By 1981, the British rock legends of the ‘60s and ‘70s were fading into the backstory of rock music. All future hope for a Beatles reunion died with the death of John Lennon, Led Zeppelin announced they were finished as an act, and The Who were trying to forge forward without Keith Moon, with mixed results. Left to carry the flag, the Rolling Stones released their last great studio album in 1981, “Tattoo You”, and embarked on a worldwide tour fueled by this highly successful album. Surprisingly enough, this album actually was compiled out of many songs that were in some incomplete state for several years, with some of them even dating back to the Mick Taylor era. Even with that, I definitely recall the major impact this record had at the time, and it is an all-time favorite for me. I don’t know if some of that is just because I know it so much better front to back than any other Stones album, having lived it during its release, but there are many great songs to celebrate on this album.
The record opens with their classic hit, “Start Me Up”. This record is a defining song from this year, and was actually a song they reworked from a reggae tune into an up-tempo rocker. They often use it to this day as a concert kickoff, and it can be heard almost as often today as it was during its run on the charts. Next comes “Hang Fire”, another absolute rocker, and with “Start Me Up”, gives us a really good one-two punch to open the record. We then have the bluesy “Slave”. As always, the Stones have a wide assortment of studio musicians on call, and I learned that even Peter Townshend sat in on the backing vocals for this track.
As we often do, we have a Keith Richards-led track, “Little T&A”, and this song ranks up there as one of Keith’s very best. He is not a classic vocalist, but he is truly as rock-and-roll as they come. I love the next song as well, another bluesy romp, “Black Limousine” where Mick looks back fondly at their early success, and side one ends with “Neighbours”, one of three tracks that features Sonny Rollins on saxophone.
Side two is a more mellow collection of songs, with four good ones and one great one. I enjoy each of the first four tracks, with “Tops” being my favorite of those four, but the other real masterpiece on this album is the last song of the album, “Waiting on a Friend”. This is one of the tracks that dates back to Mick Taylor vs. Ronnie Wood on guitar, but it is a beautiful song that celebrates the connection of friendships through the ups and downs of life. I know this album was a big album for my friend Jim and I, and even though we didn’t quite have the freedom yet to pull off seeing the Stones on this ’81 tour in Boulder, we certainly loved the Stones and celebrated this last great release of theirs.
It is hard for me to believe this record, and all of these albums from 1981, are forty years old. I remember their success as if it was just yesterday, and I am excited for the duration of this journey with each album being released to my focused attention as a fully conscious and keenly aware music fan at the ripe old age of 14. This is the 16th and last album of original songs we have from the Stones; they have more albums on this list than any other act. Their enduring run is unprecedented, and even as we fast forward to today, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood still press on as the active and surviving members of a stadium-touring act that has been playing together for almost 60 years in total. They have been a part of my musical world for as long as I can remember, and I will always celebrate them as one of the greatest bands in rock music history.