Sep 06

THE ROLLING STONES – “Honky Tonk Women”

FT + Popular43 comments • 4,897 views

#274, 26th July 1969


1969 birthed two of the darker elements of the Stones legend – Brian Jones’ death and Altamont – but as a chart-topping hit “Honky Tonk Women” interrupts a run of strange, doom-laden records with three minutes of party music. A louche, slightly dangerous party to be sure, debauched even, but not directly menacing. This isn’t the Stones as satanic threats, or as avatars of chaotic times, but as a band settling into being “the greatest rock n roll band in the world” (a band as a brand, in other words, where you know what you’re going to get). It’s a relaxed record, whose appeal is its tease of instability – Jagger’s vocal with its words often trailing off in exhausted gasps, leaning on the reeling guitars while Bill and Charlie keep the whole operation upright and the party going for one more round. Or for thirty more years.

(YouTube video – live with subtitles from Nov 69!)



  1. 1

    not to detract from the loucheness but it is surely “woman” not “women”?

  2. 2
    blount on 21 Sep 2006 #

    is this the first hip-hop beat appearance on popular? (is this the last hip-hop beat appearance on popular?)

    beat and backing keef vocals it’s definite strengths (that cowbell perhaps birthing the early 70s or a significant strand of it at least), of the big huge stones monoliths (‘stsfctn’, ‘jjf’, this, ‘brown sugar’, ‘miss you’, ‘start me up’) this is maybe my least fave (definitely between this and ‘start me up’) but i still love it. better than ‘lady madonna’!

  3. 3
    jeff w on 21 Sep 2006 #

    mark: no, Tom has it right. Amazing how many online lyric sites have it as “Woman” though.

    Elton John did a fantastic (fun) cover of this on 17/11/70.

  4. 4

    blimey so it is!! except on the first ever stones comp i owned which got it wrong — i have just checked — so i always have also!!

  5. 5

    hurrah for more loucheness in the world than i thought there was!

  6. 6
    Jack Fear on 21 Sep 2006 #

    Jagger’s mushy pronunciation improves the song immeasurably by making it possible to mishear many lines as something really dirty.

    A question for the peanut gallery: What’s your favorite misinterpreted lyric from “Honky Tonk Women”?

  7. 7
    Tom on 21 Sep 2006 #

    Pronunciation quibbles can now be cleared up as I’ve linked the subtitled YouTube vid.

  8. 8
    Chris Brown on 21 Sep 2006 #

    I thought he was singing “Honky tonk woman”, despite the title, because each verse is about a different woman.

  9. 9
    Andrew Farrell on 22 Sep 2006 #

    I’ve been hearing “different scene” as “divorcee” for some time now, then.

  10. 10
    intothefireuk on 22 Sep 2006 #

    Like the Beatles still riding high on the coat-tails of their previous success this is a perfunctory tune although I’ve always enjoyed the line ‘she blew my nose then she blew my mind’ for some reason. Jaggers blurred words disguise the lyrics just enough to allow Radio Wunnnerful not to realise how risque (for them) they are.

    Whilst this sat at number one something a little more positive was happening (which should have punctured the bubble of doom and gloom prevalant throughout most of this year and heralded a brighter future). However pop was having none of it (see the next entry & Space Oddity) for further evidence.

  11. 11
    Tom on 22 Sep 2006 #

    What was this positive thing intothefire? I’m excited now!

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Sep 2006 #

    I note that “Honky Tonk Women” kept “Give Peace A Chance” at number two, which if I’m not mistaken is the only incidence in UK singles chart history where the Stones stopped any Beatle from having a number one.

  13. 13
    intothefireuk on 22 Sep 2006 #

    er…..’One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ (or so we thought anyway).

  14. 14
    Tom on 22 Sep 2006 #

    Ahh OK – I hoped it was that rather than Woodstock! (I think the moon landings happened while T Newman was at #1 tho)

  15. 15
    Aardvark on 22 Sep 2006 #

    Nothing to say about the song but Dave Sim’ Mick and Keef has to be my favourite insertion of broadly caricatured rock-stars into on-going visual sword and sorcery narrative of all time.

    “Keef! You ain’t been straight since 1879!”

  16. 16
    intothefireuk on 22 Sep 2006 #

    Tom yes you are factually correct the Moon landing happened on Sunday 20th with TN at no.1 and the new chart was announced on the Tuesday, therefore HTW became no.1 whilst the moon mission was proceeding. So I was kind of right (almost).

  17. 17
    Alan on 22 Sep 2006 #

    (and hurrah i am born, and ppl immediately start buying Z&E…)

  18. 18
    Andrew Hickey on 22 Sep 2006 #

    Prince Mick!

  19. 19
    Chris Brown on 23 Sep 2006 #

    According to Glyn Johns, Mick told him that he liked to make his vocals inaudible so that people would have to buy the records to find out what the words were. When you actually listen back to the song, they really aren’t as dirty as you sort of imagine – that “blew my nose/blew my mind” bit (however it’s pronounced) is either a vague-enough-to-get-away-with drug reference or a brilliant example of a lyric that makes sense because you want it to, and I prefer it as the latter.

    I always used to get this mixed up with ‘Brown Sugar’ but this is the one I prefer. Even so though, this is another one that’s not quite as good as I think it is – all the action (cowbell, louchness, lyrics, etc) is in the first half of the song and then it just keeps going on. Which I suppose some might call a fair summary of their career. I might be generous enough to give it a 7, depending on mood.

    As noted, this is the first Stones single with Mick Taylor. It was also their last non-album 45, which might in part account for it being their final chart-topper, but clearly isn’t the only reason.

  20. 20
    wwolfe on 25 Sep 2006 #

    This is the first Stones hit where it sounds to me like they’re having to make a real effort to summon the energy needed to focus their creative energy and imagination into the form of a hot three-minute single. “Jack Flash” felt like a release and relief: Loog Oldham was gone, the drug busts were done, psychedelia was over (for them, at least), and they sounded like they were having a blast playing tough rock and roll again. This one sounds like making music had suddenly took on aspects of heavy lifting. It’s a good record, but the youthful enthusiasm is gone.

  21. 21
    Marcello Carlin on 26 Sep 2006 #

    “Brown Sugar” would have been a number one but was criminally kept off the top in an even-worse-than-Engelbert scenario, but that’s all yet to come.

  22. 22
    Doctor Mod on 27 Sep 2006 #

    In response to Chris Brown and wwolfe:

    I’d been hesitant to comment on this record because I couldn’t put my finger on just why I didn’t really like it. It now occurs to me that I stopped buying the Stones’ records around that time for some of the reasons you’ve mentioned, and I imagine that the absence of Brian Jones is a key factor. In retrospect, I think he deserves as much credit as Mick and Keith for making the Stones the band as good as they were in the beginning. Indeed, he was probably the most versatile (certainly the most ecclectic) musician in the lot, and after they dumped him (followed shortly by his death), the Stones would never quite so interesting again.

  23. 23
    Marcello Carlin on 27 Sep 2006 #

    Yes because Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street were just a complete waste of time weren’t they?

  24. 24
    Marcello Carlin on 27 Sep 2006 #

    I’m not really convinced that the Stones ever needed Jones in the first place.

  25. 25
    Doctor Mod on 27 Sep 2006 #

    It all boils down to a matter of taste, no?

    But no, I wouldn’t say that the albums you mention were a complete waste of time.

  26. 26
    wichita lineman on 17 May 2008 #

    Got a similar thing to Dr Mod here – I put it down to Andrew Oldham’s departure. They were a blues-rock band before he managed them and they reverted to type when he left. Which isn’t meant to mean they got better or worse… but I’ll take Get Off Of My Cloud over their louche period any day.

    So louche is it – or loose, rather – that in spite of the hip-hop beat, it’s impossible to sample unless you want to spend hours screwing about to make Charlie’s drums ‘n’ cowbell hit the beat!

    Another record it kept at number 2 which pointed to future rhythms (though it was yet another with a dark and deathly aura) was Robin Gibb’s Saved By The Bell, the first hit record to use a drum machine.

  27. 27
    Waldo on 26 Aug 2009 #

    # 24 – “I’m not really convinced that the Stones ever needed Jones in the first place.” Actually Marcello (hi, btw), I believe it was in fact Brian’s band in the first place. They certainly did not need him come 1969, though. The middle class boy from Cheltenham was a total fuck-up by then and the Almighty sadly agreed.

    As for HTW, I always loved this even though the eight-year-old me did not associate anything about noses and blowing other than the bloke with the lips having a sneeze into a hankie held helpfully by the honky tonk woman. Great intro, led by Charlie, and on it bounces true to its honky tonk monicker to its conclusion with a whoop. Crack out the Party Seven!

  28. 28
    James K. on 26 Aug 2009 #

    Andrew Farrell: I think the subtitled version (no longer available) is wrong (perhaps deliberately so, if the subtitles were used on a long-ago TV broadcast) and it clearly is “divorcee.”

  29. 29
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #


    Bob Hoskins, actor(1988).

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Another “missing” double-A side… at least that’s how Decca were initially pushing this:


    Personally, I’d give the other side a 9. Honky Tonk Women’s lack of drive when stacked alongside Sympathy For The Devil, Street Fighting Man or Gimme Shelter (blame it on the Party Seven?) has always irritated me.

  31. 31
    punctum on 7 Feb 2012 #

    It would have been a worthy double A-side too. That Jonathan King came up with the original idea, you know.

  32. 32
    Mark G on 8 Feb 2012 #

    What, of double “A” sides? Which single would that be? It would have to pre-date “Penny Lane”/”StrawbFields”

    Of course, you could usually inspect the matrix to see which one was marked “1” or “a”, against “2” or “b”..

    The Stranglers would do “Side A” and “Side 1” to confuse. Buzzcocks singles attempted subterfuge by using a square and a triangle on their latter UA singles.

    Honourable mention for the Tyla Gang and “Styrofoam”/”Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie” for the double-b side.

  33. 33
    wichita lineman on 8 Feb 2012 #

    The Shadows came up with the double-B side first, with one of their best late-period singles too:


    Punctum, what’s the cryptic J King reference?

  34. 34
    punctum on 8 Feb 2012 #

    King ran Decca in the late sixties; accosted Jagger and said “we need a new single,” Jagger said he’d do his best. Full story in Michael Wale’s highly recommended Vox Pop book, that is if you can find a copy.

  35. 35
    Mark G on 9 Feb 2012 #

    Oh, you mean ‘came up with the original idea” for HTW/YCAGWYW as a double A. I thought you meant “double-a sides” in general.

  36. 36
    wichita lineman on 9 Feb 2012 #

    Cheers. Just ordered a copy of Vox Pop.

  37. 37
    punctum on 29 Feb 2012 #
  38. 38
    Lena on 29 Feb 2012 #

    All we are saying…http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/02/come-together-all-together-plastic-ono.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  39. 39
    Lena on 5 Mar 2012 #

    Crying, lying, dying: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/03/black-sheep-robin-gibb-saved-by-bell.html Ta for reading, everybody!

  40. 40
    hectorthebat on 3 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Songs to Download Right Now! (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 4
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 488
    Greil Marcus (USA) – STRANDED: “Treasure Island” Singles (1979)
    Heartaches By the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles (USA, 2003) 458
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Paul Williams (USA) – Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1993)
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 27
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 116
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 116
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 72
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (1976) 15
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 14
    Pophandboek (Netherlands) – Errit Petersma’s Top 20 Singles from the 60s (1970)
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 17
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – Top 100 Songs by The Rolling Stones (2005) 4
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  41. 41
    Tommy Mack on 28 Jun 2016 #

    Was watching The Stones on telly* and it came to me that push come to shove, I don’t really like this much. Whenever someone says they hate The Stones, I always imagine it’s stuff like this and Brown Sugar they’re thinking of, not JJF or Satisfaction. Even within their ‘louche boogie’ period, I think there’s way better stuff of this ilk, it just seems to huff and puff for a few minutes without either the dynamics or drive that better Stones songs would use to grab the listener. Perversely, it’s really quite fun to play on a guitar!

    *the ’81 Hampton Colliseum concert where Keef whacks the stage invader over the head with his guitar during Satisfaction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reMHV8L7heo

    Other thoughts from that gig:

    Clothes were REALLY bad in the 80s: Mick what do you look like?

    Woodie is like Keef except he knows it’s just dress-up and make-believe

    I don’t think Bill Wyman likes the others much: Mick, Keef and Woodie are always nodding and grinning at each other, bumping shoulders and stuff. Bill keeps very much to himself and never once betrays any sign of enjoying being in the biggest rock band in the world.

  42. 42
    lonepilgrim on 12 May 2017 #

    There’s a even more louche version of the song (entitled Country Honk) on the ‘Let it Bleed’ album – complete with fiddle and..er.. a honking car horn..which places the song more within a Country genre. The single version sounds positively sprightly in comparison. It’s not my favourite Stones song but it’s enjoyable in small doses.

  43. 43
    Mark G on 12 May 2017 #

    And, funnily enough, that version was recorded before the single.

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