Hear the isolated vocals on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’

It’s one of the most iconic opening riffs in rock history. In the hands of the riff master himself, Keith Richards unleashes his signature open-tuned five-string Fender Telecaster during the opening bars of ‘Start Me Up’, The Rolling Stones’ classic 1981 single. Almost two full decades into their career, the Stones proved that they could still crank out all-time great tracks without missing a beat.

But little did the general public know that ‘Start Me Up’ had almost come out very different. First written during the sessions for Some Girls in 1978, the main body of ‘Start Me Up’ actually started in a completely different genre from the driving rock and roll that was the signature Rolling Stones sound. Instead, ‘Start Me Up’ was almost a reggae song.

“‘Start Me Up’ was a reggae track to begin with, totally different,” Richards recalled in 1983. “It was one of those things we cut a lot of times; one of those cuts that you can play forever and ever in the studio. Twenty minutes go by and you’re still locked into those two chords… (laughs)… Sometimes you become conscious of the fact that, ‘Oh, it’s ‘Brown Sugar’ again,’ so you begin to explore other rhythmic possibilities.”

“It’s basically trial and error. As I said, that one was pretty locked into a reggae rhythm for quite a few weeks. We were cutting it for Emotional Rescue, but it was nowhere near coming through, and we put it aside and almost forgot about it. Then, when we went back in the can to get material for Tattoo You, we stumbled on a non-reggae version we’d cut back then and realised that was what we wanted all along.”

“It was Keith’s great riff, and I wrote the rest,” Mick Jagger remembered in 1995. “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. And then it went to reggae completely for about 20 takes. And that’s why everyone said, ‘Oh, that’s crap. We don’t want to use that.’ And no one went back to Take 2, which was the one we used, the rock track.”

“It was just sitting there, and no one had taken any notice of it,” Jagger also recalled in 1984. “There were like 40 takes. What happened, I think, is we made it into a reggae song after, like, take 12, and said, ‘Well, maybe another time.’ I used take 2. And I found it, put it together… it was one of Keith’s sort of tunes… I wrote the lyrics, put it on, and Keith said, ‘I can’t believe it, it’s just wild.’”

Eventually, a demo version of the song called ‘Never Stop’ appeared online without much in the way of proper attribution. It’s difficult to say when ‘Never Stop’ was recorded: from the sound of the guitars and the recollections of Richards, it seems likely that another rock version of what became ‘Start Me Up’ was attempted during the Emotional Rescue sessions but was discarded. Eventually, the band resurrected ‘Start Me Up’ and have continued to play it ever since.

Check out the isolated vocals for ‘Start Me Up’ down below.

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