The Rolling Stones headed into the 1980s with a lot of momentum. Their 1978 LP Some Girls was a huge commercial comeback after a series of disappointing releases, and 1980's Emotional Rescue was a sign they were quite willing to continue their experimentation with dance music. The following year they stunned most everyone when "Start Me Up" from their new disc Tattoo You exploded onto radio. They launched a worldwide stadium tour, but when it wrapped vicious infighting kept them off the road for seven years. They somehow kept making music this whole time, though. We asked our readers to select their favorite Stones songs of the 1980s. Here are the results.
The Rolling Stones came precariously close to breaking up in 1988. Mick Jagger had refused to support their last two albums, spending much of his time trying to launch a solo career. The situation infuriated Keith Richards, especially when Jagger launched a solo tour with Joe Satriani on guitar and a set list full of Stones songs. By 1988 Keith was sick of waiting around, so he cut his first solo LP with drummer and longtime friend Steve Jordan. One of the standout tracks written by the duo was "Almost Hear You Sigh," a ballad that Keith once called "a cousin of 'Beast of Burden.'" When Mick relented and agreed to a new Stones album in late 1989, Keith dug out the tune and the group added their own touches to it. The result is a lovely, tender ballad that sounded great on the Steel Wheels tour, though they haven't touched it a single time since.
England's economy was completely in the toilet when the Rolling Stones began work on Some Girls in late 1977. The situation inspired the Sex Pistols to write tunes like "God Save the Queen," and the usually non-political Stones even got in on the act with "Hang Fire." "We got nothing to eat," Jagger sings. "We go nowhere to work/Nothing to drink/We just lost our shirt." The Stones had so many amazing songs for Some Girls that it didn't make the LP, though it was resurrected three years later for Tattoo You and released as the third single where it got a bit of airplay. The group even created video for it that must have taken them at least 45 whole minutes to film. They haven't played it a single time since 1982.
There are Rolling Stones songs with deep and profound lyrics like "Sympathy for the Devil," and then there are songs like "Little T&A" where Keith spends three minutes raving about the "tits and ass" of a groupie. It was written about the time of Emotional Rescue, but it didn't appear on an album until Tattoo You the following year. By the time it came out, Keith was with his future wife Patti Hansen, who made it quite clear this wasn't her favorite tune. It vanished from the band's live repertoire after 1982, reappearing in 2006. Keith, who says his two daughters love the track, sang it that year at the Beacon Theater and its appears on in the Martin Scorsese documentary Shine a Light.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards headed down to Barbados in the spring of 1989 to see if they could mend their friendship and write some songs for an album they wanted to rush so they could get on the road that summer. "Mixed Emotions" was very much a collaborative effort, though Jagger wrote the lyrics in response to Keith's recent solo track "You Don't Move Me" where he ripped into the singer and labelled him"greedy" and "needy." "Mixed Emotions" is Jagger saying that there's plenty of blame to be shared. It was the first single off the album and got a lot of radio play and even MTV time. Despite that, they haven't played it once since 1990.
Nobody knows the identity of the "sweet, sweet beauty" that refused Mick Jagger sometime in the late 1970s, but she sure made an impression and inspired him to write "She's So Cold." "I tried re-wiring her," he sings. "Tried re-firing her/I think her engine is permanently stalled." Clearly, this was a situation that Mick wasn't used to facing. It was the second single from Emotional Rescue, though it stalled out at Number 33 in England, which was monumentally low for them at the time. Despite the chilly reception, Jagger clearly likes the song and it remains in the live repertoire to this day.
The unexpected success of Tattoo You gave the Stones a lot of confidence when they began work on Undercover of the Night in late 1982. Jagger wrote the title track largely by himself after reading about the heinous human rights violations happening around South America at the time. "All the young men they've been rounded up," he sings. "And sent to camps back in the jungle/And people whisper people double-talk/And once proud fathers act so humble." The single hit Number Nine in America, though quickly fell down the charts. The complete lack of a tour for the album didn't help matters, though they played the song regularly in 1989 and brought it back a handful of times in later years, most recently at the Beacon Theater in 2006.
The Rolling Stones wanted to release a new album in the summer of 1981 that could get them back on the road, but they had little interest in going through the excruciating process of writing and recording yet again. The wise decision was made to create Tattoo You by simply digging through the vaults and cherry-picking the best outtakes from their 1970s albums. They found "Waiting on a Friend" from the Goats Head Soup sessions in 1972, but it needed a lyric and a bit of overdubbing. The result was an absolutely classic song that nobody could suspect took 10 years to come together. It became a big radio hit and the video — shot on St. Marks Place in front of the Physical Graffiti Building — was a mainstay during MTV's earliest days.
Just days before his tragic murder, John Lennon spoke with Rolling Stone about his admiration for Mick Jagger. "He's put out consistently good work for 20 years," he said. "And will they give him a break? Will they ever say, 'Look at him, he's Number One, he's 37 and he has a beautiful song, 'Emotional Rescue,' it's up there? I enjoyed it, a lot of people enjoyed it." Jagger wrote the disco-influenced song on electric piano and sang it in his rarely-heard falsetto. It was the first single from the 1980 album of the same name, reaching Number Three in America. The group stunned fans in 2013 when they finally played it live.
Jimmy Page had just wrapped up a shambolic reunion set with Led Zeppelin at Live Aid when he stopped by the studio to visit the Rolling Stones as they worked on their ill-fated 1986 LP Dirty Work. He agreed to lay down some guitar parts for "One Hit (to the Body)" even though he couldn't be given credit due to contractual reasons or even get paid. Oddly enough, Bobby Womack, Patti Scialfa and Don Covay were all hanging around as well and contributed background vocals. It was a bizarre one-time-only supergroup, but it lead to the standout track on Dirty Work that was otherwise marred by vicious infighting and Mick Jagger's general indifference. The song was played live about 18 times in the fall of 1989 and not a single time since.
In the spring of 1975 the Rolling Stones worked on a reggae tune called "Never Stop" during the Black and Blue sessions. They returned to it three years later while working on Some Girls, and transformed it into a rock tune with a killer new riff from Keith Richards. But it didn't make the cut, and in 1981 producer Chris Kimsey dug through the vaults looking for material they could release on Tattoo You and stumbled upon it. The group finally saw potential in the tune and kicked off the album with it. The single hit Number Two on the American Hot 100, giving them their last enormous, worldwide smash to date. It also gave them a perfect opening concert number for many years to come.