Dirty Work (Rolling Stones album)

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Dirty Work
Studio album by
Released24 March 1986
Recorded5 April – 17 June, 16 July – 17 August, 10 September - 15 October 1985
LabelRolling Stones, Columbia
ProducerSteve Lillywhite, The Glimmer Twins
The Rolling Stones chronology
Dirty Work
Steel Wheels
Singles from Dirty Work
  1. "Harlem Shuffle"
    Released: 28 February 1986
  2. "One Hit (To the Body)"
    Released: 9 May 1986

Dirty Work is the Rolling Stones' 18th British and 20th American studio album. It was released on 24 March 1986 on the Rolling Stones label by CBS Records. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the album was recorded during a period when relations between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards soured considerably, according to Richards' autobiography Life.[2][3]

The album was recorded during a time of turmoil for the band, as the two principal songwriters, Richards and Jagger, had been feuding over the band's direction for most of the 1980s. Almost all of the band members had spent the previous several years working on solo albums or side projects. Other band members, including guitarist Ronnie Wood, drummer Charlie Watts, and bassist Bill Wyman, were often absent from the studio during recording sessions; it was rare that all five principal members were together at the same time. Additionally it would be the last album to feature former member and frequent contributor on piano Ian Stewart, who died shortly before the album's release. As a result, a large number of guest musicians appeared on the album, including drummers Anton Fig and Steve Jordan (with whom Richards would form the band X-pensive Winos after recording this album), as well as guitarists Jimmy Page and Bobby Womack. Keyboards were played by Ivan Neville and Chuck Leavell, who would remain with the band for decades. Unlike most Stones albums, there was no supporting tour, as the level of animosity among band members prevented them from being able to work together live on stage.

While the album sold well, reaching platinum or gold status in several countries, including the US, Canada, and the UK, and peaking as a top-ten-charting album in over a dozen of markets, it was a critical flop, with most critics at the time finding it uneven and uninspired. Journalist Robert Christgau stood almost alone in his contemporary praise of the album, however, later re-assessments and retrospective reviews have generally been kinder. The album spawned two top-40 hits: a cover of Bob & Earl's song "Harlem Shuffle" and the Ronnie Wood-penned "One Hit (To the Body)".


The sessions for Dirty Work, the first album under the Rolling Stones' recording contract with CBS Records, began in April 1985 in Paris, running for two months before breaking for a short spell.[4] Mick Jagger had just released his first solo album, She's the Boss (1985), much to Richards' annoyance, since the latter's first priority was the Rolling Stones and he was stung that Jagger was pursuing a career as a pop star.[5] Jagger was often absent from the Dirty Work sessions while Richards recorded with Ronnie Wood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts; Jagger's vocal parts were added later on. The divide between Jagger and Richards was on public view on 13 July 1985, when Jagger performed a solo set at Live Aid while Richards and Wood supported Bob Dylan's set on acoustic guitars.

Charlie Watts' involvement in the recording sessions was also limited; in 1994 Watts told Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes that during the 1980s he had been addicted to heroin and alcohol. Steve Jordan and Anton Fig play drums on some tracks; Ronnie Wood plays drums on "Sleep Tonight". Jagger would later cite Watts' personal state as one of the reasons he vetoed a tour in support of Dirty Work in 1986, preferring to start work on his second album, Primitive Cool (1987).

Four of the album's eight original compositions are credited to Jagger/Richards/Wood and one to Jagger/Richards/Chuck Leavell. Only three are credited to Jagger/Richards, the lowest number on any Rolling Stones album since Out of Our Heads (1965). Dirty Work is the first Rolling Stones record to feature two tracks with Richards on lead vocals ("Too Rude" and "Sleep Tonight").

Following a further month of final recording in July and August 1985 (which saw guest appearances by Jimmy Page, Bobby Womack and Tom Waits), co-producer Steve Lillywhite supervised several weeks of mixing and the creation of 12-inch remixes. On 12 December, Ian Stewart, one of the Stones' founding members and their longtime pianist and road manager, died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 47. As a tribute, a hidden track of Stewart playing Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway" was added to close the album.

Outtakes and demo versions[edit]

Outtakes and demo versions from the Dirty Work sessions are available on various bootlegs, and include numbers like:[6]

  • "Strictly Memphis"
  • "You're Too Much" (Keith Richards on vocal)
  • "Treat Me Like a Fool" (Richards on vocal)
  • "She Never Listens to Me" (Richards on vocal)
  • "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" (Ivy Jo Hunter, Stevie Wonder)
  • "Deep Love" (Richards on vocal)
  • "What Am I Going to Do with Your Love"
  • "Crushed Pearl" (Richards on vocal)

Artwork and packaging[edit]

The original vinyl release of Dirty Work came shrinkwrapped in dark red cellophane. Breaking with Rolling Stones tradition, Dirty Work was the first of their studio albums to contain a lyric sheet in the US, apparently at the insistence of then-distributor CBS Records. Also included was a comic strip, drawn by Mark Marek, called "Dirty Workout".[7]

In 2005, Pitchfork Media included the album cover in their list of "The Worst Record Covers of All Time", with Brent DiCrescenzo saying that no other cover "goes so far to completely tarnish the reputation of a Valhalla-ensconced band while demonstrating the crushing awfulness of 1980s aesthetics".[8]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[9]
Christgau's Record GuideA[10]
MusicHound Rock2.5/5[11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[12]
Tom HullB+[13]

In March 1986, the Rolling Stones' cover of "Harlem Shuffle" (their first lead single from a studio album not to be a Jagger/Richards original since the band's earliest days) was released to a receptive audience, reaching No. 13 in the UK and No. 5 in the US. The follow-up single "One Hit (To the Body)" was a US top 30 hit and featured a revealing video of Jagger and Richards seeming to trade blows (although Richards is syncing to Jimmy Page, who played lead guitar on the song).

Dirty Work was released a week after "Harlem Shuffle", reaching No. 4 in the UK and US (going platinum there), but the critical reaction was less than enthusiastic. Some reviewers felt the album was slight in places, with weak, generic songwriting from Richards and Wood and puzzlingly abrasive vocals from Jagger. Some felt Jagger was saving his best material for his solo records, though the critical reaction to those releases was muted as well. People named it one of the worst albums of 1986, denoting "The worst fears of the Baby Boomers come true: If the Stones are sounding this old and tired, what does it say about their original fans?"[15]

However, in 1986, Robert Christgau called Dirty Work "a bracing and even challenging record [which] innovates without kowtowing to multi-platinum fashion or half-assed pretension. It's honest and makes you like it."[16] In 2004, Stylus Magazine's "On Second Thoughts" feature assessed the album as "a tattered, embarrassed triumph, by far the most interesting Stones album since Some Girls at every level: lyrical, conceptual, instrumental."[17] The re-evaluation of the album finds that despite its change of style to a then current 80s-style production and experimentation, the album features "the most venomous guitar sound of the Stones' career, and Jagger's most committed vocals."[17]

Richards said that songs on the album were structured so they could be played live with a view to touring to support the album, before Jagger decided he wasn't going to tour after all.[18] (As aforementioned, Jagger later cited his concerns about Watts' health for not doing so.) The only songs from Dirty Work to be played live are "One Hit (To the Body)" and "Harlem Shuffle," both performed on the Steel Wheels tour.[19]

In 1994 Dirty Work was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, and again in 2009 by Universal Music. It was released on SHM-SACD in 2011 by Universal Music Japan.

Track listing[edit]

Side one
1."One Hit (To the Body)"Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood4:44
2."Fight"Jagger, Richards, Wood3:09
3."Harlem Shuffle"Bob Relf, Ernest Nelson3:23
4."Hold Back"Jagger, Richards3:53
5."Too Rude"Lindon Roberts3:11
Side two
1."Winning Ugly"Jagger, Richards4:32
2."Back to Zero"Jagger, Richards, Chuck Leavell4:00
3."Dirty Work"Jagger, Richards, Wood3:53
4."Had It with You"Jagger, Richards, Wood3:19
5."Sleep Tonight"Jagger, Richards5:10
6."Untitled hidden track" (uncredited excerpt from "Key to the Highway") 0:33


  • An unlisted and uncredited excerpt from "Key to the Highway" (Big Bill Broonzy, Charles Segar - 0:33) closes the album. It was played by Ian Stewart, who died a few months after recording sessions for the album had ended.


The Rolling Stones

Additional personnel


  • Engineered by Dave Jerden
  • Additional engineer – Steve Parker
  • Assistant engineers – Tom Crich, Mike Krowiak
  • Recorded at Pathe Marconi Studios Paris
  • Mixed at R.P.M. and Right Track Studios N.Y.C.
  • Art direction and package design – Janet Perr
  • Art direction and photography – Annie Leibovitz
  • Inner sleeve artwork – Mark Marek



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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]