The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up: The Meaning Behind The Song

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With its brief, sharp, immediately recognisable opening riff, insistent refrain, characteristically lascivious lyric, upfront handclaps and irresistibly pounding backbeat, Start Me Up is about as iconic a composition as the Rolling Stones have ever produced. 

Its simple assault on the nation’s collective consciousness gave them their highest-ranking UK single for the reason that world phenomenon that was Miss You (although, maybe extremely, it additionally marked the final event upon which the Greatest Rock’N’Roll Band In The World discovered themselves going Top 10 within the UK singles chart). 

The reward that stored on giving, the tune additionally netted the Stones a reported $14 million when it was personally chosen by Bill Gates to soundtrack Microsoft’s first-ever TV business. Not dangerous for an initially deserted, reggae-flavoured studio jam that just about by no means noticed the sunshine of day. 

Back in ’81, the Stones have been seeking to tour and, as was their customized, wanted a brand new studio album to tour behind, however sadly, in response to Start Me Up’s affiliate producer and recording engineer Chris Kimsey: “Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] had had a giant falling out and weren’t actually speaking. Prince Rupert Loewenstein – who was the band’s supervisor on the time – requested me, ‘What are we going to do to get one other album?’ 

“So I mentioned I knew of a minimum of six tracks I’d recorded with the band throughout periods for Some Girls and Emotional Rescue we might use, and I’d go into the vaults to see what else was hanging round. So I spent the following 4 months going via the whole lot and located this glorious assortment of songs.”

An exquisite assortment of songs that, as soon as augmented with contemporary vocals and the odd overdub, would go quadruple platinum whereas topping the Billboard charts beneath the title Tattoo You.

While Tattoo You was a comparatively low upkeep album for the Stones to make, going again into the studio to the touch up out-takes wasn’t precisely a process that stuffed any hearts with gladness. 

“Once I discovered the whole lot,” Kimsey continues, “I needed to attempt to drag Mick in to place the vocals on, which he didn’t actually need to do. And then when he did the vocals he was so budget-conscious that we ended up within the Stones’ cell [studio] in a railway warehouse on the periphery of Paris in winter. I bear in mind it was so chilly after we did the handclaps on Start Me Up that you can see the breath popping out of everybody’s mouth.” 

Despite the truth that Start Me Up is so intrinsically rock as to be a digital caricature, with its slack-jawed, two-chord, staccato riffing allied to Mick Jagger’s irretrievably priapic, oiled-up intercourse machine of a lyric (which culminates within the venerable vocalist’s priceless deployment of the assertion that ‘you make a lifeless man come’), its unique incarnation was a special kettle of fish. As Keith Richards, in his personal inimitable fashion, explains. 

Start Me Up had been within the can for 5 or 6 years. We had 45 takes of it that we’d carried out in Rotterdam in ’75, ’76, one thing like that. And each take, aside from one, was reggae… [Sings] ‘Start Me Up… puh-chick-oo-papa…’ [Keith gets irie, it’s quite a sight.] And then it went into this weird, like… [Keith thinks about getting even irie-er, but decides against it.] It’s positively a reggae tune, that’s what it’s, however a while round about take 36, I hit one model, and Charlie’s with me, which was the rock’n’roll model.

“Then we completely forgot about it, as a result of then got here one other 10 reggae variations, however it by no means took off for us that method. I’ve heard Jamaican bands make a rattling positive model of it, however no marvel it didn’t work – we’re not Jamaicans. That’s the factor, my God, it might have slipped proper by us. Sometimes you need to simply decide up what’s there: you by no means know, there could possibly be a gem in there that handed proper over you when you have been doing issues one other method as a result of your thoughts was set the opposite method. But that was a fluke, fairly actually… I really like flukes.”

Originally entitled Never Stop, the embryonic reggae model of Start Me Up was presumably nearer to Richards’ coronary heart than he’s keen to confess, Kimsey remembers. 

“Start Me Up had been round since Black And Blue days as a reggae thought of Keith’s, and Keith was vehement; he actually wished to maintain it reggae. It’d all the time pop up as a reggae groove, however then it bought much less reggae and ultimately, when it was recorded as we all know it, we solely recorded two takes.” 

The Stones’ time-honoured modus operandi was, and stays, to jam their compositions into being somewhat than strictly working to set pre-written preparations, and Start Me Up / Never Stop was no exception, as Kimsey recollects.

“Numerous the Stones’ songs would take about 4 or 5 days to nail. They would play every tune for 3 or 4 hours, then transfer onto a brand new one. That was the sample of recording. Then sooner or later it will be, ‘Oh wow, that’s a very good model of that one,’ and we’d preserve that take and transfer on. I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t lengthy after we completed Miss You earlier than they launched into the model of Start Me Up that we all know now. So, if my reminiscence serves me appropriately, Start Me Up was just about recorded concurrently Miss You.”

Even with the rock model of Start Me Up within the can, Richards was apparently removed from joyful.

“When it was recorded,” concludes Kimsey, “Keith had a hear, and Keith was not enamoured by it. He mentioned, ‘That seems like one thing I’ve heard on the radio. Get rid of it.’ And I didn’t [laughs]. I’ve seen them do it various instances dwell and at any time when I’m there – I don’t know if he does it on function – however he’ll all the time play the improper chords originally…”

The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You (fortieth Anniversary Deluxe) is out now by way of Polydor/UME.

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