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Sticky Fingers
The Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones Records 59100
Released: April 1971
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 62
Certified Gold: 5/11/71

Keith RichardsMick JaggerThe Stones are rolling again. And not on the river, either. After an eighteen-month period in which the only "new" recordings available for Stones freaks were a chronicle of their 1969 tour and a collection of "Greatest Hits," Jagger, Richard & Co. finally decided to make their first statement for the Seventies.

And a fascinating statement it is. First of all, it should be heard in the context of recent Stones business and personal history. Within a month of the disc's official release date, for example, Jagger was married. I'm not sure whether that has to be counted a victory for tradition, or a subtle undercover gambit by the dark powers. I'll think about it. Then there's the little matter of the Stones' departure from London Records for a new distributorship with the massive Kinney organization. The usual dependable industry sources inform me that the move was part of a million-dollar deal negotiated by Atlantic Records' electric eclectic Turk, Ahmet Ertegun. If so, it was a bargain, because this new release, Sticky Fingers, was certified a gold record within a week of its release.

Enough of this background nonsense, you say? All right. But keep in mind the fact that when the Beatles were dissolving from a unified group into four bickering individuals, the Stones were busily straightening out personal affairs, producing new music, and preparing for a long and financially rewarding career together. It doesn't look as though these devils need much sympathy, after all.

On to the music. Wisely, I would say, it touches a lot of bases. The Stones -- and their new business advisors -- are well aware of the unsettled character of the pop music scene, and this new disc appears to include the beginnings of a new Stones cuisine, as well as a juicy morsel or two for those who insist upon familiar fare. "Bitch" and "Brown Sugar," first released together as a single, are the sort of Dionysian rock revels that will keep the "old" Stones fans happy, with Jagger in particular sounding as campy-nasty as ever. "You Gotta Move" is another Stones synthesis of Delta blues, but Jagger's effort to do a Fred McDowell dialect is almost laughable. "Love in Vain" is recalled by the opening of "I Got the Blues," but this time a horn section and some interesting harmonic underpinning make the track something more than a black-blues rip-off like "Love in Vain." "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" goes through a cycle of style changes, from a raunchy tenor-saxophone solo to a guitar-led Latin sequence that sounds like Santana transported to the Thames. "Wild Horses" we already know, and "Moonlight Miles" does a Phil Spector trip, with much too long an ending and much too thick a texture.

The two best pieces, and probably the most "controversial" (assuming the word still has meaning in pop music), are "Sister Morphine" and "Dead Flowers." The former is a scary run through one man's drug experience, a little obtuse in the way it tells its story, but sung by Jagger with an enormously effective low-key intensity. "Dead Flowers" sounds livelier, with its hokey country feeling, but it too sings of the damaging aspects of life in the counter-culture.

Few artists can produce an album that achieves all its goals. The Stones have always had a reputation and an influence that extended beyond what would seem justified by their musical skills. The switch to a new label may will mean the growth of a more mature group, one that can match word with deed, gesture with meaning. It seems strange to describe the Stones as a promising group, but that's the feeling I had after hearing Sticky Fingers. The future looks good. Like I say, rolling right along.

- Don Heckman, Stereo Review, 8/71.

Bonus Reviews!

This will be one of the year's big ones. For their first time out under their own label auspices (with Atco distribution), the group is as forceful and dynamic as ever. Standout is "Brown Sugar," which is already rolling up the charts, but "Sister Morphine" and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" have pullout potential, too.

- Billboard, 1971.

You'd think some compensation was in order a year and a half after the fact, but that old evil life's just got them in its sway. From title's like "Bitch" and "Sister Morphine" and (the Altamont reference) "Dead Flowers" through "Brown Sugar"'s compulsively ironic and bacchanalian exploitation/expose to the almost Yeatsian "Moonlight Mile," this is unregenerate Stones. The token sincerity of "Wild Horses" drags me. But "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "I Got the Blues" are as soulful as "Good Times," and Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move" stands alongside "Prodigal Son" and "Love in Vain." A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The heavily studio-augmented live tapes capture and bottle the Stones at their demonic best with hits like "Brown Sugar" and their posed debauchery in songs like "Sister Morphine." Musicians Jim Price on trumpet, pianist Nick Hopkins and sax-player Bobby Keyes augment the band on stage while contributions come from great rock stylists like Billy Preston, Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche.

The undeniably muscular sound is a little dense and wearing from Compact Disc though the more studio oriented tracks are better in this respect -- Ry Cooder's wailing bottle-neck guitar playing has never sounded so potent as it does here.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

This is unrepentant, unregenerate, arrogant Stones' style rock & roll at it's best (well, maybe not "Wild Horses"). From "Brown Sugar" to "Moonlight Mile" with eight soulful, nasty numbers in between, this is the music that made them the kings (or at least the Dark Princes) of early seventies rock & roll. With this release, the Stones changed labels to Atlantic/Atco for scandalous sums of money and their own label. The sound on Sticky Fingers is reed-thin and overbright. But it provides more clarity and detail than are available on the LP. A

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

A ballsy, bluesy masterpiece made up of leftovers and works in progress from the preceding two years, including "Wild Horses," "Brown Sugar," and "Sister Morphine." * * * * *

- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Sticky Fingers has the most famous cover art of any Stones album (Andy Warhol's zippered crotch shot) and -- "Brown Sugar" excepted -- among the most darkly weary music. But amid the druggy drama, the luminous beauty of "Sway" and "Moonlight Mile" is redemptive. * * * * 1/2

- Greg Kot, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The new, post-Decca records age of the Rolling Stones began here. Sticky Fingers, released on Rolling Stones Records, a company run by Marshall Chess, saw the birth of the famous red lips on yellow logo. It came housed in Andy Warhol's audacious sleeve depicting a pair of jeans and a real zip. (Hence...Sticky Fingers. Yes, incredibly rude but most people didn't notice that at the time.) It was a new beginning in musical terms, too. Mick Taylor's influence helped pull the band deeper into the blues, while Keith Richard's burgeoning friendship with Gram Parsons brought a country beat to the Stones' heart. Fired by an enthusiasm that would weaken somewhat a week later at Altamont, they converged on Mussel Shoals Studios, deep in Alabama. In three hyper-productive days they pinned down the backing tracks for "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses" (first recorded by Parsons' Flying Burrito Brothers) and "You Gotta Move." The rich flavour of Sticky Fingers was forged in that brief, early session, recorded in a studio that was buried deep in an old coffin factory. The remainder of the album came from Berkshire (the Rolling Stones' mobile parked next to Jagger's manor house) and Olympic Studios, London. The country/blues theme continued throughout the album, though.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

A celebration of unabashed hedonism as the band soars on the fiery lead guitar work of Mick Taylor, this Anglo-blooze with a sexual swagger features nasty classics "Brown Sugar" and "Bitch," the non-saccharine sweetness of "Wild Horses," the droll, country silliness of "Dead Flowers," the Santana-ish raveup of "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" and "Sister Morphine," an almost tactile experience of a drug overdoes. It's like you've been to the wildest party of all time and lived to tell the tale. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Sticky Fingers is an album of more personal material from the Stones, and the attitude is drunken laissez-faire. It even came together in a laid-back way. Some tracks dated back to 1969 (including "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses"), while others caught the band breaking in new guitarist Mick Taylor, who'd played scantly on the previous album, Let It Bleed, but was really just coming into his own as far as being an integrated presence in the band. In short, Sticky Fingers was amazingly -- and perhaps inadvertently -- prescient when it came to predicting what the first half of the seventies would be like. It was also the last Stones LP to demonstrate the brief country flirtation they picked up in the late sixties when Keith Richards became enamored by the American country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. This influence was most apparent on "Wild Horses" and the rollicking "Dead Flowers," one of the album's best tracks, with Mick Jagger singing like a drunken Texan. As always, the blues and R&B influences that had served the band so well were still in evidence, in both their cover of the Fred McDowell number "You Gotta Move" as well as in the Memphis soul homage, "I Got the Blues," which might be the most blatant stylistic lift they ever accomplished. Meanwhile, the long jam at the end of "Can You Hear Me Knockin'" dabbled with almost jazzlike improv textures that they simply couldn't have even attempted without Mick Taylor. And "Moonlight Mile," the closer, is an ethereal masterpiece. In fact, in many ways, Sticky Fingers showed the group's wide range of talents better than any other album.

Sticky Fingers was voted the 46th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

Drummer Charlie Watts remembered the origin of Sticky Fingers as being Mick Jagger and the songs he wrote while filming a movie in Australia. "Mick started playing the guitar a lot," Watts said. "He plays very strange rhythm guitar...very much how Brazilian guitarists play, on the upbeat. It is very much like the guitar on a James Brown track -- for a drummer it's great to play with." The album has tough, straight-up rock, such as "Brown Sugar" and "Bitch," but also finds the Stones expanding their sound with strings on the lovely "Moonlight Mile." Two of the best cuts are the two country songs: one forlorn ("Wild Horses") and one funny ("Dead Flowers").

Sticky Fingers was chosen as the 63rd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

The raw energy of Sticky Fingers is for many the highpoint of the Stones' career. From the opening blast of "Brown Sugar" -- a Number One single in the US and Number Two in the UK, into which one can read either drug-taking or interracial sex connotations -- through to the plaintive "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and then into typical Stones' territory on "Bitch," with its brassy, raunchy refrain, the album assaults the senses. Even when the pace does ease, as it does on "Wild Horses," the Marianne Faithful co-penned "Sister Morphine" and "Moonlight Mile," the sense of dark foreboding remains. The band's love affair with the blues is illustrated by their version of McDowell/Davis' "You Gotta Move" and the Jagger/Richards "I Got The Blues."

The album was the third to feature ex-John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' guitarist Mick Taylor, who had been drafted in to replace Brian Jones, one of the band's founding members who had died in a swimming pool accident two years earlier. It was the first of the Stones' albums to be released on their own Rolling Stones label.

Sticky Fingers topped the album charts in both the US and the UK, while the single of "Wild Horses" reached Number 28 in the US. The original album sleeve, designed by Andy Warhol and featuring a male crotch with a working zipper, was banned in Spain.

As of 2004, Sticky Fingers was the #89 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

Sticky Fingers was the first LP released on The Rolling Stones' own label, the first to feature the world famous John Pasche-designed tongue and lips logo, and the first to top both the U.S. and UK album charts.

Its roots were established as early as 1969, when the Stones laid down backing tracks for "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," and the rural blues "You Gotta Move" at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. These set the album's relaxed tone, a blend of blues, country, and Southern-styled soul.

Opener "Brown Sugar" is built around an irresistible guitar riff that led it to become a massive worldwide hit and party anthem, despite extremely controversial lyrical content. "Bitch" meshes Bobby Keyes' sax and Jim Price's trumpet with another pounding guitar riff. The horn section surfaces again on "I Got The Blues" evoking the passion of Otis Redding's Stax label ballads while Billy Preston adds gospel-infused searing organ. The album is full of explicit drug references not least on the Marianne Faithfull co-write "Sister Morphine," a dark tale of addiction. The influence of Keith Richard's buddy Gram Parsons is felt on the album's two country songs -- the beguiling ballad "Wild Horses" and the tongue-in-cheek "Dead Flowers."

Guitarist Mick Taylor shines on the Santana-like workout "Can't You Hear Me Knocking. "Moonlight Mile" features a genuinely moving vocal by Jagger backed with lavish strings by Paul Buckmaster.

Andy Warhol's cover of a jeans-clad crotch originally came with a working zipper, sealing the consummate sleazy Stones package.

- Jon Harrington, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

(2015 Deluxe Edition) The Rolling Stones' first studio album of the Seventies was their sayonara to a messy 1969: Brian Jones' death; Altamont; guitarist Mick Taylor's partial entry on Let It Bleed. Recorded over more than a year and finally issued in April 1971, Sticky Fingers was an eclectic affirmation of maturing depth -- the poise and polish before the titanic grunge of '72's Exile on Main Street. As writers, singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards rolled out a breadth of introspection (the swagger and warning in "Sway," the Asian-sunset tinge of "Moonlight Mile") while Taylor's searing tone was fully integrated into the treble tangle of "Bitch" and "Brown Sugar."

The alternate takes in this reissue show how hard the Stones worked to sound so natural. "Dead Flowers" is more folk rock, not yet country enough; you'll actually miss Jagger's crooning-trucker exaggeration. A run at the pre-jam half of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," with an almost-Grateful Dead groove, peters out -- there is clearly no Plan B yet. The big prize (along with the live-'71 mania here and in an even more deluxe edition) is a December '70 outtake of "Brown Sugar": loose, feral fun with Eric Clapton on slide guitar. Richards briefly lobbied to issue that as the single, but good sense prevailed. The version we got first was a labor of months but the perfect opening shot -- taut, blazing, assured -- to a second golden decade. * * * * *

- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 6/18/15.

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