Tumbling Dice (as made famous by The Rolling Stones)

“Tumbling Dice” (originally called “Good Time Women”) is a single written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for the Rolling Stones’ 1972 double album Exile on Main St., and was the album’s lead single. The song, recorded in the basement of the chateau Villa Nellcôte in France, peaked at number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 5 in the UK Singles chart. The lyrics tell the story of a gambler who cannot remain faithful to any woman. The music has a blues boogie-woogie rhythm and has been noted for its irregular lyrical structure and “groove”.

“Tumbling Dice” has been performed in many of the band’s concerts since its premiere on 3 June 1972 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia. Cover versions of “Tumbling Dice” have been created in such diverse styles as reggae, bluegrass and noise rock. An updated version from a female perspective was a Top 40 hit single for Linda Ronstadt in 1978, which is included in the film FM and on her album Simple Dreams.

An early version of “Tumbling Dice”, called “Good Time Women”,[2] was recorded in 1970 during the sessions for Exile on Main Street, but was released a month before the album and later included on it.[3][4] The song is a bluesy boogie-woogie,[5][6] with heavy emphasis on Ian Stewart’s piano work.[6] The two songs are similar in structure in that they have the same chord progression and a similar melody. Also, Jagger sings the hook to the accompaniment of Mick Taylor’s lone lead guitar.[7] However, “Good Time Women” lacked an opening riff, a background choir, and the beat which propels the groove of “Tumbling Dice”. (An October 1970 recording of “Good Time Women” was released in 2010 on the deluxe remastered release of Exile on Main St.)[8]

“Tumbling Dice” was recorded in the basement of the chateau Villa Nellcôte, near Villefranche-sur-Mer, France.[9][10] The recording schedule for Exile on Main St. had the band sleeping during the day and recording with who was around at night.[7][9] The basic track of the song was recorded on 3 August 1971.[11] Mick Taylor, the Rolling Stones’ second guitarist, played bass on the track, due to bassist Bill Wyman’s absence that night, and Mick Jagger played guitar.[12][13]

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.”[11] In the liner notes to Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones, Richards stated, “I remember writing the riff upstairs in the very elegant front room, and we took it downstairs the same evening and we cut it.”[14][15] Jagger said of the lyrics, “It’s weird where your lyric things come from. On Tumbling Dice, I sat down with the house keeper and talked to her about gambling. She liked to play dice and I really didn’t know much about it, but I got it off her and managed to make the song out of that.”[1] He concluded, ” ‘Tumbling Dice’ was written to fit Keith’s riff. It’s about gambling and love, an old blues track.”[2]

When discussing Tumbling Dice, recording engineer Andy Johns stated, that recording of the song was “like pulling teeth” due to the extended period of time it took to get a satisfactory take.[15] Johns has claimed that there were between thirty and one hundred reels of tape on the base track of the song.[15] Some have said that it may have taken as many as 150 takes to get the basic track of the song.[16] The mixing of the album was also difficult, Jagger has never liked the final mix of the song, stating in an interview with Melody Maker, “I think they used the wrong mix for that one. I know they did.”[17]

The single was released on 14 April 1972.[2] “Tumbling Dice” peaked at number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart[18] and number 5 in the UK Singles chart.[19] It was the Rolling Stones’ 23rd single in the United States and their 17th in the United Kingdom.[11] The single’s B-side was “Sweet Black Angel”, a song written by Jagger about Black Panther activist Angela Davis.[20]

“Tumbling Dice” is known for its “groove”, with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry saying the song is, “so laid-back, it really sucks you in…”.[16] The song’s tempo has often been credited with creating that groove. In concert, Jagger and Richards have been known to argue over the speed of the song, with Jagger trying to push the song’s tempo a bit faster.[17]

The song’s lyrical structure is irregular. While many songs have the same number of lines for the 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 backing vocals sing “you got to roll me” as the guitar plays the song’s signature guitar figure.[29] The third chorus leads into the song’s coda. Slowly, the band’s rhythm section works its way back into the song. The coda includes a call and response with the backing vocals singing “you got to roll me” as Jagger and Richards respond by singing “keep on rolling.”[29][30] 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.[31]

After over forty years, it It has now been acknowledged that Jimmy Miller played the last part of the song right as the coda begins due to Watts having difficulty with the conclusion of the song.[7][29]

The Rolling Stones performed “Tumbling Dice” live for the first time on 3 June 1972 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the start of their 1972 North American Tour. Since then, only seven regular tour concerts and a handful of benefit shows have not included “Tumbling Dice”. From 29 April to 3 May 1976, during the European tour 1976, the Stones did not feature the song in the setlist. The first two nights of the 1999 No Security Tour did not feature “Tumbling Dice” making them the first regular tour concerts in 23 years not to feature “Tumbling Dice”.[32][33]

Several live recordings of the song have been released. The 1977 double album Love You Live features a version recorded on 7 June 1976 at Les Abattoirs, Paris, France.[34] The 2008 release Shine a Light captures a New York City performance of the song from the 2006 leg of the A Bigger Bang Tour,[35] while a July 2013 performance in London’s Hyde Park is included in Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live.[36]

Additionally, a live version of the song was recorded for Stripped, the 1995 live album that documented the Voodoo Lounge Tour, but did not appear on that album,[37] however, was included in the 2016 rerelease, Totally Stripped.[38][39] 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 3 July 1995, and the live performance at Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami, Florida on 25 November 1994.[40] This recording can be found on both the 1996 “Wild Horses” (live) single[41] and the Rarities 1971-2003 album.[42]

Many Stones concert films have included “Tumbling Dice”: Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones (1974), Let’s Spend the Night Together (1983), Stones at the Max (1992), The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge Live (1995), Bridges to Babylon Tour ’97–98 (1998), Rolling Stones – Four Flicks (2003), The Biggest Bang (2007), Shine a Light (2008). “Tumbling Dice” has also been included in several “From the Vault” archive releases, including Some Girls: Live in Texas ’78 (2011), Hampton Coliseum – Live In 1981 (2014) and L.A. Forum – Live In 1975 (2014).[43][44]

On 21 May 1972, Top of the Pops broadcast a film made of the Stones rehearsing “Tumbling Dice” in Montreaux for the 1972 tour. On 27 May 1972 The Old Grey Whistle Test showed the same footage.[45]

Due to its length and musical scope, most reviews of Exile on Main St. glossed over the album’s individual songs to focus on the album as a whole. However, Lenny Kaye, in his review for Rolling Stone, took a paragraph to describe the song.

But it’s left to “Tumbling Dice” to not just place a cherry on the first side, but to also provide one of the album’s only real moves towards a classic. As the guitar figure slowly falls into Charlie’s inevitable smack, the song builds to the kind of majesty the Stones at their best have always provided. Nothing is out of place here. Keith’s simple guitar figure providing the nicest of bridges, the chorus touching the upper levels of heaven and spurring on Jagger, set up by an arrangement that is both unique and imaginative. It’s definitely the cut that deserved the single, and the fact that it’s not likely to touch number one shows we’ve perhaps come a little further than we originally intended.[46]

Disc magazine on April 15, 1972, said:

Unison guitars from Keith and Mick Taylor, rather than double-tracking, lead us out and down the hole in the middle. By that time, hypnosis has set in and you are cursing the fact that the single doesn’t last six minutes longer [11]

Mick Jagger – lead vocals, rhythm guitar[2]
Keith Richards – lead guitars, backing vocals[2]
Mick Taylor – bass[2]
Charlie Watts – drums[2]
Jimmy Miller – drums (coda)[2]
Nicky Hopkins – piano[2]
Bobby Keys – saxophone[2]
Jim Price – trumpet, trombone[2]
Clydie King, Venetta Fields, Sherlie Matthews – backing vocals[2]

In 1977, Linda Ronstadt covered the song “Tumbling Dice” for her Simple Dreams studio album. In an interview with Hit Parader magazine, she stated that her band played “Tumbling Dice” for sound checks, but nobody knew the words. Mick Jagger suggested that Ronstadt should sing more hard rock songs and suggested “Tumbling Dice”, which she made him write down the lyrics of.[50]

Ronstadt’s version however, varied significantly from the Rolling Stones version with the opening lines. The Rolling Stones version began with:

“Women think I’m tasty but they’re always tryin’ to waste me.”

Alternatively, Ronstadt opened with:

“People try to rape me. Always think I’m crazy.”

Produced by Peter Asher and released on Asylum Records as a single in the spring of 1978, Ronstadt’s version peaked at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She also performed the song and starred in the movie FM. Her live version appears on the soundtrack album to this 1978 film FM. Linda Ronstadt joined the Rolling Stones onstage to sing “Tumbling Dice” on July 21, 1978 in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona.[40]

In 2001, Hilary Rosen, representing the RIAA, 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 Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “Tumbling Dice”, which Rosen said was “a song about rape written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.”[51]

The band Pussy Galore covered all of the Exile on Main St. album on their album Exile on Main Street. The LA Times has referred to the song quality of their version as if “it was recorded in the tank of a Lower East Side toilet.”[52]