Tattoo You is the last great Stones record of the 1970s. Yes, it was released in the late summer of 1981, but the majority of the material on the album was conceived during previous sessions of The Stones’ ‘70s output, going back as far as 1973’s Goats Head Soup. Maybe that’s why Tattoo You is not only able to age so well, now celebrating its 40th with this Super Deluxe Edition, but also why it was the band’s last album to top the charts.
There was something indefinably magical about the decade’s run of superb records from The Rolling Stones, starting just ahead of 1970 and concluding just after. The sequence is staggering, with Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street grabbing most of the accolades. Yet Some Girls in ’78 and Emotional Rescue, recorded in 1979 and released in ’80, added their share of gold to the pile, with the former growing into an end-to-end classic.
When the Stones scheduled stadium tours of North America and Europe in 1981 and 1982, respectively, the trek necessitated a new album. The Stones, particularly Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, weren’t really rolling at the time- in one of their infamous cold war periods. So, it fell to co-producer Chris Kimsey to dig through the archives for undiscovered gems to compile into a worthy collection. Kimsey found plenty.
He chose some intriguing songs, needing to be fleshed out or finished, from old sessions- including some with guitarist Mick Taylor- and presented them to the Glimmer Twins. Mick and Keith liked what they heard, and reconvened the band in Paris to tidy up what was needed. They also co-produced the album, despite lingering frost between them, and turned in what turned out to be an incredible, timeless record. Divided essentially between the two faces of the legendary group- side one: rock-and-rolling; side two; sensuous ballads- Tattoo You is as full and fulfilling as The Stones had been on album since Exile.
The Super Deluxe Edition zeroes in on and emphasizes exactly what made the album, and subsequent tour, a unique marker in the band’s nearly 60 years together. The hardcover book is awash in photos and band interviews- though mostly of and with the three remaining principals: Mick, Keith, and Ron Wood. It also details, briefly but tellingly, the anatomy of each song, with Kimsey providing pointed insight, as well as a deeper look into the Grammy-winning cover art- here also gracing the two sides of this edition’s picture disc.
The proper album has been remastered, sounding strikingly alive in its sonic command- from the first signature downstroke of “Start Me Up,” through the final, glowing fade of “Waiting on a Friend,” the latter featuring sumptuously emotive sax from jazz master, Sonny Rollins. A disc of lost and found outtakes is essentially a second album, almost but not quite up to the high bar of the record, but just as entertaining to listen to as a companion, including the reggae-ready take of Start Me Up.
Finally, there’s a two-disc, complete 1982 concert from London’s Wembley Stadium, that also serves as a kind-of companion to the 1982 live release, Still Life, drawn from the U.S. shows. The Wembley appearance is just as raucous and loose in spirit, but more cohesive as a listening experience than Still Life. It was a huge tour, ushering in an era of The Rolling Stones filling stadiums, as the Wembley show exemplifies, that would, so far, never end.
What did end after Tattoo You, was the streak of studio albums that not only lived at number-one but seemed immortal. The Rolling Stones muddled through the rest of the ‘80s with solo records and hiatuses as a band. When they returned in ’89 with Steel Wheels, and the gargantuan tour to follow, they were back to being “the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world.” Some would argue they are still the greatest, with Tattoo You, some also would argue, still their last great album.