Bridges ’60s optimism and ’70s nihilism
Classic Albums: The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones departed the Sixties under a black cloud. The decade of free love and flower power was torn apart by a series of deaths which brought the dream crashing to a gruesome end. In the summer of 1969, Charles Manson and his “family” embarked on a murderous rampage through Los Angeles, while in the UK, original Rolling Stone guitarist Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool that July. In December, as The Rolling Stones performed to over quarter of a million people at Altamont Speedway in California, one fan was stabbed to death just feet from the stage. As the Seventies dawned, the Stones emerged as survivors - when The Beatles split in 1970, it paved the way for them to become the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

‘Sticky Fingers’ was how they returned. The album - the first to feature guitarist Mick Taylor throughout - falls in the middle of their most creative period; the fertile run of Jimmy Miller-produced albums from 1968’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ to 1973’s ‘Goats Head Soup’. These albums all expertly demonstrated the Stones’ musical tastes (the authentic threads of Americana, veering from country to blues to rock and roll) doused in the various excesses of the times and reflecting their ascent to kings of decadence.

It begins with ‘Brown Sugar’, recorded at legendary soul studio Muscle Shoals, Alabama. A supercharged romp alluding to heroin, slave rape, interracial and underage sex, it’s dominated by the sharp open-tuned guitars of Richards and Taylor, and the wailing sax of Bobby Keys. However, the song was written completely by Mick Jagger, as was the evocative closer, ‘Moonlight Mile’. “Mick can write!” exclaimed Keith Richards in his autobiography. “It’s unbelievable how prolific he was. Sometimes you’d wonder how to turn the fucking tap off.”

‘Sway’ marked the conclusive end of the psychedelic Stones. When Brian Jones died, so too did experimentation with dulcimers, sitars and marimbas. Mick Taylor brought to the band a melodic fluidity - the twenty-two year old consolidated the Stones as a live band, his virtuosity offering new musical possibilities for the group. With Keith absent (his heroin habit already proving intrusive), the bedrock of ‘Sway’ is all Taylor; its searing solo a formidable justification of his recruitment. “The music changed - almost subconsciously,” Keith said of Taylor’s hiring. “You write with Mick Taylor in mind, maybe without realizing it, knowing he can come up with something different.”

Thus, ‘Sticky Fingers’ became potent and beautiful as the Stones fired on all cylinders. ‘Wild Horses’ is them at their most tender - whether about Keith missing his son Marlon, or the dying embers of Jagger’s relationship with Marianne Faithfull, its emotional finesse survived even Susan Boyle’s mauling. ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ steps into Santana territory, as a Latin groove fills over half its seven minutes, while Fred McDowell’s ‘You Gotta Move’ and the Stones’ own ‘I Got The Blues’ illustrates their Delta authenticity. Once a floundering jam, ‘Bitch’ was brought to life when Keith reached into his big bag of riffs and pulled out a belter. And it was his infatuation with country music - bolstered by his friendship with Gram Parsons - that bore ‘Dead Flowers’. Originally written by Marianne Faithfull in 1968, the bleeding junkie tale of ‘Sister Morphine’ was developed by the Stones into a bleak and diabolical cry for help.

Besieged by sex, drugs and demons, ‘Sticky Fingers’ bridges the gap between ’60s optimism and ’70s nihilism. Though the sprawling ‘Exile On Main Street’ would follow and be claimed as their masterpiece, this was the moment the Stones truly proved themselves satanic majesties.


The 45-disc box-set ‘The Rolling Stones Singles (1971-2006)’, which includes tracks from ‘Sticky Fingers’, is out on April 11th. A ‘Brown Sugar’ 7” is released the same day to mark Record Store Day.

Words by Simon Harper

THE ROLLING STONES - ‘STICKY FINGERS’


PRODUCER: JIMMY MILLER
MUSICIANS: MICK JAGGER - VOCALS; KEITH RICHARDS - GUITARS, VOCALS; MICK TAYLOR - GUITARS; BILL WYMAN - BASS; CHARLIE WATTS - DRUMS; NICKY HOPKINS/JIM DICKINSON/IAN STEWART - PIANO; BOBBY KEYS - SAXOPHONE; JIM PRICE - TRUMPET

TRACKLIST
1. ‘BROWN SUGAR’
2. ‘SWAY’
3. ‘WILD HORSES’
4. ‘CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKING’
5. ‘YOU GOTTA MOVE’
6. ‘BITCH’
7. ‘I GOT THE BLUES’
8. ‘SISTER MORPHINE’
9. ‘DEAD FLOWERS’
10. ‘MOONLIGHT MILE’

1971: IN THE NEWS
- Cigarette advertising is banned on TV and radio.
- The Open University begins.
- The Doors’ Jim Morrison dies.
- Walt Disney World opens in Orlando, Florida.

1971: THE ALBUMS
Janis Joplin - ‘Pearl’
The Faces - ‘Long Player’
The Doors - ‘L.A. Woman’
Marvin Gaye - ‘What’s Going On’

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