One of the most beloved songs on the Rolling Stones‘ 1981 album, Tattoo You, is closing track “Waiting on a Friend.” In it, singer Mick Jagger drawls about how he’s not “waiting on a lady/ I’m just waiting on a friend.” In a chat with Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe on Thursday (Sept. 30), Jagger talked about revisiting that album for the upcoming 40th anniversary bonus edition, as well as his writing spree during the COVID-19 lockdown and the difficulty of carrying on following the death of longtime Stones drummer and friend, Charlie Watts.
“Some people said, ‘Oh, well, Charlie, died. He should have not done the tour and stopped,” Jagger said of the advice the band got about their just-rebooted No Filter stadium tour following Watts’s death at 80 last month. “And then other people would think, ‘Well …,’ But the thing about The Rolling Stones, I think, throughout their career has been their resilience in the face of adversity. And we’ve had ups and downs — mostly ups, to be honest. We’ve had adversity, and this was probably one of the most difficult ones.”
But with the dates booked — after they were canceled last year during the pandemic — Jagger said the rest of the band thought it would be best to carry on. With a few shows under their belts so far, the singer said things feel pretty good so far and he’s glad the band decided to press on. “I’m glad we’re doing it. I know Charlie wanted us to do it. I think the audience wants to do it,” he said.
One thing that lifted the 79-year-old’s spirits is the memory of the recent time he spent in the studio with Watts recording new songs and revisiting some of the Tattoo You classics. “Charlie came into the studio. We did some we did some work on Tattoo You. Charlie did some work on just, just a few fills and stuff like that,” he said of the drummer with the notoriously light, jazzy touch.
“And then when we started messing around with some other things, so I’ve worked with him. It seems like only yesterday that I was in the studio with Charlie, joshing around. It’s just so weird and then very sad,” Jagger added. “And I mean, it’s such a long time that you work with someone like that, and you get to know someone so well and their quirks and their idiosyncrasies and they know yours. And there’s a language in communication with musicians, obviously, or anything else … That’s very rare. I miss that so much.”
In addition to digging into and tinkering with the Tattoo material, Jagger also talked about writing “a lot” of new songs during lockdown, some of which feel like they could be Stones songs and some that are definitely not in the band’s lane. 1981’s 11-track Tattoo You featured the band’s No. 2 hit “Start Me Up” as well as “Hang Fire,” “Little T&A” and “No Use in Crying.” The re-mastered version of the album that was originally assembled from castoff tunes recorded in the 1970s will feature all the original songs, plus nine new and previously unheard recordings, bonus tracks and live cuts. The collection is due out on Oct. 22.
Jagger explained to Lowe that with the pressure of an already-booked tour and their record company eager for a new album to promote, the band were stymied since they didn’t have one to offer. “And they said, ‘Well, why don’t you go back and see what you’ve got in the last eight years. You must have something.'” So they did, and engineer-producer Chris Kimsey dug around, uncovering “Start Me Up” and other tracks that they didn’t think they’d finished.
“But they were finished. And that’s the same process I had to go through here,” he said of going back to the tapes for the reissue in the same way the band had to dig in to finish the original. “There were a lot of tracks that had no top lines, they had no tunes, they had no melody … and [guitarist] Keith [Richards] and I worked on those tracks to make those tracks work. So we finished the whole album like that and quite quickly.”
The Rolling Stones singer dove into rediscovering the band’s cover of the Chi-Lites‘ 1970 track “Troubles a’ Comin’,” which the Stones originally recorded in 1979 and then dusted off on Sept. 20 during a private show at Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts. Though it was was an existing composition, Jagger said he added an extra verse to it, then asked the Chi-Lites if that was okay. “But that was kind of easy, in a way. And then Ronnie [Wood] put a guitar solo on it,” he said.
Watch Jagger’s interview and listen to “Troubles A’ Comin'” below.