Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: ROLLING STONES
Album: DIRTY WORK
I can’t imagine there are many fans who rank Dirty Work as one of the Rolling Stones’ best albums, and it’s more likely that the majority consider it a low point in their discography. You can count me among the latter, although thirty years ago I was thrilled to hear new music from the Stones (who were one of my 4 or 5 favorite bands) and several tracks still sound great three decades later. It had been three years since the undervalued Undercover, and during that time relations between the band members (especially Mick Jagger & Keith Richards) were at an all-time low, a situation exacerbated when Jagger released his debut solo album in 1985 and it became a big hit. I’m not sure you can hear any of this tension in the music but the songwriting was inconsistent, possibly due to Jagger saving his strongest material for another solo album (although his underwhelming sophomore effort the following year would dispute this suggestion). It’s more likely due to the fact that the band wrote, rehearsed & recorded much of the music without Jagger, who added his vocals after recording was complete, and the collaborative spark that created so much of their classic material was absent.
Dirty Work is best remembered for the hit single “Harlem Shuffle,” their cover of the 1963 song by R&B duo Bob & Earl. Their version is good but not as strong as the original. My favorite songs here have always been “One Hit (To The Body),” which includes some great lead guitar from Jimmy Page, “Winning Ugly” and “Back To Zero.” I always enjoyed Keith Richards’ lead vocal performances, which had been sporadic throughout their career, and this album is notable for being the first to feature two Richards songs, the reggae cover “Too Rude” and the lovely ballad “Sleep Tonight” (with Richards accompanied by Ron Wood on drums). Both songs point to his excellent solo work a few years later. The remainder of the Steve Lillywhite-produced Dirty Work is Stones-by-the numbers; nothing terrible but nothing terribly memorable either. It hasn’t held up as well as the majority of my favorite albums from 1986 but deserves to be included in this series for the half dozen tracks mentioned above.