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Honky Tonk Women

by

The Rolling Stones



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is about a prostitute. Like many Rolling Stones songs, it has highly suggestive lyrics, but they are just subtle enough to keep it from getting banned by radio stations. British Rock Bands often wrote lyrics that were ambiguously offensive, falling just in line with BBC guidelines for airplay. A good example in this song is "She blew my nose and then she blew my mind," which implies both cocaine and sex, but didn't give the BBC any specific reason to ban it.
The Stones started recording this as a Country song based on Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." They made it into a rocker for release as a single and released the country version, "Country Honk," a few months later on Let It Bleed.
Keith Richards: "Honky Tonk Women" started in Brazil. Mick and I, Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg who was pregnant with my son at the time. Which didn't stop us going off to the Mato Grasso and living on this ranch. It's all cowboys. It's all horses and spurs. And Mick and I were sitting on the porch of this ranch house and I started to play, basically fooling around with an old Hank Williams idea. 'Cause we really thought we were like real cowboys. Honky tonk women. And we were sitting in the middle of nowhere with all these horses, in a place where if you flush the john all these black frogs would fly out. It was great. The chicks loved it. Anyway, it started out a real country honk put on, a hokey thing. And then couple of months later we were writing songs and recording. And somehow by some metamorphosis it suddenly went into this little swampy, black thing, a Blues thing. Really, I can't give you a credible reason of how it turned around from that to that. Except there's not really a lot of difference between white Country music and black Country music. It's just a matter of nuance and style. I think it has to do with the fact that we were playing a lot around with open tunings at the time. So we were trying songs out just to see if they could be played in open tuning. And that one just sunk in." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Lead guitarist Brian Jones was a founding member of the group and was considered their leader in their early years. Unfortunately, drug abuse made him pretty much worthless, and when The Stones finished recording this on June 8, 1969, they drove to his house and fired him. This was released July 3, 1969, the same day Jones was found dead in his swimming pool.
Mick Taylor had taken over for Brian Jones on lead guitar, and this was his first appearance on a Stones recording. Taylor claims he came up with the famous guitar riff, even though Richards plays it.
The distinctive cowbell used to open the song was played by producer Jimmy Miller.
Reparata & The Delrons, an early '60s girl group, sang the backup vocals. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
There is no bass on the verses.
The single was given away to all the fans who helped clean up after The Stones free concert in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969. This was the first concert Mick Taylor played with the band. A life-size cutout of Brian Jones, who died 3 days earlier, was kept on stage and the show was dedicated to him.
The Stones played this at most of their live shows, usually with great theatrics. The Steel Wheels tour in 1989 featured giant inflatable women during the performance.
This was banned in China. When the group made arrangements to play there for the first time in 2003, they had to agree not to play this, "Brown Sugar," "Let's Spent The Night Together," and "Beast Of Burden." They ended up not playing because of a respiratory disease that was going around China.
Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of The Pretenders, joined The Rolling Stones on stage in Leipzig on June 20, 2003 and sang this as a duet with Jagger. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
"Honky Tonk Women" was used as the title for a session of the amime series Cowboy Bebop. Along with other Classic Rock songs, this was used to introduce the "Femme Fatale" character. (thanks, Nathan - Dillsburg, PA)
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Comments (46):

Still love this Stones hit. When it was climbing the charts in '69, I was in the Army in Vietnam with the 11th Armored cavalry regiment and I swore that I'd buy the record, if I ever made it back to the States alive. I did and had to buy it on the album "Through The Past Darkly" since I could never find the single. That intro really captured my attention when I first heard it on AFVN radio in 'Nam. Brings back a lot of good and bad memories, but there's no doubt about it that it's one "tough" rockin' song!
- Elmer H, westville, OK
Andrew from New York, that was very informative, especially about the tunings. I am a guitar player as well. It's interesting that you mentioned that open E minor tuning was very rare; when I was first learning to use a slide, I tried tuning it to that tuning, as opposed to open E major. I knew I wasn't the first to use that tuning, but I thought it was a cool idea. Maybe I'll try out those other tunings.
- Zero, Nowhere, NJ
Ahhhh...don't wanna hear it about Stones stealing someone's music. It's a free business, why do the Stones have hits and others are whining they got ripped off? The Stones knew good sounds. If you're such a genius-smarter-than-Keith-and-Mick, why don't you have a BIG string 'a hit tunes? The Stones had the ear, give 'em credit.
- Dill, Alexandria, VA
Killer song, with a great bluesy riff.
I'm no real Stones fan, but this one will always get me to turn up the volume and listen all the way through.
A true rock-n-roll classic.
- oldpink, New Castle, IN
In 1960 Johnny Cash charted with "Honky Tonk Girl" and Johnny Horton charted with "Honky Tonk Man" in 1962; but so far there's been no "Honky Tonk Boy"!!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Ry Cooder always felt that the Stones, who are the biggest "assimilators" of sound had ripped him off (add Cooder to Mary Ann Faithfull, Chuck Berry, old Stones guitarist Brian Taylor as among the many musicians who felt their sound had been stolen by the band.
- Rick, Brooklyn, NY, NY
Firstly, Andrew...wow. That's about all I can say. Your technical knowledge is obviously on a different level.

The only fact I can add to this conversation is that Gram Parsons and Keith hooked up after Gram quit the Byrds during an international tour. The Byrds were going from London to South Africa and Gram quit the band as a protest against Apartheid. (Though if Gram left the band actually due to politics is up for debate). So Gram, Mick and Keith started hanging out and (so the story goes) Keith introduced Gram to heroin.
- Jason, Arlington, VA
I recently read the new book out entitled "What would Keith Richards Do". In it, there is a quote attributed directly to Keith in which he freely admits that Ry Cooder came up with the licks for Honky Tonk Women.
- David, Orlando, FL
As to whether the central riff was stolen, listen to Ry Cooder's work, then listen to the Stones prior to Honky Tonk Woman, there can be no doubt that Keith Richards purloined the sirloin.
- Greg, Potown, NY
hey pikadon, the lyrics are actually "I met a gin-soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis" if im not mistaken
- chris, san diego, CA
The lyrics go, "I met a jinsofarra queen in Memphis." What's a jinsofarra queen?
- Pikadon, Haleiwa, HI
joe- that doesn't make very much sense to me. as far as I know, she wasn't a prostitute, and paul hadn't been divorced yet...maybe?
- chloe, St. Louis, MO
"i laid a divorcee in n y city"rumoured to be about Linda Macartney...true or false?
- Joe, Adelaide,
Following up on the comment from Mike in Berkeley, Ry Cooder has long bitterly claimed that Keith "nicked" (slang for "stole") the defining riffs from him. I suspect that Keith disputes the claim, but don't think I have ever heard him address it directly. The opening lick, which most cover bands butcher through some standard tuning knock off, is one that Keith himself has almost never attempted to faithfully reproduce lick for lick in live concert, although he does play the song in the open tuning. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, like many of the Stone's concert staples, the tempo has to be played much faster to carry it as a live tune--Brown Sugar being another classic example.
- David, Orlando, FL
I have a copy of the single on blue Decca (boxed) label that has the title Honky Tonk Woman, not Women. I have been unable to find any mention or reference to this despite searching dozens of Stones related sites. Have I found the Holy Grail or what?!!
Any info would be greatly appreciated and I can be contacted via oldgitsuk at dsl dot pipex dot com.
Cheers.
John.

Asking me to choose a favourite song is like asking me which of my children I love the most.
- John, Blackburn under Sea, United Kingdom
Something tells me "she blew my nose" was a little different in the rough draft! Incidentally, Sugar Ray's song DISASTERPIECE is about as close as a song could get to HONKY TONK WOMEN without a copyright infringement lawsuit being launched!
- Susan, Toronto, Canada
I disagree with Mike California."Honky Tonk Women " , I think, is pretty different to "She Caught the Katy" .
- juan, Buenos Aires, Argentina
From the opening lone cowbell to the flip's impossibly beatific conclusion, this single proved that under those wicked street-punk hearts lay some wickedly fine storytellers. The first side (Honky Tonk Women) is a seedy painting of backdoor Americana, while the second (You Can't Always Get What You Want) is a generational epic that rogueishly uses a heavenly choir to suggest that there are no real answers. Both songs, if you listen carefully, end up saying the same thing.
- Bertrand, Paris, France
It seems that nobody here mentioned magnificent Charlie Watts and his minimalistic performance on drums. Dejan, Belgrade, Serbia.
One more thing- this song, which incidentally was covered by Gram Parsons with his band The Flying Burrito Brothers, is also available on the Stones' 1970 live album, "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out", complete with an additional verse not on the studio version:
"Strolling on the boulevards of Paris, as naked as the day that I will die/The sailors, they're so charming there in Paris/But they just don't seem to send you off my mind" [as best as I can decipher them]

The vaguely Gay lyrics are interesting, considering the times...[I bet I just started a firestorm!]
- Andrew, New York, United States
Also, I just had to say: how can you say this song, which in its acoustic version was called "Country HONK", not "Country TONK" as was stated, was derived from Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues"?? The songs are NOTHING alike!! Except for the title...while the Stones were definitely fans of Hank -- Keith, Mick, and Gram Parsons were known to sit drunk around the piano and sing Hank's song "I Heard that Lonesone Whistle Blow" -- and the Country version was influenced by Hank (every Country song written since Hank burst onto the scene has been influenced by him and his brilliance, it's unavoidable), to say that the song was influenced by, or based on, "Honky Tonk Blues" is misguided at best, and just flat-out wrong. I'll get off my soap-box now...
- Andrew, New York, United States
To clear up a few misguided comments on this song: Brian Jones NEVER played on this song.
This song did indeed start out in its acoustic version, as heard on "Let It Bleed". Then, Keith says, "Mick Taylor bounced the song off the wall another way and it took a completely different direction." [The quote is from memory, so it's not exact.] I can just about guarantee, though, that the main riff is Keith all the way. Mick Taylor simply does not play like that. He is strictly a lead guitar player. A great lead player, but not a rhythm player, whereas Keith does both very well. Mick T. influenced the change in style of the song, but the part Keith plays is all Keith.
This song is Keith's first venture into the Open-G guitar tuning that would become his signature. He had previously used Open-D on songs like "Street Fighting Man" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (tuned up a half-step to E flat for "Flash"), but as a result of playing with Ry Cooder on the "Let it Bleed" album, had begun playing in Ry's favorite tuning, Open-G. Open-G was also used a lot by Delta Blues guitarists like Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, and Skip James (who also used the unusual Open-Em tuning). Keith was certainly aware of the Delta Blues connection, as he had been listening to the above-mentioned artists for years at that point; when he heard Ry using it, that was the "final straw" that led him to try it. For the record, Open-G is tuned low to high: D G D G B D, although Keith often removes the 6th string from the guitar because it is not the tonic note (it's actually the 5th), and he wants the lowest string to be the tonic (G, if you're playing a G chord).
You arrive at the tuning from standard guitar tuning by dropping the 2 E strings the equivalent of 2 frets - you can check them against the open 4th string for comparison. Then you drop the 5th (A) string 2 frets, and you're done. You can check it against the open 3rd string, or against the now-down-tuned 6th string fretted at the 5th fret.
Keith uses this tuning, either open, or capoed at the 4th fret("Happy", "Tumbling Dice") or 5th fret ("You Can't Always Get What You Want") for almost all of the Stones' late-60's-and-on classics. Here are a few, without the capo: "Start Me Up", "Brown Sugar", "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'", "Before They Make Me Run", "If You Can't Rock Me", "Sad Sad Sad" (although the first G-tuned guitar you hear is Mick Jagger[!], who learned the tuning from Keith), "Mixed Emotions", "Love is Strong", "You Got Me Rockin' Now", and on and on... He also uses the tuning extensively on his solo records: "Take It So Hard", "Eileen", "Struggle", "Wicked As It Seems", etc.
I'll stop now... ;-)
- Andrew, New York, United States
THE BEST rock and roll song ever recorded!!
- Dave, Scottsdale, AZ
This song is about coke or drugs in general, "I just can't seem to drink her off my mind...She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.. giv me the honky tonk blues"
- Anna, Copenhagen, Denmark
The show Cowboy Bebop uses other classic rock songs as inspiration. Such as Rolling Stones and Guns n Roses. The movie was originally called "Cowboy Bebop Knocking on Heaven's Door".
- Joshua, Chico, CA
Wow I never actually heard and understood that line, Clarke from Pittsburgh. And as I read your comment I just heard it.
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
The line "I laid a divorcee in New York City" was too risque for some in 1969, and it was printed by some radio stations and "teen" magazines as "I later did the same in New York City," even though it's obvious even with casual listening that this isn't quite what they were singing.
- Clarke, Pittsburgh, PA
Funny about what Jay said, because that inspired me to play drums too! (that and Ringo Starr's Solo on "The End")
- Olle, Stockholm, Sweden
That cowbell and drum lick intro is what inspired me to play drums. That and the into to "Hard to Handle" by the Black Crows.
- Jay, Atlanta, GA
I went to the Monterrey,MÃ?xico concert and it s amazing the way they played this song even with a Charlie s mistake at the beginning of the song when he started untime. Keith and Mick looked to Charly then he took the way again. Its wonderful even to aprecciate this mistakes....Great band.
- Homero, Monterrey , Mexico
I just wasted about an hour on the songfacts forums, and I realize how stupid I was for doing so, and I was ina bad mood. But I started listening to the Rolling Stones, and now I feel happy again. Go Stones!=)
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
Albert King, Free, and Leslie West all due a version of this
- Sam, Shanghai, China
The Rolling Stones' 'Honky Tonk Women' is the Best Rock & Roll song ever created. Period.
- John Bryans Fontaine, CT
- John, Westport, CT
sugar sugar is sick- just download the song to see how bad a song can get
- maya, cal, United States
love singing this one. another great vocal by mick. god love him...and the rest of course.
- Claire, St. Louis, MO
You wanna talk about another awesome chick song that kicks royal ass, well then, get a load of this. It was "Sugar Sugar" by The Archies that knocked HTW out of the US #1 spot. In fact, SS went on to become THE #1 song of 1969, beating out not only The Stones, but also The Beatles, The Jackson 5, Elvis, Bowie and Stevie Wonder. BTW, SS stayed at the UK #1 spot for 8 weeks. Yikes!
- Leya Qwest, Anchorage, AK
This was the last song The Stones recorded with Brian Jones and the first with Mick Taylor. While the song was in progress, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards informed Jones that he was being sacked. Around the same time, the other Stones were playing this song in an audition for Taylor disguised as a genuine recording session; Taylor at the time thought he'd only be playing as a guest on the song, before the rest of the band broke it to him that they wanted him in the band. Soon afterward, Taylor replaced Jones' guitar part.
- Elliott, Douglassville, PA
the title kind of mean the same thing in the episode honkey tonk woman. bebop fan right here, that anime has the best music on it, but i like the real folk blues
- alix, Pittsburg, CA
Adam, "Cowboy Bebop", which is for sure the best animated series ever, indeed named one of the episodes after this song, in case you didn't notice, every episode of "Cowboy Bebop" is named after a song!
And by the way, you definitely should look for a copy (at Kazaa) of a video named "Paint It Black", made by "Cowboy Bebop" fans.
- João, São Paulo, Brazil
a japanese anime called cowboy bebop?! you talk like it's a little known small time series, its a GREAT SHOW! any other bebop fans here?
- charlie, Thomaston, DC
One of my favourite driving songs!
- Mia, Elk River, MN
Keith Richard spent two weeks secretly taping Ry Cooder after they invited him to play on the recording session for "Let it Bleed". Cooder thought he was going to play with the Stones. Keith excused himself for whatever reason, went into another room and turned the tape on. Ry said at the time they'd taped everything he knew. Shortly before this, Ry played in The Rising Sons with Taj Mahal. Taj wrote "She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride", which sounds CURIOUSLY like this and I think this is actually where they got the idea.
- Mike, Berkeley, CA
A Japanese Anime called Cowboy Bebop has the same title of a episode. I don't know if there's any actual conection though.
- Adam, Camas, WA
I thought it was about meeting a transvestite in a bar. Hence- "gin-soaked barroom queen...heeved me across her shoulder" shows that this is one strong dude.
- Edward, Miami, FL
The single 45 had a very elaborate photo of the band dressed up as sailors and policemen in a barroom with two hookers.
- Chelsea, NYC, OR
Ike & Tina Turner covered this song amazingly
- kris, toronto, Canada
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