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Rewinding the Charts: In 1981, The Rolling Stones Got a No. 1 ‘Tattoo’

Tensions between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards led the band to raid its vaults — and score its longest-running No. 1 LP.

Considering the success of The Rolling Stones‘ 1981 Tattoo You album, it’s hard to believe the set comprises outtakes and half-finished songs from previous LPs. “That’s an old record,” Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. “It’s all a lot of old tracks that I dug out. And it was very strange circumstances.”   

Tattoo You topped the Billboard 200 on Sept. 19, 1981 (Jagger and writing partner Keith Richards were both 38 at the time), and spent nine weeks at No. 1 — the band’s longest chart-topping run on the list. It was the group’s ninth No. 1 and the last to top the tally (so far). The album is certified four-times platinum by the RIAA, making it The Stones’ second-highest certified studio set behind the six-times platinum Some Girls from 1978.   


Tattoo You really came about because Mick and Keith were going through a period of not getting on,” the album’s associate producer-engineer Chris Kimsey told Craig Rosen in his 1996 book, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums. The group needed a record out for its upcoming tour, so Kimsey suggested combing through the archive to cobble one together, with Jagger adding new lyrics and vocals. (Two songs are so old that they feature guitarist Mick Taylor, who left the band in 1974.)  

Even the album’s biggest hit, the Billboard Hot 100 No. 2 smash “Start Me Up,” dated back to the sessions for Some Girls. “We did like 45 versions of ‘Start Me Up,’ and 44 of them were reggae,” Richards told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “It was years later when we found this [rock] version again.”

Now one of the band’s signature songs, the tune would famously soundtrack Microsoft’s Windows 95 TV advertising campaign in 1995, earning the act $3 million.

The Stones released their 37th top 10 album, the blues-covers set Blue & Lonesome, in December 2016.