On November 7, 1983, the recording scorecard of the Rolling Stones reached 17 UK studio albums in 19 years. In the States, with their slightly different release schedule in the early days, it was 19 in 19. A few days after the adventurous and exhilarating lead single “Undercover Of The Night,” the Stones unveiled their new Undercover set.
The follow-up to 1981’s Tattoo You was recorded in two blocks of studio time with co-producer Chris Kimsey: at the end of 1982 at EMI Studios in Paris, and spring into summer of ’83 at Compass Point in Nassau, in the Bahamas. Undercover was released in the UK on the same day as new albums by everyone from Adam Ant to Steve Hackett — and, ironically, by Was (Not Was), whose co-founder Don Was would later become a trusted Stones producer.
The album consisted of ten new Jagger-Richards compositions, many of them with an edgy, dark atmosphere that was later seen in some quarters to reflect the tensions in the songwriters’ relationship. Either way, “Undercover Of The Night” remains one of the great, “later” Rolling Stones singles, with a lyric created by Jagger addressing the political corruption of the time in South America.
“I’m not saying I nicked it,” wrote Mick in the liner notes to the 1993 compilation Jump Back, “but this song was heavily influenced by William Burroughs’ Cities Of The Red Night, a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression. It combines a number of different references to what was going down in Argentina and Chile.” Keith Richards added: “Mick had this one all mapped out, I just played on it. There were a lot more overlays on the track because there was a lot more separation in the way we were recording at the time.”
Apart from the five members of the Stones, Undercover also featured contributions from sax player David Sanborn, reggae notables Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and the last appearance on a Stones studio album, before his death in 1985, of their beloved road manager Ian “Stu” Stewart. The album met with a solid response, even if its “mere” No.4 peak in the US broke a run of eight studio No.1s in a row there.
Buy the 15LP Rolling stones box set The Studio Albums Vinyl Collection 1971-2016, which includes Undercover.