Honky Tonk Women

Honky Tonk Women
"Honky Tonk Women"
Single by The Rolling Stones
B-side "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
Released 4 July 1969 (UK)
11 July 1969 (US)
Format 7"
Recorded June 1969
Olympic Studios, London
Genre Hard rock[1]
Length 3:02
Label Decca F.12952 (UK)
London 45.910 (US)
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer Jimmy Miller
The Rolling Stones singles chronology
"Street Fighting Man"
Honky Tonk Women
"Brown Sugar"

"Honky Tonk Women" is a 1969 hit song by The Rolling Stones. Released as a single on 4 July 1969 in the UK and a week later in the US, it topped the charts in both nations.[2]


Inspiration and Recording

The song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards while on holiday in Brazil from late December 1968 to early January 1969. Inspired by Brazilian gauchos at the ranch where Jagger and Richards were staying in Matão, São Paulo, the song was originally released as an acoustic country song.[citation needed]

Two versions of the song were recorded by the band: the familiar hit which appeared on the 45 single and their collection of late 1960s singles, Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2); and a honky-tonk version entitled "Country Honk" with slightly different lyrics, which appeared on Let It Bleed. The concert rendition of the song featured on Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! differs from both the hit version and the country version, with a markedly different guitar introduction and an entirely different second verse, but is much closer to the single version than the album version.

Thematically, a "honky tonk woman" refers to a dancing girl in a western bar who may work as a prostitute; the setting for the narrative in the first verse of the blues version is Memphis, while "Country Honk" sets the first verse in Jackson.[3]

I met a gin soaked bar-room queen in Memphis
I'm sittin' in a bar, tipplin' a jar in Jackson

The band initially recorded the track called "Country Honk", in London in early February 1969.[citation needed] The song was transformed into the familiar electric, riff-based hit single "Honky Tonk Women" sometime in the spring of 1969, prior to Mick Taylor's joining the group.[4] In an interview in the magazine Crawdaddy, Richards credits Taylor for influencing the track: "... the song was originally written as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers/1930s country song. And it got turned around to this other thing by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall another way."[5] However, in 1979 Taylor recalled it this way: "I definitely added something to Honky Tonk Women, but it was more or less complete by the time I arrived and did my overdubs."[6]

The song is distinctive as it opens not with a guitar riff, but with a beat played on a cowbell. The Rolling Stones' producer Jimmy Miller performed the cowbell for the recording.

Ry Cooder has asserted that he originated the song's main guitar riff, and has accused the Rolling Stones of "ripping him off".[citation needed] Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart said of the track: "It's bloody ten times Keith you hear."[citation needed]


The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks from 23 August 1969. The single was released in the UK the day after the death of founding member Brian Jones where it remained on the charts for 5 weeks peaking at #1. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was the single's B-side. It was later released on the compilation album Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) in September.

"Honky Tonk Women" was ranked #116 on the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.


  • Drums: Charlie Watts
  • Bass: Bill Wyman
  • Rhythm electric guitar: Keith Richards
  • Lead electric guitars: Keith Richards (incl. solo) & Mick Taylor
  • Lead vocals: Mick Jagger
  • Background vocals: Keith Richards, Reparata & The Delrons, Nanette Workman (credited as "Nanette Newman"), Doris Troy
  • Piano: Ian Stewart
  • Cowbell: Jimmy Miller
  • Brass: Steve Gregory, Bud Beadle

Other Releases/Covers

Concert versions of "Honky Tonk Women" are included on the albums 'Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!', Love You Live and Live Licks.

Ike and Tina Turner covered the song.[7]

Waylon Jennings covered the song on his 1970 LP Singer of Sad Songs.

On his album Lovejoy, Albert King sang a version with lyrics which skirted the first verse's suggestions of prostitution: "I met a gypsy barroom queen in Memphis / and on the street the summer sun did shine / The sweetest rose that ever grows in Memphis / I just can't seem to drink her off of my mind." (The lyric editor is not credited.)

Joe Cocker performs the song on his 1970 live album Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Gram Parsons' version of the song, released on the 1976 rarities compilation Sleepless Nights, features a slightly different set of lyrics and an arrangement that combines elements of both Stones versions.

"Weird Al" Yankovic included this song in the Rolling Stones polka medley "The Hot Rocks Polka."

Hank Williams Jr. covered the song in his Born to Boogie in July 1987.

A recording of Prince performing the song as "Honky Tonk Women" is on the (possibly unauthorized) 1993 Japanese release The Undertaker.

Paige Miles performed the song during the Rolling Stones Week on American Idol.

Humble Pie performed a live version of the song on their 1973 album Eat It.

Ali Campbell covered the song on his 2010 album Great British Songs.

Elton John performed this song during a concert at A&R Studios in NYC on November 17, 1970, which appeared on his later album 11-17-70.

The New Riders of the Purple Sage performed this song during their regular opening for the Grateful Dead. Their version featured Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar recreating the signature guitar riff. Their version, much more "countrified" than the single, but not a cover of "Country Honk", either. While at the Filmore East venue, with the accompanying light show, stills of Mick Jagger in concert were projected on to the scrim above the band as they played the more rhythmic intro to the song.

Taj Mahal covered the song on his album Blue Light Boogie. This cover was also played on the House MD episode "Sex Kills".[8]

Leslie West covered the song on his album "The Great Fatsby".

The Meters released a version on their compilation album Kickback in 2001

The Pogues covered the song on their EP "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah."

Country Honk

"Country Honk"
Song by The Rolling Stones from the album Let It Bleed
Released 5 December 1969
Recorded June and October 1969
Genre Country, country rock
Length 3:10
Label Decca Records/ABKCO
Writer Jagger/Richards
Producer Jimmy Miller
Let It Bleed track listing
"Love in Vain"
"Country Honk"
"Live with Me"

"Country Honk" is a country version of "Honky Tonk Women", released five months after on the album Let It Bleed. As noted above the country arrangement was the original concept of "Honky Tonk Women".

According to some sources "Country Honk" was recorded at the Elektra recording studio in Los Angeles. Byron Berline played the fiddle on the track, and has said that Gram Parsons was responsible for him being chosen for the job (Berline had previously recorded with Parsons' band The Flying Burrito Brothers). Producer Glyn Johns suggested that Berline should record his part on the sidewalk outside the studio to add ambience to the number. Sam Cutler, the Rolling Stones' tour manager, performed the car horn at the beginning of the track.[9] Nanette Workman performs backing vocals on this version (although the album sleeve credits actress Nanette Newman). Other sources state that "Country Honk" was recorded at Olympic Studios right after "Honky Tonk Women," with only Berline's fiddle part overdubbed at Elektra Studios; this might be supported by the existence of a bootleg recording that contains neither the fiddle nor Mick Taylor's slide guitar. Richards has repeatedly stated that "Country Honk" is how "Honky Tonk Women" was originally written.

It was this version of the song that was played by Rick Nelson at the Rock 'n Roll Revival concert at Madison Square Garden, New York City on October 15, 1971. As the crowd were expecting traditional rock 'n roll, (such as Nelson's older numbers, which he also played at the concert, Hello Mary Lou and She Belongs to Me, and the music of others at the concert such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell) they began to boo. While some reports say that the booing was caused by police action in the back of the audience, Nelson took it personally and left the stage. He watched the rest of the concert backstage and did not reappear on stage for the finale. This event was the stimulus for the song "Garden Party", which appeared on the 1972 album of the same name. This is evidenced by the line "then I sang a song about a honky-tonk, and it was time to leave."


  1. ^ "The Top Hard Rock Songs". Allmusic. http://www.allmusic.com/explore/style/hard-rock-d217/songs. 
  2. ^ Elliott, Martin (2002). The Rolling Stones: Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2002. Cherry Red Books. p. 148. ISBN 1-901447-04-9. 
  3. ^ The Rolling Stones "Honky Tonk Women". Time Is on Our Side. (accessed 19 May 2007).
  4. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Honky Tonk Women". allmusic. 2007 (accessed 19 May 2007).
  5. ^ Appleford, Steve (1997). The Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock and Roll: Song by Song. New York: Schirmer Books. p. 88. 
  6. ^ McPherson, Ian. "Track Talk: Honky Tonk Women". http://www.timeisonourside.com/SOHonky.html. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  7. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLBuTkIPbSA
  8. ^ House MD Episode Guide: Season Two #214 "Sex Kills"
  9. ^ Cutler, Sam. You Can't Always Get What You Want - My Life with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Other Wonderful Reprobates ISBN 9 781741 666090
Preceded by
"In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)" by Zager and Evans
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
23 August 1969
Succeeded by
"Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies
Preceded by
"Something in the Air" by Thunderclap Newman
UK number-one single
23 July 1969
Succeeded by
"In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)" by Zager and Evans

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