"Tumbling Dice" is a rock song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for The Rolling Stones' 1972 double album Exile on Main St. and was the album's first single. The single peaked at #7 on the charts in the United States and #5 in the United Kingdom. The basic track of the song was recorded in the basement of the French chateau Villa Nellcôte on 3 August 1971. Mick Taylor, the Rolling Stones' lead guitarist, played bass on the track, due to bassist Bill Wyman's absence that night, and Mick Jagger plays guitar.
The lyrics tell the story of a gambler who cannot remain faithful to any woman. Cover versions have been created in such diverse styles as reggae, bluegrass and noise rock. An updated version from a female perspective was also a top 40 single for Linda Ronstadt in 1978 which is included in the film FM.
"Tumbling Dice" was recorded in the basement of the chateau Villa Nellcôte, near Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. The recording schedule for Exile on Main St. had the band sleeping all day and recording with whomever was around at night. Both Charlie Watts and producer Jimmy Miller play the drums simultaneously on the album's version of the song. In Rolling With the Stones, Bill Wyman said: "On 3 August we worked on 'Good Time Woman' and when I arrived the following day I found Mick Taylor playing bass. I hung around until 3am then left." In the liner notes to Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones, Richards said, "I remember writing the riff upstairs in the very elegant front room, and we took it downstairs the same evening and we cut it." Jagger said that the song's theme of gambling and love came from the fact that he "had a lot of friends at that time who used to fly to Las Vegas for the weekend."
Jagger states, "'Tumbling Dice' was written to fit Keith's riff. It's about gambling and love, an old blues trick."
Sound engineer Andy Johns said “I know we had a hundred reels of tape on the basic track. That was a good song, but it was really like pulling teeth. It just went on and on and on.” Some have said that it may have taken as many as 150 takes to get the basic track of the song. The mixing of the album was also difficult. Jagger has never liked the final mix of the song. In an interview with Melody Maker, Jagger said, "I think they used the wrong mix for that one. I know they did."
The single was released on April 14, 1972. It was the Rolling Stones' 23rd single in the United States and their 17th in the United Kingdom. The single's B-side was "Sweet Black Angel", a song written by Jagger about Black Panther activist Angela Davis.
The song's lyrical structure is irregular. While many songs have the same number of lines for the each verse or chorus, the first verse has eight lines, the second verse has six lines and the last verse has two lines. The song's first chorus has two lines, the second chorus has three and the third chorus has twelve lines.
At the beginning of every chorus, the piano, bass and drums drop out and the background voices sing "you got to roll me" as the guitar plays the song's signature guitar figure. The third chorus leads into the song's coda. Slowly, the bands rhythm section works its way back into the song. The coda includes a call and response with the background voices singing "you got to roll me" as Jagger and Richards respond by singing "keep on rolling." This happens over a pounding beat laid down by Charlie Watts. After a few measures, Watts resumes playing his regular drum pattern. The coda continues for another minute as Jagger ad-libs lyrics until the fade out.
Linda Ronstadt joined the Rolling Stones onstage to sing "Tumbling Dice" on July 21, 1978.
Three live versions have been released on commercially available CDs. A live version of the song was recorded for Stripped, the live album that documented the Voodoo Lounge Tour, but was not a song on that album. The recording crossfades from a backstage vocal rehearsal of the song on solo piano to an onstage performance of the song. The backstage rehearsal was recorded at the Olympia Theatre, Paris, France on July 3, 1995. The live performance happened at Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami, Florida on November 25, 1994. This recording can be found on Rarities 1971-2003. Love You Live features a version recorded on June 7, 1976 at Les Abattoirs, Paris, France. The 2008 release Shine a Light captures a performance from the 2006 leg of the A Bigger Bang Tour.
Five live concert films have included "Tumbling Dice": Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones (1974), Rolling Stones - Live at the Max (1992), Rolling Stones - Voodoo Lounge (1995), Rolling Stones - Bridges to Babylon Tour '97-'98: Live in Concert (1998), Rolling Stones - Four Flicks (2004), and The Biggest Bang. (2007)
Disc Magazine on April 15th, 1972, said:
The song has earned spots on numerous "best of" lists.
Linda Ronstadt had a top 40 hit with "Tumbling Dice" in 1977. In an interview with Hit Parader magazine Ronstadt said that her band played "Tumbling Dice" for soundchecks, but nobody knew the words. Jagger suggested that Ronstadt should sing more rock songs and suggested "Tumbling Dice". Ronstadt made him write down the lyrics.
In 2001, Hilary Rosen, representing the Recording Industry Association of America, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and listed a number of songs that would be in danger of censorship. Among those were Ronstadt's "Tumbling Dice", which Rosen (probably confusing it with Brown Sugar) said was "a song about rape written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards."
The band Pussy Galore covered all of the album Exile on Main St. on their album Exile on Main Street. Bluesman Johnny Copeland recorded a cover version for Rolling Stones tribute album Paint it, Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones. For Copeland, who died of complications from heart surgery, it would be the last song he would ever record.
Other cover versions include:
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