"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 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.
"Good Time Women", an early version of "Tumbling Dice", was recorded during the sessions for the album Sticky Fingers. The song is a bluesy boogie-woogie heavy on Ian Stewart's piano work. 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 Richards' lone lead guitar. However, "Good Time Woman" lacked an opening riff, a background choir and the beat which propels "Tumbling Dice"'s groove.
"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. 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.
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.
"Tumbling Dice" is known for its "groove". Aerosmith's Joe Perry said the song is "so laid-back, it really sucks you in..." 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.
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.
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 four regular tour concerts and a handful of benefit shows have not included "Tumbling Dice". On June 5, 1982, ten years and two days after the Stones first performed it, they left the song off the set list. The first two nights of the 1999 No Security Tour did not feature "Tumbling Dice" making them the first regular tour concerts in 17 years not to feature "Tumbling Dice". On September 17, 2005, "Tumbling Dice" was missing from the set list of a show on the A Bigger Bang Tour.
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)
On May 21, 1972, Top of the Pops broadcast a film made of the Stones rehearsing "Tumbling Dice" in Montreaux for the 1972 tour. On May 27,1972 Old Grey Whistle Test showed the same footage.
- Mick Jagger: Vocals & Guitar
- Keith Richards: Guitar
- Mick Taylor: Bass, slide guitar
- Charlie Watts: Drums
- Nicky Hopkins: Piano
- Bobby Keys: Saxophone
- Jim Price: Trumpet
- Keith Richards, Clydie King, Vanetta Fields: Background Vocals
Critical reception Edit
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.
Disc Magazine on April 15th, 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."
The song has earned spots on numerous "best of" lists.
- Spin magazine ranked it as the third greatest single of all time.
- Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as #424 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
- Q magazine ranked it #258 in their 1001 Greatest Songs of All Time.