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Honky Tonk Women – The Rolling Stones

‘I laid a divorcee in New York City…’

Honky Tonk Women – The Rolling Stones

Decca F 12952 (UK) / London 910 (USA)

Recorded at Olympic Studios, London, May – June 1969

Released 4 July 1969

Writers Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer Jimmy Miller

UK #1   23/7/69   5 weeks    USA #1   23/8/69   4 weeks

The discovery of Ry Cooder’s open-G guitar tuning when he jammed with the Stones during sessions for their 1968 album Beggars Banquet opened up a whole new box of tricks for Keith Richards, first demonstrated here, which as well as being Mick Taylor’s first performance with the band, was actually his audition. Brian Jones, though officially not yet out of the band, was not present on June 1st 1969 when former John Mayall guitarist Taylor arrived (though he later claimed that the ‘Honky Tonk Women’ guitar riff, played by Keith, was in fact his idea – as, some years later, did a somewhat miffed Ry Cooder). The band listened to some playbacks, did some mixing and then at around 11pm began recording what would become their next single.

After a few rehearsals, Jimmy Miller sat at the drums and demonstrated what he thought would be a suitable rhythm to Charlie Watts. By 4am the following day the track was complete, and it was Miller who added the distinctive cowbell. Jones officially left the group shortly afterwards and it was only one month later that he was found dead in his swimming pool. It’s long been rumoured that Jagger’s second verse, “I laid a divorcee in New York City”, refers to Linda Eastman, later to become Linda McCartney. Ms Eastman was at the time a pop celebrity photographer (she shot the Stones in 1967) and also had affairs with Jimi Hendrix and Hollywood lothario Warren Beatty though the liaison with Jagger has never been confirmed.

The B-side, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ (begun in November 1968 shortly before their previous album Beggars Banquet had been released), was one of the group’s most unusual tracks (an attempt at a mini rock opera?) featuring the 60-voice London Bach Choir, an orchestration by former Phil Spector arranger Jack Nitzsche, backing vocals by Madeline Bell, Doris Troy and Nanette Workman, with keyboards played by Al Kooper and drums by producer Jimmy Miller. (Though this was begun in 1968 it appears that Brian Jones doesn’t perform on this track either) Apparently, Jagger’s lyric to the song was aimed at Anita Pallenberg, previously girlfriend to both Brian Jones and Keith Richards, who was interested in moving up a notch to Mr Jagger.

This would be the Stones last official single for Decca before they signed a new custom-label deal with Atlantic. The degree of animosity between the Stones and Decca is best revealed by their parting of the ways when their contract expired in 1970. The group had always financed their own recordings and were therefore able to supply whatever material they liked to Decca. ‘Brown Sugar’ (not released until 1971) was actually recorded in December 1969 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, shortly before the group appeared at the infamous Altamont Festival, but was never offered to Decca. Instead, in 1970 at the end of their Decca contract, and with one final single owing to the company, in a final act of defiance they delivered an un-releasable track entitled, “C*!?sucker Blues”.

It is of note that while Decca did not get ‘Brown Sugar’, erstwhile Stones manager Allen Klein did – precisely because it was recorded in 1969 and therefore fell under the terms covered by his contract with the group. In fact Mr Klein and his ABKCO company controlled all the Stones 1960s Decca material in addition to their debut Atlantic single, and consequently the re-issuing and remastering of the Stones 1960s releases, with conflicting US and UK album releases, has been something of a mess to say the least. While Kleins company continues to milk the catalogue it seems unlikely that a definitive anthology/box-set of the Stones material will be possible. (This situation may be resolved sometime soon since Klein died in 2009) An alternative version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’, the Hank Williams inspired ‘Country Honk’ (which was in fact how the song was originally conceived by Keith Richards) appeared on the Stones’ final Decca album Let It Bleed, released in December 1969, and not including the hit single version.


Copyright © 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton

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