Dirty Work
Studio album by
Released24 March 1986
Recorded5 April – 17 June and 16 July – 17 August 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 18th British and 20th American studio album by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. It was released on 24 March 1986 on the Rolling Stones label by CBS Records, their first under their new contract with Columbia Records. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the album was recorded during a period when relations between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had soured considerably, according to Richards' autobiography Life.[3][4]

The album was recorded during a time of turmoil for the band, as its two principal songwriters, Richards and Jagger, had been feuding over the band's direction during most of the 1980s. Almost all of the band members had spent the previous few years working on solo albums or side projects. Some 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. It would be the last album to feature former member and frequent piano contributor Ian Stewart, who died shortly before the album's release. As a result, a number of guest musicians appeared on the album, including 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 onstage.

While the album sold well, reaching platinum or gold status in several countries, including the United States, Canada and the UK, and peaking as a top-10-charting album in over a dozen of markets, it was a critical flop, with most critics then and now finding it uneven and uninspired. The album spawned two top-40 hits: a cover of Bob & Earl's song "Harlem Shuffle" and one of the songs written with Ronnie Wood, "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 Boulogne Billancourt,[1] running for two months before breaking for a short spell.[5] Mick Jagger had just released his first solo album, She's the Boss (1985), much to Richards' annoyance, since Richards' first priority was the Rolling Stones and he was stung that Jagger was pursuing a career as a pop star.[6] 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. 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 album 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

Outtakes and demo versions from the Dirty Work sessions are available on various bootlegs, and include numbers like:[7]

Artwork and packaging

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 United States, apparently at the insistence of then-distributor CBS Records. Also included was a comic strip, drawn by Mark Marek, called "Dirty Workout."

In 2005, Pitchfork 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

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 Hull – on the WebA–[13]

In March 1986, the Rolling Stones' cover of "Harlem Shuffle" (the first lead single from a Stones 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 United States. 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 month after "Harlem Shuffle," reaching No. 4 in the UK and United States (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, at the same time, 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" and claiming that 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 to be played live with a view to tour in support of the album, before Jagger decided he wasn't going to tour after all,[18] though Jagger later cited his concerns about Watts' health for not doing so. The only songs from Dirty Work to be played live have been "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

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."Key to the Highway" (uncredited excerpt)Big Bill Broonzy, Charles Segar0:33


The Rolling Stones

Additional personnel




Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[40] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[41] Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[43] Gold 231,800[42]
Germany (BVMI)[44] Gold 250,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[45] Gold 50,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[46] Platinum 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[47] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[48] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


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Further reading