Relf & Ernest Nelson
Original performers: Bob
& Earl (1963)
Recording date: April-December 1985
Recording location: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France; RPM Studios & Right Track Studios, New York City, USA
Producers: Steve Lillywhite & The Glimmer Twins Chief engineer: Dave Jerden
Performed onstage: 1986, 1989-90, 2019
Bass: Bill Wyman
Electric guitars: Keith Richards & Ron Wood
Lead vocal: Mick Jagger
Occasional co-lead vocal: Bobby Womack
Background vocals: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Bobby Womack, Don Covay & Tom Waits
Organ: Chuck Leavell
Synthesizer: Chuck Leavell
I've been trying to get Harlem Shuffle on an album, without actually telling Mick, for 5 or 6 years. I thought that was a natural number for him to sing - it was made for him. I've been giving him cassettes with Harlem Shuffle stuffed in the middle somewhere for a long time, but I never got any real response. One night we were in the studio and Woody and I started plunking away at it. We were amazed at how simple the song was - about 2 chords. The band was just warming up on it, jamming, when Mick walked in and started singing. We realized, YEAH. And we did it in 2 takes. So it paid off eventually, though it cost me a fortune in cassettes.
I was listening to a lot of oldies at the time of the Dirty Work album, and I was in the studio with Charlie and Ronnie one day trying to figure out the chords to Bob and Earl's 1964 (sic) hit when Mick came in, and tore straight into it. There was this incipient power struggle going on between us at the time, but when The Stones are on the job, all of that goes out of the window. Considering what volatile personalities Mick and I are, this band has got along very well for the past 30 years.
Pete (Townshend) told me this band the Fine Young Cannibals covered it last year as well. I didn't know that.
Things like Harlem Shuffle... we did in two takes.
The original version by Bob & Earl had horns on it, straight-ahead soul-disco style. It was probably THE first disco record. It was still the early 60s when they did it, but the sound and beat were very connectable to that early disco stuff, too. The thing we DIDN'T want to do was to exactly lift their sound and arrangement by using horns. So we were trying to get a different sound to kink up and follow those parts through, like Chuck Leavell's synthesizer riff and the mandolin-sounding guitar intro. That came about because the last couple of years I've spent a lot of time in Mexico, and believe me there's more guitar players down there per square inch than there is even in Rock & Roll Land (laughs). I mean, EVERYBODY plays bloody guitar and they're all damn good at it. And so I re-learned a lot of the old fandango, dzzz-dzzz-dzzz with the fingers, the feathering.
Despite the problems within the band while we were recording Dirty Work, there were some special moments, especially when Bobby Womack and Don Covay added their vocals to Harlem Shuffle. The Stones had done that cover version of Don's Mercy Mercy at Chess Studios in '64, and Bobby, apart from being a great vocalist, had been in the Valentinos when they had recorded his song It's All Over Now, which was the Stones' first hit. On that track we were paying respect to both of them. I particularly got off on that because Bobby and Don have always been very special and very close to me - Bobby was a collaborator on my solo albums - so for me personally it felt like a very special achievement to have been part of getting them involved, which was partly my doing and partly Mick acquiescing to work with them... Bobby and Don helped add a little bit of magic to Harlem Shuffle, with all the history adding to the tonal qualities of their voices. There is a little bit of Don Covay in Mick's voice: it's something that Mick doesn't realise so much - I think we all do more than he does. There is something similar in the make-up of their voice box, a very similar ring.
Yeah, it's an old tune. It's a pity but this particular song everyone seemed to GO for and, in this kind of business, I think you don't want to be too subtle, you know.
Bill: We've done a lot of cover versions of things. And Harlem Shuffle is one of those songs that's been around for a long while and -
Woody: Going to a Go-Go as well...
Bill: Yeah... and Harlem Shuffle's never been QUITE a big hit but we've done a good version of it and it's very attractive, I think. It's a clever song.
Woody: And it's nice to turn the kids on to a song that's BEEN out for... 20-odd years, isn't that right?
Bill: (deadpan) I haven't been out for 20 years...?
Woody: (jokes, sighs) Actually this is MY first time out in 15...
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