The backing tracks for both songs were cut in late 1972 during the Goats Head Soup (1973) sessions and feature Mick Taylor, not Ronnie Wood, on guitar.
Taylor, who was not credited, later demanded and received a share of the album's royalties.
The album was mixed at Atlantic Studios, Electric Ladyland, Hit Factory and Power Station in New York City.
"Start Me Up" was released in August 1981, just a week before Tattoo You, to a very strong response, reaching the top 10 in both the United States and UK, and number 1 in Australia.
Debra Rae Cohen commented in Rolling Stone: "Just when we might finally have lost patience, the new record dances (not prances), rocks (not jives) onto the scene, and the Rolling Stones are back again, with a matter-of-fact acceptance of their continued existence – and eventual mortality …" Though Robert Christgau gave the album a good review, however, when criticising "Start Me Up" in his Pazz and Jop essay in 1981, said, "its central conceit – Mick as sex machine, complete with pushbutton – explains why the album it starts up never transcends hand-tooled excellence except when Sonny Rollins, uncredited, invades the Stones' space.
Though it's as good in its way as 'Street Fighting Man', how much you care about it depends entirely on how much you care about the Stones' technical difficulties." Patty Rose, in Musician, said, "The feel of the album …
Despite the eclectic nature of the album, the Rolling Stones were able to divide Tattoo You into two distinct halves: a rock and roll side backed with one focusing on ballads.
The earliest songs used for Tattoo You are "Tops" and "Waiting on a Friend".
The follow-up to Emotional Rescue (1980), the album is mostly composed of studio outtakes recorded during the 1970s, and contains one of the band's most well-known songs, "Start Me Up", which hit second place on the United States's Billboard singles charts.
The critical reaction was positive, many feeling that Tattoo You was an improvement over Emotional Rescue and a high-quality release.