Keith Richards on The Rolling Stones' Start Me Up: "I was convinced – and I think Mick was – that it was definitely a reggae song"

The Rolling Stones are back (Back, BACK!) with their first album of original tunes since 2005, Hackney Diamonds, due for release next month, and lead single Angry (below) is, frankly, a bit of a banger. 

For many, it instantly brings to mind what many would consider the band's post-Exile peak, and the absolute apotheosis of Richards' human-riffery, Start Me Up.

I was convinced, and I think Mick was, that it was definitely a reggae song.

Keith Richards

Richards is well aware the band has a well-established sonic fingerprint. When he spoke to Guitar Player back in 1981, the year Start Me Up ripped up the charts, he laughed, "I just can't get the things to sound any different! 

"They always come out just about the same when it comes to recording, because without really thinking about it I shift slowly as I go. 

"I eventually get back to the one kind of thing."

But the single that made Tattoo You a smash then - when the Stones were already being mocked as the Strolling Bones - almost never saw the light of day, having been conceived years earlier as a reggae number.

In 1977, the band had originally tried to nail down the track as Don't Stop during the sessions for Some Girls. “The story here is the miracle that we ever found that track," Richards told Guitar Player. "I was convinced, and I think Mick was, that it was definitely a reggae song. 

"We did it in 38 takes – ‘Start me up. Yeah, man, cool. You know, you know, Jah Rastafari.’ 

"And it didn’t make it. And somewhere in the middle of a break, just to break the tension, Charlie and I hit the rock and roll version. And right after that we went straight back to reggae. 

And that was that, for a few years. A recording of an earlier demo of the track does exist on YouTube, labelled as the reggae version, but to us, it sounds like it could be the rock take Keef refers to above. Have a listen below and see what you think.

Either way, this golden interlude didn't hit home at the time, and the band stowed it in their extensive library. As Richards said, "One of the great luxuries of The Stones is we have an enormous, great big can of stuff. I mean what anybody hears is just the tip of an iceberg, you know, 

"Down there is vaults of stuff. But you have to have the patience and the time to actually sift through it."

Luckily, at least one diligent archivist did just that - depending on which quote you find, that may even have been Jagger himself.

"We forgot totally about this one little burst in the middle," Richards continued, "until about five years later when somebody sifted all the way through these reggae takes.”

“After doing about 70 takes of Start Me Up he found that one in the middle,” 

“It was just buried in there. Suddenly I had it. Nobody remembered cutting it. But we leapt on it again. We did a few overdubs on it, and it was like a gift, you know?"

We won't claim it's a shame the reggae version didn't win out, but we'll leave the last word to Toots and The Maytals, just in case...

Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.