Recorded throughout 1979, first in Nassau, Bahamas (Compass Point), then Paris (Pathe Marconi), with some end-of-year overdubbing in New York City, Emotional Rescue was the first Rolling Stones album recorded following Keith Richards' exoneration from a Toronto drugs charge that could have landed him in jail for years. Fresh from the revitalisation of Some Girls (1978), Richards and Mick Jagger led the Stones through dozens of new songs, some of which were held over for Tattoo You (1981), picking only ten for Emotional Rescue.
The song "Claudine" was rumoured to be a part of the original album, but didn't make the cut most likely due to the fear of litigation and controversy. The lyrics dealt with the light sentence (30 days in jail) singer-actress Claudine Longet received after she killed her live-in boyfriend, Olympian ski racer Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, in their Aspen, Colorado home. The song was eventually released as part of the deluxe version of Some Girls in 2011. Some other songs left off the album would find their way onto the next album, Tattoo You ("Black Limousine", "Start Me Up", "Hang Fire", "Little T&A", and "No Use in Crying"). "Think I'm Going Mad", another song from the sessions, was released as the B-side to "She Was Hot" in 1984. A cover song sung by Richards: "We Had It All", was released on the 2011 deluxe Some Girls package.
The album cover, designed by Peter Corriston, features a selection of thermographic photos taken by British-born, Paris-based artist Roy Adzak using a thermo camera, a device that measures heat emissions. The original release came wrapped in a huge colour poster featuring more thermo-shots of the band with the album itself wrapped in a plastic bag. The music video shot for "Emotional Rescue" also utilised the same type of shots of the band performing.
Released in June with the disco-infused hit title track as the lead single, Emotional Rescue was an immediate smash. The title track hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album gave the Rolling Stones their first UK No. 1 album since 1973's Goats Head Soup and spent seven weeks atop the US charts. The follow-up single "She's So Cold" was a top 30 hit while "Dance Pt. 1" reached No. 9 on Billboard's Dance chart.
In 1994, Emotional Rescue was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, and again in 2009 by Universal Music. In 2011 it was released by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese only SHM-SACD version.