rolling stones start me up 1981Can You Hear the Music?


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Rolling Stones songs: Start Me Up

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My eyes dilate, my lips go green/ My hands are greasy/ She’s a mean, mean machine…

Written by: Jagger/Richards
Recorded: EMI-Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, Jan. 6-March 2 1978; Electric Lady Studios, New York, USA, June 10-Oct. 19 1979
Guest musicians: Mike Carabello (percussion), Chris Kimsey and Barry Sage (handclaps)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012

From Songfacts:
This feral rocker has a title that seems like it’s been around for a while, but wasn’t – at least in a song we’ve heard of. It’s not too specific, but we understand what Mick Jagger is getting at when he sings, “If you start me up I’ll never stop.” The song fits well within the boundaries of Rolling Stones songs with distinctive guitar riffs and sexually charged lyrics. Typical of Mick Jagger, the lyrics don’t always make sense, but sing really well:
Spread out the oil, the gasoline/ I walk smooth, ride in a mean, mean machine

“Start Me Up” dates back to 1977. The Stones first recorded it in Paris that year for the Some Girls sessions the same day they recorded “Miss You.” After the first two takes, they recorded it with a reggae beat a bunch of times, but didn’t like the result. They put it away until 1981, when they needed a song for the Tattoo You. They went back to the second take and reworked it for the album.

This was (fittingly) the first single from Tattoo You, the album that brought the Rolling Stones into the MTV era, earning them a new wave of American fans in the process. They had been making videos since the ’60s, often with the film-maker Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who returned to direct the Tattoo You videos. “Start Me Up” is just the band performing the song against a black background, but it had the good fortune of being released in August 1981 around the same time MTV launched.

The network was thrilled to a have a well-shot video for a contemporary hit song song by a legendary rock band, and put it in hot rotation. It didn’t have a concept, but for the 12-year-olds glued to their TVs, it was their first time seeing Mick Jagger in action, and it was enough to keep them transfixed until the next video. Many of these kids grew up to be Rolling Stones fans like their parents.

In America, this went to #2 on Halloween 1981, held off by “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from Christopher Cross.

Keith Richards explained how this went from reggae song to rocker. “The story here is the miracle that we ever found that track,” he said. “I was convinced – and I think Mick was – that it was definitely a reggae song. And we did it in 38 takes – ‘Start me up. Yeah, man, cool. You know, you know, Jah Rastafari.’ And it didn’t make it. And somewhere in the middle of a break, just to break the tension, Charlie and I hit the rock and roll version. And right after that we went straight back to reggae. And we forgot totally about this one little burst in the middle, until about five years later when somebody sifted all the way through these reggae takes. After doing about 70 takes of ‘Start Me Up’ he found that one in the middle. It was just buried in there. Suddenly I had it….

…Nobody remembered cutting it. But we leapt on it again. We did a few overdubs on it, and it was like a gift, you know? One of the great luxuries of The Stones is we have an enormous, great big can of stuff. I mean what anybody hears is just the tip of an iceberg, you know. And down there is vaults of stuff. But you have to have the patience and the time to actually sift through it.”

In 1995, Microsoft used “Start Me Up” in commercials to launch their Windows ’95 operating system, which has a “Start” button on the main screen. Although it became common practice in years to come, this was one of the first times a hit song was used in a major marketing campaign, and it was the first TV ad for a Microsoft product.

The cost to use the song was reported as $10 million, but was later revealed to be $3 million.

As he did with “Honky Tonk Women” and some other Stones songs, Keith Richards played this in open G tuning. The guitar tablature contains notation for just the top five strings.

This became a staple at sporting events. It is usually played before some kind of action or the start of a game.

The Stones used this to open their 1989 Steel Wheels tour.

Ford used this in ads that started just after midnight on January 1, 2003. It was part of a campaign to reintroduce their cars to the American public, with commercials airing on sporting events as well as an episode of The Simpsons where Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were guest stars. This was the first time a Stones song was used in a car commercial.

The Stones played this at halftime of the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit. Two years earlier, Janet Jackson had her famous “Wardrobe Malfunction” during her performance, so the NFL wasn’t taking any chances – they cut the volume on the line “You make a dead man come.”

Chris Kimsey, who engineered the song, recalled in the book Classic Tracks: The Real Stories Behind 68 Seminal Recordings by Richard Buskin: “After they cut it, I said, ‘That’s bloody great! Come and listen.’ However, when I played it back Keith said, ‘Nah, it sounds like something I’ve heard on the radio. Wipe it.’ Of course, I didn’t, but he really did not like it and I’m not sure whether he likes it to this day. I don’t think it’s one of his favorite songs, although it’s obviously everyone’s favourite guitar riff; his guitar riff. Maybe because Keith loves reggae so much, he wanted it to be a reggae song, but that wasn’t to be.”

“Including run-throughs, ‘Start Me Up’ took about six hours to record,” Kimsey added. “You see, if they all played the right chords at the right time, went to the chorus at the right time and got to the middle eight together, that was a master. It was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ Don’t forget, they would never sit down and work out a song – they would jam it and the song would evolve out of that. That’s their magic.”

Tattoo You was the eighth consecutive Rolling Stones album to hit #1 in America, but it was also their last. Their next album, Undercover, peaked at #3, ending their run of chart-toppers that stared with Sticky Fingers in 1971.

From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs, The Story Behind Every Track book:
Before becoming an iconic Stones rock track, “Start Me Up” underwent a long development process. “‘Start Me Up’ had been a reggae song recorded in Rotterdam three years earlier,” explains Chris Kimsey. “When they started playing it this time, it wasn’t a reggae song, it was what we know today as the great ‘Start Me Up.’” According to Kimsey, it was a Keith song transformed by Mick.

Ron Wood offers a different insight, however: “I don’t know why ‘Start Me Up’ was missed off the selection for Emotional Rescue or Some Girls, because that’s when we recorded it. It’s strange. I think maybe we were saving it for a single. I have the impression that it was a riff that Mick brought along, like ‘Don’t Stop’ for Forty Licks—very much a Mick kind of idea, although in the end ‘Start Me Up’ became a Mick- and Keith-welded song with contributions from both of them. It was one of those genuine collaborations between the two of them, with a little magic from both sides happening instantly.”

The words are highly metaphorical, as so often is the case for the Glimmer Twins. If you start me up, I’ll never stop; Kick on the starter, give it all you’ve got; You make a dead man come: more of a sex symbol than ever, Mick Jagger solicits and stimulates the sexual prowess of his partner in terms that bikers (Hells Angels?) might happily use. And evidently the message was received loud and clear by the fans, who regarded “Start Me Up” as the Stones’ great comeback. Released on August 14, 1981, with “No Use in Crying” as its B-side, the single nevertheless topped the charts only in Australia. It climbed to number 2 in the United States, but stalled at number 7 in the United Kingdom.

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