Honky Tonk Women

"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.

Inspiration and Recording

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.

The song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards while on vacation in Brazil from late December 1968 to early January 1969. Inspired by Brazilian gauchos at the ranch where Jagger and Richards were staying, the song was originally conceived as an acoustic country song. Richards has said: "[It] was originally written as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rogers/1930s country song.

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.

Recorded in London in early February 1969 without Brian Jones, the band initially recorded the track called "Country Honk". 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. Taylor was quoted in Sean Egan's The Making of Let It Bleed as stating that the basic backing track was already recorded before he added his lead fill overdubs.

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 Stones of "ripping him off". Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart said of the track: "It's bloody ten times Keith you hear."

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. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was the single's B-side. Concert versions of "Honky Tonk Women" are included on the albums Love You Live and Live Licks, as well as the aforementioned Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!.

Rolling Stone ranked "Honky Tonk Women" #116 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Country Honk

"Country Honk" is a country version of "Honky Tonk Women", released five months after "Honky Tonk Women", 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 on La Cienega Boulevard, 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 Parson's band). 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. 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 does not contain either the fiddle or Mick Taylor's slide guitar.

Pop culture

  • The song was covered by Elton John on his first live album, 17-11-70.
  • The song was also recorded live by Billy Joel on his live album 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.
  • The song was covered by Ike & Tina Turner and was featured as the B-Side of their 1971 re-release of "River Deep - Mountain High".
  • The song was covered by Celtic folk/punk band The Pogues in 1992 as their first single after original lead singer Shane MacGowan left in 1991.
  • Albert King recorded a version for his album Lovejoy.
  • The song was played live many times by early AC/DC in 1974.
  • The song's name was used as the title in episode 3 of the popular Japanese anime television show, Cowboy Bebop.
  • In 1987 the opening drum beat was sampled for two hip hop records: "The Motorcade Sped On" by Steinski and the Mass Media and "Travelling at the Speed of Thought" by Ultramagnetic MCs.
  • The song was covered by rock band Humble Pie on their 1973 album Eat It.
  • The song was covered by a Hungarian rock band called Z'Zi Labor. This version also features the Veresegyház female folk-choir.
  • Pop-punk act McFly has covered this song in concert.
  • Taj Mahal and James Cotton recorded a blues version of this song.
  • In 2007, Tesla recorded a version for their Real to Reel release.


  • The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (fifth edition)

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