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Tattoo You

Tattoo You
Studio album by The Rolling Stones
Released 24 August 1981
Recorded November – December 1972, January – March 1975, January – March 1978, January – October 1979, October 1980 – June 1981
Genre Rock, hard rock, rock and roll
Length 44:23
Language English
Label Rolling Stones
Producer The Glimmer Twins
The Rolling Stones chronology
Emotional Rescue
Tattoo You
Singles from Tattoo You
  1. "Start Me Up"
    Released: 14 August 1981
  2. "Waiting on a Friend"
    Released: 30 November 1981
  3. "Hang Fire"
    Released: April 1982

Tattoo You is the 16th British and 18th American studio album by The Rolling Stones, released in 1981. The follow-up to Emotional Rescue (1980), the album is mostly composed of studio outtakes recorded during the 1970s, and contains one of the band's most well-known songs, "Start Me Up", which hit second place on the United States's Billboard singles charts.

The album proved to be both a critical and commercial success upon release, reaching the top of the Billboard charts, and selling more than four million copies in the United States alone. It was also the final Rolling Stones album to reach the top position of the US charts, thus concluding the band's string of number-one albums there, dating back to 1971's Sticky Fingers.


  • History 1
    • Recording 1.1
  • Release and aftermath 2
  • Legacy 3
    • Band appraisal 3.1
    • Critical reaction 3.2
    • Accolades 3.3
  • Track listing 4
  • Personnel 5
  • Charts 6
    • Peak positions 6.1
    • Year-end charts 6.2
    • Certifications 6.3
  • References 7


Tattoo You is an album primarily composed of outtakes from previous recording sessions, some dating back a decade, with new vocals and overdubs. Along with two new songs, the Rolling Stones put together this collection to have a new album to promote for their worldwide American Tour 1981/European Tour 1982 beginning that September. Guitarist Keith Richards commented in 1993:

"The thing with Tattoo You wasn't that we'd stopped writing new stuff, it was a question of time. We'd agreed we were going to go out on the road and we wanted to tour behind a record. There was no time to make a whole new album and make the start of the tour."[1]


The album's associate producer, [1]

Many of the songs consisted at this point of instrumental backing tracks for which vocals had not been recorded. Jagger said in a 1995 interview, "It wasn't all outtakes; some of it was old songs... I had to write lyrics and melodies. A lot of them didn't have anything, which is why they weren't used at the time – because they weren't complete. They were just bits, or they were from early takes".[2] Despite the eclectic nature of the album, the Rolling Stones were able to divide Tattoo You into two distinct halves: a rock and roll side backed with one focusing on ballads.

The earliest songs used for Tattoo You are "Tops" and "Waiting on a Friend". The backing tracks for both songs were cut in late 1972 during the Goats Head Soup (1973) sessions and feature Mick Taylor, not Ronnie Wood, on guitar. Taylor, who was not credited, later demanded and received a share of the album's royalties.

The album opens with "Start Me Up", originally rehearsed under the working title "Never Stop" and as a reggae-influenced number in 1978 during the Some Girls sessions, and the balance of it was recorded during these particular sessions in Paris (at Pathé Marconi studios) sessions where the more rock-infused track was recorded. Dating from the Black and Blue sessions are the backing tracks for "Slave" and "Worried About You". They feature Billy Preston on keyboards and Ollie E. Brown on percussion. Wayne Perkins plays the lead guitar on "Worried About You".

"Start Me Up", "Hang Fire" and "Black Limousine" were worked on during the 1978 Pathé Marconi recording sessions for Some Girls.

  • The basic tracks for "No Use in Crying", "Little T&A", and re-recordings of "Black Limousine" and "Hang Fire" came from the Emotional Rescue (1980) sessions.
  • "Neighbours" and "Heaven" were recorded during sessions in October–November 1980, after the release of Emotional Rescue. "Heaven" has an unusual line-up, consisting of only Charlie Watts on drums, Bill Wyman on synthesizer, guitar and bass, Mick Jagger on guitar, and producer Chris Kimsey on piano.
  • Many of the vocal parts for the songs on Tattoo You were overdubbed during sessions in October–November 1980 and April–June 1981. Mick Jagger was the only member of the band present at some of these sessions. Other overdubs, such as Sonny Rollins' saxophone parts on "Slave" and "Waiting on a Friend", were also added at these sessions. Most of the album was mixed at this time as well.

Release and aftermath

"Start Me Up" was released in August 1981, just a week before Tattoo You, to a very strong response, reaching the top 10 in both the United States and UK, and number 1 in Australia. Widely considered one of the Stones' most infectious songs, it was enough to carry Tattoo You to No. 1 for nine weeks in the United States, while reaching No. 2 in the UK with solid sales. It's been certified 4x platinum in the United States alone. The critical reaction was positive, many feeling that Tattoo You was an improvement over Emotional Rescue and a high-quality release. "Waiting on a Friend" and "Hang Fire" became Top 20 US hits as well.

"Start Me Up" would prove to be The Rolling Stones' last single to reach as high as No. 2 in the US, while Tattoo You is their last American No. 1 album to date.

The album title was originally planned to be simply "Tattoo". Jagger claims to this day that even he has no clue how the "You" became attached to the title. The title caused friction between Jagger and Richards, with Richards suspecting that Jagger had changed the title without seeking his input. The album cover for Tattoo You had concept origination, art direction and design by Peter Corriston with Illustration by Christian Piper. The album cover won the Grammy award in 1982 in the Best Album Package category. It was the first Grammy award for the Rolling Stones.

There were several videos directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for this album including:

  • "Start Me Up", "Hang Fire" and "Worried About You": Consisting of a standard band performance setting, miming to a backing tape.
  • "Neighbours": An homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window, it features the band playing in one apartment of an apartment building with various happenings seen in the windows of the other apartments: A working-class couple relaxing and making love, a t'ai chi practitioner exercising, and most notoriously, a man putting bloody body parts in a suitcase. This video was heavily censored when presented on television.
  • "Waiting on a Friend": Filmed on location in New York City's East Village, it consists of Richards walking down the street, meeting Jagger, who's sitting on the front steps of 96-98 St. Mark's Place (the same building used by the designer Peter Corriston for cover art of Led Zeppelin's 1975 album Physical Graffiti) with several other men, one of whom is the late reggae musician Peter Tosh, who also shakes Keith's hand. They then proceed down the street and enter a bar where the rest of the band is waiting. The video also features Wood, rather than Mick Taylor on guitar (similar to the videos for "Hot Stuff" and "Worried About You" in which Harvey Mandel and Wayne Perkins respectively actually played). The bar in the video was co-owned by Wood during that time.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [3]
The A.V. Club (favourable)[4]
Blender [5]
Robert Christgau A–[6]
The Great Rock Discography 6/10[7]
MusicHound 3/5[8]
NME 6/10[9]
Rolling Stone [10]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide [11]
Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music [7]

Band appraisal

In the 1995 Rolling Stone interview during which editor Jann Wenner called Tattoo You the Stones' "most underrated album", Jagger said, "I think it's excellent. But all the things I usually like, it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have any unity of purpose or place or time."[2]

Critical reaction

Reviews for Tattoo You were largely positive, proclaiming the album a return to form and ranking among the Rolling Stones' finest works. Debra Rae Cohen commented in Rolling Stone: "Just when we might finally have lost patience, the new record dances (not prances), rocks (not jives) onto the scene, and the Rolling Stones are back again, with a matter-of-fact acceptance of their continued existence – and eventual mortality …"[1]

Though Robert Christgau gave the album a good review, however, when criticising "Start Me Up" in his Pazz and Jop essay in 1981, said, "its central conceit – Mick as sex machine, complete with pushbutton – explains why the album it starts up never transcends hand-tooled excellence except when Sonny Rollins, uncredited, invades the Stones' space. Though it's as good in its way as 'Street Fighting Man', how much you care about it depends entirely on how much you care about the Stones' technical difficulties."[12]

Patty Rose, in Musician, said, "The feel of the album … is more one of rediscovered youth, of axes to play, not grind, of the latest cope, not dope. After Emotional Rescue, it seems the Stones couldn't make it anymore with the theme of life getting harder and harder. The old themes are not invalidated by the new, but rather taken for granted, like knowing how to tie one's bootlace. The Stones have shed yet another layer of self-consciousness and their shiny vinyl new skin tingles with an open, early-decade kind of excitement."[1]


In 1989, it was ranked No. 34 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s. In 2003, the album was ranked number 213 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[13]

The album cover for Tattoo You had concept origination, art direction and design by Peter Corriston with illustration by Christian Piper. Mr. Corriston, won a Grammy Award for Tattoo You in the category of best album package.

In 1994, Tattoo You was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, and again in 2009 by Universal Music. It was released on SHM-SACD in 2011 by Universal Music Japan.

Track listing

All songs composed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except "Black Limousine" and "No Use in Crying" co-written by Ronnie Wood

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Start Me Up"   3:31
2. "Hang Fire"   2:20
3. "Slave" (Remastered CD version is 6:34) 4:59
4. "Little T&A"   3:23
5. "Black Limousine"   3:32
6. "Neighbours"   3:31
Side two
No. Title Length
7. "Worried About You"   5:16
8. "Tops"   3:45
9. "Heaven"   4:21
10. "No Use in Crying"   3:24
11. "Waiting on a Friend"   4:34


The Rolling Stones
  • Mick Jagger – lead and backing vocals; electric guitar on "Heaven"; harmonica on "Black Limousine"
  • Keith Richards – electric guitar, backing vocals; lead vocals and bass guitar on "Little T&A"
  • Ronnie Wood – electric guitar, backing vocals; bass guitar on "Hang Fire"
  • Mick Taylor – electric guitar on "Tops" and "Waiting on a Friend" (1972)
  • Bill Wyman – bass guitar; synthesizer and guitar on "Heaven"
  • Charlie Watts – drums
Additional personnel



Region Certification Sales/shipments
France (SNEP)[36] Gold 332,190[37]
Canada (Music Canada)[38] 4× Platinum 400,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[39] Gold 50,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[40] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[41] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[42] 4× Platinum 4,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


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  2. ^ a b Wenner, Jann. "Jagger Remembers". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  3. ^ Thomas, Stephen (30 August 1981). "Allmusic Review". Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "We're No. 1 Review". Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Blender Review
  6. ^ "Robert Christgau Review". Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Tattoo You"The Rolling Stones .  
  8. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (eds) (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 952.  
  9. ^ "The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You CD".  
  10. ^ Debra Rae Cohen (15 October 1981). "Rolling Stone Review". Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  11. ^ "The Rolling Stones: Album Guide". Archived version retrieved 15 November 2014.
  12. ^ Christgau, Robert. "The Year the Rolling Stones Lost the Pennant". Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  13. ^ "The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You".  
  14. ^ a b c  
  15. ^ –"Tattoo You"The Rolling Stones – (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  16. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 35, No. 11".  
  17. ^ "Tattoo You" The Rolling Stones – (ASP). Hung Medien (in Dutch).  
  18. ^ "InfoDisc : Tous les Albums classés par Artiste > Choisir Un Artiste Dans la Liste" (in French). Retrieved 1 June 2013. Note: user must select 'The Rolling Stones' from drop-down.
  19. ^ a b "Hit Parade Italia – Gli album più venduti del 1981" (in Italian). Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  20. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006.  
  21. ^ "Tattoo You" The Rolling Stones – (ASP). Hung Medien.  
  22. ^ "Tattoo You" The Rolling Stones – (ASP). Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  23. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE.  
  24. ^ "Tattoo You" The Rolling Stones – (ASP).  
  25. ^ "The Rolling Stones > Artists > Official Charts".  
  26. ^ : Charts & Awards : Billboard Albums"Tattoo You"Allmusic: . Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  27. ^ "Tattoo You"Album Search: The Rolling Stones – (ASP) (in German). Media Control. Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  28. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums of 1981".  
  29. ^ "Dutch charts jaaroverzichten 1981" (ASP) (in Dutch). Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  30. ^ "Les Albums (CD) de 1981 par InfoDisc" (PHP) (in French). Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  31. ^ "Complete UK Year-End Album Charts". Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  32. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc (26 December 1981). – Year End Charts – Year-end Albums – The Billboard 200. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  33. ^ "Top 100 Albums '82". RPM. 25 December 1982. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  34. ^ "Dutch charts jaaroverzichten 1982" (ASP) (in Dutch). Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  35. ^ "Billboard.BIZ: Top Pop Albums of 1982". Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  36. ^ "French album certifications – The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You" (in French). InfoDisc.  Select THE ROLLING STONES and click OK
  37. ^ "Les Albums Or :" (in French). Retrieved 21 August 2013. 
  38. ^ "Canadian album certifications – The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You".  
  39. ^ "Dutch album certifications – The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You" (in Dutch).  
  40. ^ "Sólo Éxitos 1959–2002 Año A Año: Certificados 1979–1990" (in Spanish). Iberautor Promociones Culturales.  
  41. ^ "British album certifications – The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You".   Enter Tattoo You in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  42. ^ "American album certifications – The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You".   If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH
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