewered the British economic decline of the '70s.

Most listeners on this side of the Atlantic probably thought the music was kind of light and airy and the lyrics had no relevance to life in North America, which they didn't. As I say, the lyrics referred to the British economy and marrying one's way up the British economic and social ladders.

One song I always liked — but was never released as a single — was "Slave," the longest song on the album at 6:33.

Rolling Stone called it "a standard Stones blues jam," which is probably what attracted me to it.

It came into existence during the sessions for "Black and Blue" when Ronnie Wood was filling the vacancy left by the departure of Mick Taylor.

Presumably "Slave" was more filler — but no one could pull off filler like the Stones. I kept hoping to hear it when I saw the Stones in concert.

But I don't think the Stones have ever performed "Slave" in a concert.