Why ‘Tumbling Dice’ Was Like Pulling Teeth For The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones released “Tumbling Dice” on April 14, 1972. Like many Stones classics, it’s been a long journey to get there.

The song began life in 1969, originally under the title “Good Time Women”.

“It was one of those songs with a very simple structure that evolved from us just playing,” guitarist Mick Taylor noted to Blender magazine. “He even had a first voice with completely different words.”

“Good Time Women” was one of the ideas the band brought with them to the Nellcote mansion in southern France in 1971, where they recorded Exile on Main St. while avoiding the heavy UK upper class income tax.

Listen to “Good Time Women”

The famous sessions featured the band working in the property’s basement, recording in extremely hot and humid conditions.

“It was 120 degrees,” Keith Richards later recalled. “Everyone was sitting around sweating and playing without pants.”

“The humidity was incredible. I couldn’t take it,” added Mick Jagger. “As soon as I opened my mouth to sing, my voice disappeared. It was so humid that all the guitars were out of tune by the time we got to the end of each track.

Almost as exhausting as the heat: the pace at which the Stones worked.

“They played for days without going in and listening[ing] nothing,” noted sound engineer Andy Johns in the book Rocks Off: 50 songs that tell the story of the Rolling Stones.

Indeed, even when inspiration struck, the process lengthened. The riff of “Tumbling Dice” is a perfect example.

“I remember writing the riff upstairs in the very elegant front room, and we took it down that same night and cut it,” Richards recalled. “A lot of times when ideas come this fast, we don’t write the lyrics – we do what we call ‘vowel movement.’ You just blow on it to get the right sounds for the track.

Although the structure of the song started to fall into place, it took a long time to get the melody perfect.

“We worked on it for at least a few weeks, just the basic track,” Johns noted. “I know we had a hundred reels of tape on the base track.” The exact number taken by the group is unknown, but some have estimated it at around 150 tries.

“It was a good song,” admitted Johns, “but it was really like pulling teeth. It just went on and on.

Listen to “Tumbling Dice”

The next step in the process saw the Stones leave France and head to Los Angeles to complete the album. This is where Jagger formulated what the song’s final lyrics would be. Although not a gamer himself, the leader knew he wanted to use game imagery. Luckily, he gleaned knowledge from an unlikely source.

“I sat down with the housekeeper and told her about the game,” Jagger revealed. “She liked to play dice and I really didn’t know much about it. But I got it from her and managed to make a song out of it.

With its blues influence and catchy tempo, “Tumbling Dice” offered a distinctive groove. Released as the first single from Exile on Main St.the song quickly climbed the charts, peaking at No. 7 in the US and No. 5 in the UK

“Tumbling Dice” has remained a fan favorite over the decades since. The track has been covered by a wide range of artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Keith Urban and Phish. It also retained a permanent place on the Stones’ setlists, ranking as the fourth most-played song in the band’s repertoire.

Rolling Stones album chart

Ready to travel to the (dark) past? Check out the Rolling Stones albums ranked from worst to best.

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