Pop-Up Video: Waiting On a Friend (1981)

Waiting on a Friend
Single: The Rolling Stones
Album: Tattoo You
B-side: "Little T&A"
Released: November 1981
Recorded: 1972/1973 and 1981
Songwriters: Jagger/Richards

The lazy ballad "Waiting On a Friend" is the closing track on the Rolling Stones album Tattoo You. Consisting of outtakes and leftovers from other sessions, it was the final Rolling Stones album to reach the top position of the US charts, ending the band's string of number-ones that dated back to 1971's Sticky Fingers.

Guitarist Keith Richards commented in 1993: "The thing with Tattoo You wasn't that we'd stopped writing new stuff; it was a question of time. We'd agreed we would go out on the road, and we wanted to tour behind a record. There was no time to make a whole new album and make the start of the tour."

Rolling Stones 1965

The album's associate producer, Chris Kimsey,  told Pitchfork Tattoo. You came about because: "Mick and Keith were going through a period of not getting on. There was a need to have an album out, and I told everyone I could make an album from what I knew was still there. I spent three months going through (the recording tapes from) like the last four, five albums, finding stuff that had been either forgotten about or at the time rejected."

Kimsey pulled out 11 songs from the Goats Head Soup, Black and Blue, Some Girls, and Emotional Rescue sessions. They either needed cleaning up new vocals or were ready to release. He did some rough mixes of the tracks and sent them to the band members. "I'm Just Waiting on a Friend" was recorded in Jamaica in 1973 during the Goats Head Soup sessions.

Mick Taylor 1971

Mick Taylor played guitar on the original recording but wasn't with the band anymore. He fell into obscurity after leaving The Stones in 1974. When he left, the Stones took on guitarist Ron Wood.
Taylor didn't get paid for his contribution to "Waiting On a Friend" or another song that made the cut, "Tops." He sued the Stones for his amount of royalties, and they reached a settlement.

Sonny Rollins

They hired jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins to play on the Tattoo You album. It's his saxophone solo on "Waiting for a Friend." About the addition of Rollins, Jagger said in 1985: "I had a lot of trepidation about working with Sonny Rollins. This guy's a giant of the saxophone. Charlie (Watts) said He's never going to want to play on a Rolling Stones record! I said, Yes, he is going to want to. And he did, and he was wonderful."

The title was planned to be Tattoo. The name change caused conflict between Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Richards suspected Jagger changed the title without seeking his input. Jagger claims he doesn't know how "You" became part of the title. 

Concert poster by Christian Piper

In a 1981 interview, Mick Jagger said," We called it Tattoo You because we had these paintings by that guy (Christian Piper), and we just didn't know what to call it…. they're actually photographs but with that tattoo painting on them. I saw him do some other stuff, and we liked them, so I gave him a couple of pictures and asked him to do them like that. Then we used them for the cover. We had many different titles, but ultimately, we decided to call it that." 

The album cover won the Grammy Award in 1982 in the Best Album Package category. It was the first Grammy Award for the Rolling Stones. The album's release was on August 24, 1981. The song "Start Me Up's" release was a week before Tattoo You. It had a strong response, enough to carry Tattoo You to No. 1 for nine weeks in the United States. 

"Start Me Up" was The Rolling Stones' last single to reach as high as Number 2 in the US. Released as the second single, "Waiting on a Friend" reached number 13 on the singles chart in early 1982. The lyrics of "Waiting On a Friend" represent a mature side of Mick Jagger. Jagger and Keith Richards grew up together in Dartford, Kent, in England. 
Don't need a whore, I don't need no booze, don't need a virgin priest. 
But I need someone I can cry to, I need someone to protect.
Lyric to "Waiting On a Friend"
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger

Or it might be about drugs. Keith Richards was a heroin user then, and the song could be about a euphemism for the man with the drugs. If someone gets questioned by the police, the response would be, "I'm just waiting on a friend."

Alphabet City, the early 1980s

The video shoot was within the Alphabet City of NYC's Lower East side. At the time, it was a notorious drug dealing mecca specializing in Heroin. In the liner notes to 1993's compilation album Jump Back, Mick Jagger said he wrote 1981 lyrics with a view towards a future video. The song is the first Rolling Stones single packaged for the emerging MTV channel. The storyline of the video follows the song's lyrics. The front steps where Jagger waits for Richards are 96-98 St. Mark's Place. It's the same building used for the cover art of Led Zeppelin's 1975 album Physical Graffiti. 

Jagger is sitting with several other men, one of whom is the late reggae musician Peter ToshAmerican actress and model Jerry Hall make a cameo in the music video. She walks past Jagger with another woman while he's standing in that doorway. She's in blue or purple, the tall Texan blonde.

Jerry Hall

Richards arrives, and the two-man walk down the street to St. Mark's Bar & Grill. Three band members are already drinking. The video features Ron Wood, rather than Mick Taylor, on guitar. The music video did well on MTV despite a simple concept. The network launched only months before the song was released as a single. They needed some big-name rock acts.


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