The Rolling Stones flirted with disco on their 1978 hit "Miss You," a funky, nightclub-friendly tangle of popping bass, Wurlitzer keys, saxophone and a falsetto chorus too catchy to necessitate actual words. So when the band attempted a similar formula on 1980's "Emotional Rescue," the title track of their next LP, some grimacing fans assumed they'd fully embraced the genre.

Not quite.

"That is New York," Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone of the song, which hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. "English people hate it 'cause they say it's all disco … That's what they think it is, you see. It's just black music."

The frontman similarly distanced himself from the genre in an interview with Australian music TV series Countdown, emphasizing the eclecticism of the whole record. "I don't think it's really a disco album," he said. "It's got a lot of different styles of music on it … There's kind of some reggae. There's a bit of everything. It's a bit of a mixed bag."

Turns out the Stones weren't analyzing the song too deeply when the entered the recording studio in late 1979. Jagger penned the basic foundation on a Wurlitzer, and drummer Charlie Watts and guitarist Ronnie Wood (subbing here on bass) quickly fell into a groove. Regular contributor Ian Stewart added another layer of electric piano, and Bobby Keys hopped in on sax. Guitarist Keith Richards and bassist Bill Wyman are barely audible on the recording—the former throwing in subtle electric flourishes toward the end, and the latter offering a sprinkle of synthesizer.

"I wrote that on an electric piano in the studio, then Charlie and Woody and I cut it immediately, live," Jagger told Rolling Stone, seemingly downplaying the single's importance in their catalog. "It was all done very quickly. I think the vocals could’ve been better. It’s just one of those recording-studio things. You would never really write a song like that in real life. Comes out in the studio, ’cause it’s all ad-libbed, the end part. It was never planned like that.”

The ad-libs refer to Jagger's climactic, goofy spoken word section, in which he proclaims to a prospective lover, "I will be your knight in shining armor/Riding across the desert on a fine Arab charger." The frontman called that speech a "joke," a form of "piss-taking." And it wound up making "Emotional Rescue" feel like a warmed-over "Miss You," even if they weren't overtly chasing another danceable smash.

Perhaps that low-stakes silliness and spontaneity—not to mention Richards' minimal writing involvement—had something to do with the band's disinterest in "Emotional Rescue" over the next 33 years: The Rolling Stones wouldn't perform the song live until a Los Angeles gig on May 3, 2013, during their 50 & Counting tour. Fittingly, it featured twin guitars from Richards and Wood, inching the groove a bit further away from disco into rock.

 

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