Flashback: The Rolling Stones Release ‘Dirty Work’
It was 36 years ago today (March 24th, 1986) that the Rolling Stones released their fourth studio album of the 1980’s, Dirty Work. The album, which was recorded during 1985 in the midst of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards‘ slowly simmering cold war, saw the “Glimmer Twins” tracking their parts at different times, so as not to run into each other in the studio. Richards took exception that Jagger was more interested in promoting his 1985 solo debut, She’s The Boss, than recording the new Stones album.
Dirty Work, which was co-produced by Jagger & Richards and Steve Lillywhite, was the band’s first as part of their contract for CBS Records. It peaked at Number Four on both the U.S. and UK albums charts, but only spent a scant six weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. Dirty Work’s lead single, a cover of Bob & Earl‘s 1963 hit “Harlem Shuffle,” reached Number Five. Dirty Work holds the distinction of featuring the most number of co-written songs with guitarist Ron Wood — a total of four.
Two other songs from Dirty Work are still regularly featured in the Stones’ setlists — Keith Richards’ ballad “Sleep Tonight” and the Ron Wood co-write “One Hit (To The Body).” Among the high profile guests on Dirty Work were Jimmy Page, Bobby Womack, Jimmy Cliff, Anton Fig, Don Covay, Beverly D’Angelo, Kirsty MacColl, Patti Scialfa, and Tom Waits.
Noted Stones historian Bill German recalled that the tension in the band at that point stemmed from Mick Jagger blatantly putting his solo career before the Stones: “He didn’t really wanna be there. He didn’t really wanna be in the Stones at that point. Y’know, he was like the reluctant lead singer who had to contractually come in and sing the songs on Dirty Work. He really didn’t wanna be there. Y’know, while they were recording Dirty Work, he was busy at the same time promoting his first solo album, She’s The Boss.”
Keith Richards told us that he’s always had a soft spot for Dirty Work, which was overlooked in the wake of his and Jagger’s late-’80s feud following Jagger’s disinterest in recording and touring behind the album. Over 30 years on, it’s clear to nearly everyone involved that Dirty Work planted the seeds for Richards’ solo career: “Dirty Work for me was. . . I, I love the record and everything, but it was probably the most difficult one to make, because there was — the tensions were all rising to the surface of whatever was going on. And I think it was probably Mick’s and my frustration, really, just being in the Stones. But I wasn’t, there was no way I was going to make the first move (laughs).”
Old friend, Jimmy Page supplied the distinctive lead work and solo on the album’s lead track and second single, “One Hit (To The Body).” Shortly after the sessions, Page recalled the scene recording with the Stones: “It was a fantastic night, and the next night I was going to go down and put the solos on this thing, on their stuff, but when I got down there, Mick (Jagger) was there. I think it might’ve been some time since they’ve seen him prior to that. And he had just done a vocal on one of the numbers — which is the one that I put some stuff on. Um, actually, at the time, I did bits and pieces on it and I don’t really know now what, what I actually ended up (laughs) doing. Apparently, it’s out and I’d really like to hear it, ‘cause I haven’t (laughs).”
Mick Jagger credits a united professional front for the Stones’ longevity over any fan’s notion of a “brotherhood” with the rest of the band: “Relationships, for a long period, they go up and down, and sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re not very good. Any internal, kind of, group of people always have varying groups of relationships with each other, so the dynamic changes. But, y’know, we sort of have common goals and so we try to get over the ups and downs and try and keep on the common goal.”
Following the Dirty Work sessions, it would be four long years before the Rolling Stones would hit the studio again for 1989’s Steel Wheels collection.