Mean-Lean-Hits (Dog N Cat DAC-112)
Disc 1 (71:31): Dirty Work commercial #1, Fight, Too Rude, Treat Me Like A Fool, Crushed Pearl, Strictly Memphis, Had It With You, Dirty Work, Dirty Work – instrumental, One Hit (To The Body), One Hit (To The Body) – instrumental, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever, Winning Ugly, Winning Ugly, Dirty Work commercial #2
Disc 2 (78:56): What You Gonna Tell Your Boyfriend, Some Of Us Are On Our Knees, She Never Listens To Me, Baby You’re Too Much I, Fight I, High Temperature, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever, Breakin’, Don’t Get Mad, Who’s Shagging Who, If I Don’t Have You I, If I Don’t Have You II, If I Don’t Have You III, Treat Me Like A Fool I, Treat Me Like A Fool II, Cut Your Throat, You Got It, My Baby Left Me, I Can’t See Nobody
The Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work was recorded and released at a nadir of their career. With Mick and Keith feuding about the direction of the band, there were certainly much drama and tension in the album’s conception and release to the general public. Although it was met with some lackluster reviews, to suggest it tanked commercially is not correct. It reached number four on both the US and UK charts, and “Harlem Shuffle” and “One Hit (To The Body)” charted highly.
But with not tour for support, and with Jagger, Richards and Wood concentrating on solo work for the following years, the album hasn’t been popular and has become one of their more obscure works.
Robert Christau was one of the few critics to praise the word in his review Winning Ugly published in the Village Voice on April 15th, 1986. He observes: “After almost two decades on top, they seemed too convoluted to come out with such direct, hard-driving music, but it’s folly to underestimate their survivorship, so I’m not surprised that they did. The sure thing was that they couldn’t make me care about it–that no adjustment in the music or persona could jolt what they said or how they said it past my sensorium and into my soul. And I was wrong. Dirty Work (Rolling Stones) is a bracing and even challenging record. It innovates without kowtowing to multi-platinum fashion or half-assed pretension.
“It’s honest and makes you like it. It’s only Rolling Stones, yet it breaks down their stifling insularity, as individuals and as an entity. Since the last time the Stones released a surprising record–Some Girls, eight years ago now, a third of their famous career out the window–the Stones have turned into exceptionally disgusting rock professionals. That doesn’t mean it’s been possible to dismiss them or their music–what’s made them so disgusting is that you couldn’t.
“I give you ‘Winning Ugly,’ ‘Back to Zero,’ and ‘Dirty Work,’ their meanest political statements in 15 years, and not for want of trying. These songs aren’t about geopolitical contradictions. They’re about oppressing and being oppressed. Jagger always plays dirty, always robs the other guy, and it’s beginning to get to him; he misuses the jerks, greaseballs, fuckers and dumbasses who clean up after him and that doesn’t make him feel so good either; and for all his class he’s another nuclear subject who’s got no say over whether he rots or pops even though he’d much prefer the former.
“For once his lyrics aren’t intricately ironic. They’re impulsive and confused, almost jottings, two-faced by habit rather than design, the straightest reports he can offer from the top he’s so lonely at. They’re powerful because they’re about power, a topic unpretty enough to fit right in. And together with the hard advice of ‘Hold Back’–‘Don’t matter if you ain’t so good-looking/If you ain’t sharp as a blade/Don’t be afraid/Don’t hold back/Life is passing you by’–they’re winning hints of a moral center somewhere in the vicinity of the singer’s perpetual disillusionment.
“They contextualize the ironic persona-play of ‘Fight’ and the unrecontructed send-off of ‘Had It with You’ and the found sexism of ‘Too Rude’ and the slum-hopping groove of ‘Harlem Shuffle.’ They set up the dog-tired compassion of ‘Sleep Tonight,’ which Keith turns into the Stones’ most poignant ballad since ‘Angie.’ They assure that Dirty Work is a Very Good Stones Album.”
More recently Alfred Soto in Stylus magazine gave Dirty Work a reappraisal, writing: “Dirty Work is a tattered, embarrassed triumph, by far the most interesting Stones album since Some Girls at every level: lyrical, conceptual, instrumental. For one, Dirty Work lacks any concession calculated to win a segment of the marketplace: no disco crossovers like ‘Emotional Rescue’, no AOR anthems like ‘Start Me Up’. What gives Dirty Work its fitful power is the aggression the Stones’ handlers have hyped since they were supposedly the anti-Beatles.
“Except now they’re not ‘channeling’ (read ‘exploiting’) anger, as they did on the marvelous secondhand belligerence of Some Girls: they’ve surrendered to it; they’ve agreed to loathe each other. Hence the most venomous guitar sound of the Stones’ career, and Jagger’s most committed vocals. Despite copping to tired ‘80s subjects like nuclear apocalypse (‘Back to Zero,’ the album’s lone turd), all this aggression is reflexive.
“Mick’s performance is irony-free; he’s pissed about something, shouting and braying like he wants to gnaw at the microphone. Lilywhite earns his paycheck: the guitars surround, taunt, and goad; the drumming by Watts or Wood or whoever shoves Jagger down a flight of stairs. The rhythm guitar coda is superfluous, an afterthought; how could it be anything else? In ‘Hold Back’ the Stones, finally, embrace their image: they’re dangerous, they don’t wanna hold your hand, they want your money. It’s a masterpiece.”
The Dirty Work session outtakes have been in almost constant circulation since the late eighties. The more well known titles include Dirtiest Work in 1995 Crushed Pearl (VGP-041) was released on CD. The following year a vinyl transfer of Mean Lean Hits was released containing Keith singing “Treat Me Like A Fool” Private Tapes-Dirty Work Acoustic Sessions (Weeping Goat WG-020) Mean-Lean-Hits (Outsider Bird Records OBR 458CD 025) contains much of what is found on disc one, and High Temperature (VGP-285) covers disc two. Other titles with Dirty Work material include Jamming With Stu (VGP-240), Back To Zero (DAC-020) and Dirty Workout (VGP-264).
Recording for Dirty Work began in early 1985 in session at Pathé-Marconi Studios near Paris. From January 15th to February 28th the band gathered to write new songs and record rough demos. After a break of some months the band reconvened in France between April 5th to June 17th. At these sessions they were joined by Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Steve Jordan on drums, and members of Duran Duran.
After a month break and some animosity in Philadelphia, work continued on July 16th to August 17 at RPM Studios in New York. During this month many guest stars visited the band and contributed to the final mix, including Jimmy Page, Bobby Womack, Jimmy Cliff, Beverly D’Angelo and Kristy MacCool. And the final mixing occured from September 10th to October 15th at RPM Studios and Right Track Studios, both in New York.
The first disc, which basically is the old Mean-Lean-Hits vinyl with bonus tracks, starts with a radio advertisement for Dirty Work “including the number one hit ‘Harlem Shuffle'” and Mick Jagger’s chant “what kinda work we gonna do??”
“Fight” is a run-through of the commercial version of the track. It is missing backing vocals and the guitar solo, but is otherwise very close to the final version.
The following track is the first stab at “Too Rude.” Featuring Keith on vocals, it is a ten minute rehearsal of the 1983 Half Pint tune “Winsome.” In an interview with Keith around the time he states that in the car he travelled to and from the studio was a tape which contained that song. It eventually it hooked him and ended up on the new LP. The commercial version would be edited down to three minutes. But this is the very few songs from this album to be played live during Richards’ two X-Pensive Winos tours in 1988 and 1992.
Three unreleased songs follow. “Treat Me Like A Fool” features Richards on vocals and lasts for close to seven minutes. The lyrics are rudimentary. Richards sings “Baby baby baby, you treat me like a fool / I sit all by myself alone / honey honey honey, you treat me like a fool” among other words repeatedly. It is interesting as an outtake, but far from finished.
“Crushed Pearl” is another Jagger/Richards original outtake never completed by the band with Richards on lead vocals. The lyrics, speaking about a “crushed pearl” and a “fallen angel,” suggest the loss of innocence of a teenage girl. This take dates from the Spring sessions in Paris and has a lazy, mid-tempo “Beast Of Burden” feel with the interweaving guitar melodies.
“Strictly Memphis” exists in various takes and a final version with Bobby Womack duetting with Jagger on vocals. This take lasts eight minutes and features only Jagger on vocals, but it is fairly polished with the inclusion of a guitar solo. It would never be released, but Jagger did resurrect it the following year for consideration for Primitive Cool.
“Had It With You” began life as a Richards / Wood song called “You Can’t Cut The Mustard.” This outtake of “Had It With You” is closer to the final version except it has the slow blues intro and interlude which were both subsequently edited.
Two takes each of “Dirty Work,” “One Hit (To The Body)” and “Winning Ugly” follow. There is a run-through with vocals and an instrumental rehearsal for the first two, all in excellent sound quality. They are from the Spring Paris sessions, so they lack the backing vocals, Jimmy Page guitar, and other elements from the final mix. Included also is a six minute cover of the Stevie Wonder song “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” There is another take of the song on disc two which suggest they considered including it on the album but, for unknown reasons, was dropped.
A second radio ad closes disc one.
The tracks on disc two are in lesser sound quality compared to disc one. They sound more like amateur demos than polished takes and are interesting for the absence of Mick. Keith sings and directs most of the songs, starting with his tune “What You Gonna Tell Your Boyfriend.” It’s dominated by fuzzy guitar, bass, drums and piano. The chord changes in the melody bear a passing resemblance to “Sleep Tonight.”
“Some Of Us Are On Our Knees” is another long, slow, Keith Richards blues and is followed by the Richards reggae “She Never Listens To Me.” Slightly more developed is “Baby You’re Too Much.” It’s a piano based ballad with Keith on vocals and backing vocals.
“Fight” is a very early and primitive version with Richards on vocal and is followed by “High Temperature,” the blues tune with Keith on vocal which was also covered in 1978 during the Woodstock rehearsals.
Jagger joins the sessions for the first rehearsals of the Stevie Wonder cover “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” They follow with “Breakin’,” a Jagger/Richards original with Richards on vocals.
The rest of the tape are improvisational jam sessions with only approximate names given to the tunes. “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” is a fifty-seven second blues. “Who Is Shagging Who” is a two minute jam with Richards and Wood sharing vocals and doodling out a rudimentary melody.
“Cut Your Throat,” “You Got It” and “My Baby Left Me” are three more jam sessions in the same vein as the others. “My Baby Left Me” is notable for being very sad and mournful.
Known songs in this jam session are three takes of “If I Don’t Have You,” a cover of the 1981 reggae tune Gregory Isaacs and two takes of the original “Treat Me Like A Fool.” A more polished take appears on disc one. The collection ends with “I Can’t See Nobody.” This is the working title for “One Hit (To The Body),” but in this primitive form is unrecognizable.
Mean-Lean-Hits(Dog N Cat DAC-112) is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with thick inserts with detailed session information. The front cover is an Annie Liebovitz outtake from the photo session that produced the front cover. This is a very good collection of Dirty Work outtakes worth having. Since there are more outtakes not covered by DAC, we could expect more to come.