Undercover of the Night

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"Undercover of the Night"
Single by The Rolling Stones
from the album Undercover
B-side "All the way down"
Released November 1, 1983
Format 7"
Recorded January, May - August 1983
Genre Rock, new wave
Length 4:32
Label Rolling Stones
Writer(s) Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producer(s) The Glimmer Twins/Chris Kimsey
The Rolling Stones singles chronology
"Time Is on My Side" (live)
(1982)
"Undercover of the Night"
(1983)
"She Was Hot"
(1984)
Undercover track listing

"Undercover of the Night" is the lead track and first single from English rock and roll band The Rolling Stones' 1983 album Undercover.

Inspiration and recording[edit]

The song was largely a Mick Jagger composition, guitarist Keith Richards going as far as saying, "Mick had this one all mapped out, I just played on it," in the liner notes to the 1993 best of Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones. The song was likely written in Paris in late 1982, where recording began on the album.

In 2003, guitarist Ronnie Wood described the fractious writing as "just me, Mick and Charlie [Watts]... [We] took it up into some wonderful adventures with all these different changes... There was a great percussive and acoustic version, which is the kind of song it should be. The final polished, glossed-up version may have been Mick's vision of the song..."

The lyrics see Jagger explore the then-ongoing political corruption in Central and South America:

All the young men, they've been rounded up;
And sent to camps back in the jungle;
And people whisper, people double-talk;
Once proud fathers act so humble
.

Jagger said, in those same liner notes to Jump Back, that the song was "heavily influenced by William Burroughs' Cities of the Red Night". "Undercover of the Night" is notable as it is one of the few songs by the Rolling Stones which overtly explore political ideas, next to "Street Fighting Man", arguably "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)","Highwire" and the more recent "Sweet Neo Con".

Recording began in early 1983 and was resumed later that summer at New York City's famed Hit Factory. Of note are the two versions of this song, one featuring usual Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and the other featuring guest Robbie Shakespeare. The song features a very rhythmic feeling, provided by Sly Dunbar, Martin Ditcham, Moustapha Cisse and Brahms Coundoul, on various instruments ranging from bongos to timpani. Organ on the piece is performed by Chuck Leavell, who would later become the Rolling Stones' regular pianist. Also of note is the song's use of dub style (a sub-genre of reggae music) echo on the instruments.

Release[edit]

"Undercover of the Night" was released as the first single taken from the album on November 1, 1983. Initial reception was warm with the song reaching number 9 in the US and number 11 on the UK Singles Chart, though the violent depictions spelled out by Jagger were believed to be why its popularity quickly waned. Jagger in Jump Back's liner notes: "I think it's really good but it wasn't particularly successful at the time because songs that deal overtly with politics never are that successful, for some reason." Richards countered: "There were a lot more overlays on this track, because there was a lot more separation in the way we were recording at that time. Mick and I were starting to come to loggerheads." The 1980s were famously a rough time for the leaders of the Rolling Stones.

An elaborate music video was made for the song, featuring Jagger as detective helping a woman follow her boyfriend's kidnappers and Richards as the leader of the kidnappers who eventually shoots Jagger. The music video, directed by Julien Temple, was considered to be too violent for MTV (They did eventually aired an edited version. However still not before 9 PM due to the violent imagery.), and the uncensored version of the video would be included on the band's Video Rewind compilation.

The song has been performed sporadically on every tour since its release, most recently on the A Bigger Bang Tour in 2006, and appeared on every compilation album since, including 2002's Forty Licks and 2012's GRRR!.