The Rolling Stones perfected a songwriting method that pretty much every band to ever exist use in their day to day existence: the jam. Whereas most of us fumble around for anything resembling a tune while jamming, The Stones were a well-oiled machine when it came to jams, spontaneously producing god-level excursions like ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ and ‘All Down the Line’ by simply plugging and seeing what happened.
‘Start Me Up’ started much the same way, with one notable stylistic difference: it was originally a reggae song. “‘Start Me Up’ had been a reggae song recorded in Rotterdam three years [before it’s official recording for Tattoo You],” engineer Chris Kimsey explains. Mick Jagger remembers the band failing to get the reggae arrangement to work and returned to their native rock and roll out of frustration.
“‘Start Me Up’ was a track that was just forgotten about, a reject,” Jagger recalled. “The funny thing was that it turned into this reggae song after two takes. And that take on Tattoo You was the only take that was a complete rock and roll take.” Keith Richards indicates a slightly different version – the band went through around 30 takes of the song in the reggae style before Charlie Watts began playing the song straight, simply as a way to refresh the energy of the session.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact changes that ‘Start Me Up’ truly went through, as the song was recorded in at least three different studios over the course of nearly half a decade. One thing is for sure: Jagger wasn’t completely correct when he said that the song was only played as a rocker once. That’s because there’s a demo version of ‘Start Me Up’ out there that indicates the song was either initially tried, or later revived, as a rock and roll tune.
This demo of the song, featuring Mick Jagger leaning hard on the lines “I never stop” and “I never rock” is embryonic, to say the least, with Jagger indicating verbally when to go to the song’s B section. Based on the slightly rubbery guitar tones, it’s likely that this demo came from the Emotional Rescue sessions (the guitars sound almost identical to the ones in ‘She’s So Cold’), but the lack of proper attribution makes it impossible to say for sure.
Check out the demo recording, along with backstage footage of the band, down below.