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ROLLING STONES SONGS: ‘HONKY TONK WOMEN’ (1969)

Rolling Stones songs: Honky Tonk Women
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She blew my nose and then she blew my mind…

Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Olympic Sound Studios, London, England, May 12-June 8 1969
Guest musicians: Jimmy Miller (cowbell), Nanette Newman (background vocals)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012

From Songfacts:
In this song, Mick Jagger sings about having a go with two different honky tonk women. The first is a “gin-soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis” – likely a prostitue. The second is a “divorcée in New York City.” Jagger would sometimes introduce it as being “a song for all the whores in the audience.”

Like many Rolling Stones songs, it has highly suggestive lyrics, but they are just subtle enough to keep it from getting banned by radio stations. British rock bands often wrote lyrics that were ambiguously offensive, falling just in line with BBC guidelines for airplay. A good example in this song is, “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind,” which implies both cocaine and sex, but didn’t give the BBC any specific reason to ban it.

The Stones started recording this as a country song based on Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues.” They made it into a rocker for release as a single and released the country version, “Country Honk,” a few months later on Let It Bleed.
Keith Richards explained in a promotional interview: “‘Honky Tonk Women’ started in Brazil. Mick and I, Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg who was pregnant with my son at the time. Which didn’t stop us going off to the Mato Grasso and living on this ranch. It’s all cowboys. It’s all horses and spurs. And Mick and I were sitting on the porch of this ranch house and I started to play, basically fooling around with an old Hank Williams idea. ‘Cause we really thought we were like real cowboys. Honky tonk women….

…And we were sitting in the middle of nowhere with all these horses, in a place where if you flush the john all these black frogs would fly out. It was great. The chicks loved it. Anyway, it started out a real country honk put on, a hokey thing. And then couple of months later we were writing songs and recording. And somehow by some metamorphosis it suddenly went into this little swampy, black thing, a Blues thing. Really, I can’t give you a credible reason of how it turned around from that to that. Except there’s not really a lot of difference between white country music and black country music. It’s just a matter of nuance and style. I think it has to do with the fact that we were playing a lot around with open tunings at the time. So we were trying songs out just to see if they could be played in open tuning. And that one just sunk in.”

Lead guitarist Brian Jones was a founding member of the group and was considered their leader in their early years. Unfortunately, drug abuse made him pretty much worthless by 1969, and when The Stones finished recording “Honky Tonk Women” on June 8, 1969, they drove to his house and fired him. The single was released July 3, 1969, the same day Jones was found dead in his swimming pool.
Mick Taylor had taken over for Brian Jones on lead guitar, and this was his first appearance on a Stones recording. Taylor claims he came up with the famous guitar riff, even though Richards plays it.

The distinctive cowbell used to open the song was played by producer Jimmy Miller. He set the tempo for the song by venturing into the studio and hitting the two small cowbells his had set up on a prong.

Young drummers often practice playing this song because it requires them to play different patterns at the same time with the hands and feet working independently.
Reparata & The Delrons, an early ’60s girl group, sang the backup vocals.
There is no bass on the verses.

The single was given away to all the fans who helped clean up after The Stones free concert in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969. This was the first concert Mick Taylor played with the band. A life-size cutout of Brian Jones, who died three days earlier, was kept on stage and the show was dedicated to him.

The Stones played this at most of their live shows, usually with great theatrics. The Steel Wheels tour in 1989 featured giant inflatable women during the performance.
This was banned in China. When the group made arrangements to play there for the first time in 2003, they had to agree not to play this, “Brown Sugar,” “Let’s Spent The Night Together,” and “Beast Of Burden.” They ended up not playing because of a respiratory disease that was going around China.

Keith Richards says this song can be “a bastard to play.” He told Rolling Stone: “When it’s right, it’s really right. There’s something about the starkness of the beginning you really have to have down, and the tempo has to be just right.”
Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of The Pretenders, joined The Rolling Stones on stage in Leipzig on June 20, 2003 and sang this as a duet with Jagger.

Rick Nelson released a cover of this song on his 1971 album Rudy The Fifth. His version, which is in more a country style akin to “Country Honk,” is the song that got him booed off the stage when he played a “Rock & Roll Revival” show that year at Madison Square Garden. Nelson had never played one of these nostalgia shows, and he thought he could play something new in his set. The crowd, there to hear the hits, didn’t like it and let him know. The experience led Nelson to write “Garden Party,” which became a hit song the following year and got his career back on track. In that song, he included this line:
“When I sang a song about a Honky Tonk/ It was time to leave”

“Honky Tonk Women” was used as the title for a session of the amime series Cowboy Bebop. Along with other classic rock songs, this was used to introduce the “Femme Fatale” character.
(Ref. the rolling stones honky tonk women)

From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
“Honky Tonk Women” is the electric, blues-rock version of “Country
Honk,” written by the Glimmer Twins during their December 1968 jaunt to
Brazil to charge their batteries following months of intense work. They
were also hoping to benefit from this period of relaxation to dispel the
tension at the heart of the ménage à quatre with Anita and Marianne. The
Stones’ singer was thought to have shared a moment of intimacy with the
actress during the shooting of Performance, as had Keith with Marianne
some time before.

Other than a few small differences, the words of “Honky Tonk Women”
are the same as those of “Country Honk.” It is only the first verse that
differs. The narrator is drinking in a sleazy club when a hostess suggests
going upstairs for fun. She had to heave me right across her shoulder,
’cause I just can’t seem to drink you off my mind, sings Mick immediately
before the refrain.

The scene then moves to New York, this time with a divorcee who covered me
in roses and who blew my nose and then she blew my mind.
These words resulted from the process Keith Richards, in Life,
calls “vowel movement,” which involves looking for “the sounds that
work.”

However, the words count for less than the music, which, a few months
after “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” confirms the return of the Stones to the
hallowed ground of rock ’n’ roll. “Honky Tonk Women” (with “You Can’t
Always Get What You Want” as its B-side) was released in the United
Kingdom on July 4, 1969, the day before the Stones’ Hyde Park concert in
memory of Brian Jones.

The song got to number 1 in various countries, including the United Kingdom
and the United States, number 2 in the Federal Republic of Germany, and
only 13 in France, the country of Johnny Hallyday and Claude François.
One thing could be said for sure: the real Stones were back!
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From Wikipedia:
“Honky Tonk Women” is a song by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. It was released as a non-album single on 4 July 1969 in the United Kingdom, and a week later in the United States (although a country version called “Country Honk” was later included on the album Let It Bleed). It topped the charts in both nations. The song was on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards while on holiday in Brazil from late December 1968 to early January 1969, inspired by Brazilian “caipiras” (inhabitants of rural, remote areas of parts of Brazil) at the ranch where Jagger and Richards were staying in Matão, São Paulo. Two versions of the song were recorded by the band: the familiar hit which appeared on the 45 single and their collection of late 1960s singles, Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2); and a honky-tonk version entitled “Country Honk” with slightly different lyrics, which appeared on Let It Bleed (1969).

Thematically, a “honky tonk woman” refers to a dancing girl in a western bar who may work as a prostitute[citation needed]; the setting for the narrative in the first verse of the rock-and-roll version is Memphis, Tennessee: “I met a gin soaked bar-room queen in Memphis”, while “Country Honk” sets the first verse in Jackson, Mississippi: “I’m sittin’ in a bar, tipplin’ a jar in Jackson”.

The band initially recorded the track called “Country Honk,” in London in early March 1969. Brian Jones was present during these sessions and may have played on the first handful of takes and demos. It was his last recording session with the band. The song was transformed into the familiar electric, riff-based hit single “Honky Tonk Women” sometime in the spring of 1969, prior to Mick Taylor joining the group. In an interview in the magazine Crawdaddy!, Richards credits Taylor for influencing the track: “… the song was originally written as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers/1930s country song. And it got turned around to this other thing by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall another way.” However, in 1979 Taylor recalled it this way: “I definitely added something to Honky Tonk Women, but it was more or less complete by the time I arrived and did my overdubs.”

“Honky Tonk Women” is distinctive as it opens not with a guitar riff, but with a beat played on a cowbell. The Rolling Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller played the cowbell for the recording.

The concert rendition of “Honky Tonk Women” on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (1970) differs significantly from the studio hit, with a markedly dissimilar guitar introduction and the first appearance on vinyl of an entirely different second verse. During the North American leg of the 1989 Steel Wheels tour, a pair of 60-foot tall inflatable Honky Tonk women were cued to appear and bob to the music just before the first chorus. There was an animated live visual for this song when it was performed in concert around 2002 and 2003. It featured a topless woman riding on the Rolling Stones tongue who was seen in the beginning of the concert.
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1 reply »

  1. One of my favorite songs….
    Number one for me is mother’s little helper. Who am I kidding I LOVE EVERY SONG I HEARD…EVERY ROLLING STONES SONG HAS SOMETHING SPECIAL. BECAUSE IF THE PROPER AND IMPROPER WAY OF THINGS I STARTED: YOUNG BROWN SUGAR AS A NONGENDER BUT IT NEEDS YOUR TOUCH. ALSO BEING IN NEW ORLEANS VOODOO…….WRITE ME.

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