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Music / Dirty Work

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Dirty Work, an album where Jagger was mostly absent and thus had others do the dirty work for him.

Dirty Work is the eighteenth studio album (twentieth American album) by The Rolling Stones, released in 1986 through Rolling Stones Records. It was recorded during the lowest period of the Stones career (and indeed the relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) where they came dangerously close to breaking up. This is largely due to Jagger placing his developing solo career as his top priority over the Stones. After the album was released, Jagger refused to go on tour with the Stones, and went back to his solo career. Richards was infuriated.

Upon release, it was greeted with mixed to negative reviews. "Harlem Shuffle"— originally by Bob & Earl— became their first lead single to be a cover since "Little Red Rooster" in 1964! To this day, Dirty Work is generally considered to be the worst Rolling Stones album, owed in part to how heavily the negative recording atmosphere reflected in the quality of the tracks (many reviewers at the time characterized the band as sounding old and tired throughout the album), although it's not without it's fans. Fan favourites include "One Hit (To The Body)", "Harlem Shuffle", "Winning Ugly" and "Had It With You".

On a sadder note, Stones founding member Ian Stewart (who was demoted to road manager and session musician in 1963) died of a sudden heart attack (At a hospital waiting room) shortly after the album was completed; Stewart provided piano parts for the album as a session musician. As a tribute to Stewart, the Stones chose to end Dirty Work with a recording of him playing a cover of "Key To The Highway". They also dedicated this album to him - "Thanks, Stu, for 25 years of boogie-woogie". Stewart's role with the Stones would be filled by Chuck Leavell.


Side One

  1. "One Hit (To the Body)" (4:44)
  2. "Fight" (3:09)
  3. "Harlem Shuffle" (3:23)
  4. "Hold Back" (3:53)
  5. "Too Rude" (3:11)

Side Two

  1. "Winning Ugly" (4:32)
  2. "Back to Zero" (4:00)
  3. "Dirty Work" (3:53)
  4. "Had It with You" (3:19)
  5. "Sleep Tonight" (5:10)
  6. "Key to the Highway" (0:33)

Principal Members:

  • Mick Jagger - lead vocals, harmonica
  • Keith Richards - guitar, backing and lead vocals, piano
  • Charlie Watts - drums
  • Ronnie Wood - guitar, vocals, saxophone, drums
  • Bill Wyman - bass, synthesizer

Winning Tropes:

  • The '80s: Dirty Work is probably the most blatantly 80's of any of the Stones' 80's albums, from the booming drums and heavy reverb on many tracks, to the 60's throwbacks, to the comic on the inner sleeve parodying the contemporary workout craze, to the bright pastel outfits on the front cover. Had this album been released ten or twenty years later it might've been viewed as a parody of the decade.
  • Amazing Technicolor World: The front cover features the Stones in bright pastel outfits lounging in a bright blue room.
  • Broken Record: "Had It With You"
    And I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you.
    And I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you.
    I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you, oh, oh.
  • Color Motif: Red. Not only do the band members appear on the front cover in bright red jackets, but the back cover prominently features red tones, the comic strip on the inner sleeve features red on green illustrations, and the LP release originally sported translucent red shrinkwrap (a later "mini LP" CD reissue traded this out for a more easily reusable PVC sleeve).
  • Comic Strip: The original vinyl release contained a comic strip, drawn by Mark Marek of KaBlam! fame, called "Dirty Workout".
  • Cover Version: "Harlem Shuffle" (a Bob & Earl cover), "Too Rude" (a cover of "Winsome" by reggae dance-hall musician Half Pint) and "Key To The Highway" (originally by Big Bill Broonzy). Incidentally "Harlem Shuffle" was the first cover song the Stones had released as an opening single off a new studio album since 1965.
  • Crapsack World: "Back To Zero"
    I worry about my great grandchildren
    Living ten miles beneath the ground
    I worry about their whole existence
    The whole damn thing's in doubt
    Back to zero, that's where we're going
    Back to nothing, that's where we're heading
    Straight to meltdown, that's where we're going
    Back to zero, right now, right now
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: "Harlem Shuffle" basically describes how to do the dance.
  • Darker and Edgier: The trend continues from Undercover as the relationship between Jagger and Richards worsens.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Had It With You"
    And I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you.
    And I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you.
    I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you, oh, oh.
  • Face on the Cover: The band is shown on the album cover.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: "Fight"
    Got to get into a fight.
    Gonna blow you to a million pieces.
    Blow you sky high, I don't care.
    Splatter matter on the bloody ceiling.
    Blow the building right into the air.
  • Hidden Track: "Key To The Highway".
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Winning Ugly", sang from the viewpoint of someone who wants to win and is confident he will, yet admits he cheats.
    I was brought up to cheat
    so long as the referee wasn't looking.
    I'm never wrong at all.
    I always fight the call.
    I don't admit it.
    But back in the dressing room the other side is a screaming.
    And we're winning (winning), winning (winning) ugly. Yeah.
  • Lazy Bum: "Dirty Work"
    Let somebody do the dirty work
    I never see no grease on you baby
    Never roll your sleeves up, do you, never baby
  • Literal Metaphor: The music video of "One Hit (To The Body)", directed by Russell Mulcahy, featured the band in a large warehouse literally trading mock blows whilst archive footage of actual boxing matches is cut in.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Sleep Tonight", from hearing the arrangements and the title it seems like a lovely lullaby to your loved one ("Baby you better get some sleep tonight/ all you got to do close your eyes/ you better get some sleep tonight"), but near the end it gets more disturbing:
    They robbed you of your dignity
    They even steal your heart from me
    It ain't revenge, you understand
    Baby I just want to know who dealth this hand
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Key To The Highway", a 0:33 seconds long Hidden Track.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: "Winning Ugly" has a literal line like this:
    My country right or wrong
    Let the devil take the hindmost
  • One-Word Title: "Fight"
  • Precision F-Strike: "Had It With You", with the opening line:
    I love you dirty fucker
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • "Too Rude"
    Girl, you're too rude.
    Everyman I speak to say he want you.
    Girl, you're too bad.
    Girl, you're too rude.
    • "Had It With You" is one long tirade against a former partner:
    'Cos I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you.
    And I had it, I had it, I had it, I had it with you.
    Always try to taunt me.
    Always seem to haunt me.
    Serving out injunctions, shouting out instructions.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: The small snippet of "Key To The Highway" that appears as a hidden track at the end of the album was originally recorded in 1964, but never officially released. The Stones used a 33-second instrumental from the song as an album closer, because Ian Stewart, who died during the recording of Dirty Work, played that part. So it's pretty much a farewell salute to their long-time member.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: The music video of "Harlem Shuffle" shows the band in the presence of animated cartoon characters. The live-action parts were directed by Ralph Bakshi, famous for his adult animated features in the 1970's, and the animated parts by John Kricfalusi, future creator of Ren & Stimpy.
  • Shout-Out: "Hold Back" namedrops Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and George Washington's crossing of the Delaware river.
    Stalin and Roosevelt, yeah, they boot took their chances
    And George grasped the nettle
    It's do or dare from the banks of the Delaware
  • Special Guest: Several.
    • Jimmy Page plays guitar on "One Hit (To The Body)".
    • Bobby Womack (who gave the Stones their first number 1 UK hit with "It's All Over Now" back in 1964) plays guitar and sings backing vocals on "Back To Zero".
    • Anton Fig plays the drums on several of the songs. Among others, Tom Waits note , reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, folk singer Kirsty Mac Coll, Patti Scialfa note  and actress Beverly D'Angelo sings backing vocals on several of the songs.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Keith Richards sings lead vocals on "Too Rude" and "Sleep Tonight".
  • Take That!: "Winning Ugly"
    I never play it fair
    I never turn a hair, just like the politicians
    I wrap my conscience up
  • Title Track: "Dirty Work"
    You let somebody do the dirty work
    Find some loser, find some jerk
    Find some dumb ass do it all for free
    Let somebody do the dirty work
    Find some loser, find some jerk
    Find some greaseball, yeah