Title: Sticky Fingers
Original Release: April, 1971
On Label: Rolling Stones Records
Producer: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Olympic Studios, London, England
The Stones: Mick Jagger - lead vocals
Keith Richards - guitar, vocals
Mick Taylor - guitar, vocals
Bill Wyman - bass
Charlie Watts - drums
Guest Musicians: Ry Cooder - slide guitar
Paul Buckmaster - strings
Bobby Keys - saxophone
Jim Price - trumpet
Billy Preston - organ
Nicky Hopkins - piano
Ian Stewart - piano
Jim Dickinson - piano
Jack Nitzche - piano
Rocky Dijon - congas
Jimmy Miller - percussion
The Back Story
Hindsight is a terrible thing to inflict on someone else... That Mick and Keith chose to name the band after a Muddy Waters tune promised the Stones would not be The Kinks or The Beatles. Their first, self titled, album briefly replaced The Beatles at the top of the charts in 1964. That same year they made their first Ed Sullivan appearance. Though Ed vowed never to have them back after the raucous crowd response, he relented a year later and the Stones saw their single (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction rise to the top of the American charts after the appearance.
While it seems a promising start, the fact is The Beatles were blowing up rock and roll around the world. With The Beatles' success pushing them from the outside and Brian Jones pushing from the inside the Stones ended up spending (or, wasting) quite a few years pursuing an experimental, psychedelic sound.
The low point for the Stones came in 1967. That year The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the best rock albums of all time. The Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request, a commercial flop that could have easily spelled their end. The Stones were not the only band to produce a derivative work on the heels of The Beatles' success. They were, however, the most talented band to waste that much studio time on a sound that was never their own. That same year saw Brian Jones jailed for possession of dope and Keith Richards' country home invaded in a now infamous drug bust.
Whether it was his excessive drug use or musical inclination, Brian Jones was less and less an influence after 1967. Keith and Mick returned to their roots with their next release, Beggar's Banquet, in 1968. By all accounts, this was more than a welcome change. Beggar's Banquet was followed by the equally welcome, equally successful, Let it Bleed in 1969. In June of 1969 Brian Jones was replaced, officially, by Mick Taylor (who had been playing with the Stones for some time before this). In July of that year Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool - a quiet, somber note on which to end an era.
Get Your Ya-Ya's Out, a live album, was released in 1970. While Mick Taylor has been playing with the band for quite some time - Let it Bleed is considered part of his 'era' - their next studio album would technically be his first with the band. Could they top Beggar's Banquet and Let it Bleed? That depends on what you think of Sticky Fingers.
Whether it was calculated or not, the album packaging for Sticky Fingers was a brilliant maneuver. It provided a subtle recast of the Stones' image from "prince of darkness" bad boys to edgy and lascivious bad boys. They replaced Hell's Angels and Altamont with Brown Sugar and 'Lips' Jagger.
The idea, as well as the design, was Andy Warhol's. The famous crotch belonged to Joe Allesandro, one of Andy's favorite actors and sometime lover. The man who made it all work was Craig Brown.
Craig's first save was realizing the zipper would damage the album inside. His solution was to provide an extra layer of cardboard behind the zipper. The artwork on this piece of cardboard was also provided by Warhol. The man in the jockey shorts is probably Jed Johnson, Andy Warhol's assistant and rumored boyfriend. Craig's second save came a little later. When it was discovered that the zipper would damage the album in front of it during shipping or on store shelves Atlantic Records threatened to sue Craig for the cost. He found sudden inspiration and suggested a rather simple idea - unzip it. Rather than damaging the album, somewhere around Sister Morphine, it would merely dent the label.
While the album design was certainly all the talk then, it was another Andy Warhol creation that would follow the Stones forever - the lips. Introduced on the same album, those lips are nearly as recognizable today as the Pepsi logo or Nike swoosh. They have been on every album since, on most of the Stones major signage and on enough merchandise to make George Lucas require a quick lie down.
In the highly subjective field of music and music critique there are hundreds of questions for which there are no real answers. Any person you ask will assure you that they have the only opinion worth hearing, but there is always someone else who has the opposite opinion and who will justify it twice as loudly. Who was bigger, Elvis or Michael Jackson? Who were the kings of rock n' roll, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? at the time or given their whole career? Should Michael Bolton be punched in the nose or the ear? What is a Cher?
When interviewing potential applicants for the position of 'this guy' in "this guy I know, who knows everything about music, said..." Never trust anyone who doesn't list Sticky Fingers in their top five all-time best rock albums. It can't be the only question on the test, but consider it a deal breaker if they get it wrong.
Brown Sugar - (Jagger/Richards) - 3:51
A true classic, this song receives more radio play than any other on the album. Big deal... radio jocks always play the first cut. Is it about heroin or was it inspired by a fling Jagger had with one of Ike Turner's backup singers? Who cares?! Did you hear that sax cut in after the second chorus? Oh yeah. The cut I'm listening to sounds like an old jam band with a new tune. Ba janga janga janga BWAO! They are all over the place, then all together. The third stanza sounds like somebody got a symphony orchestra drunk and stoned. Rockin. The only other song that would have fit here was already slated to open the B side, lucky they had some Brown Sugar.
Sway - (Jagger/Richards) - 3:55
Alright guys, lets slow it down and tighten it up. It isn't generally mentioned by buffs when discussing the Stones' all time classics. Listen to the album or CD though and see if you aren't looking forward to belting out, "It's just that demon life has got me in its sway." This is just a gorgeous song. Listen for the piano to join in around the third minute. This song has another fantastic outro. The Stones really know how to build a sound.
Wild Horses - (Jagger/Richards) - 5:46
This song was initially written by Keith Richards for his son Marlon. Mick rewrote the song based on his relationship with Marianne Faithfull. The most interesting thing about this song, though, is that the Stones were not the first to record it. They had it finished in 1969 but didn't plan to record it until 1971. So, in 1970, they let Gram Parsons' Flying Burrito Brothers record it - probably a thank-you for Parsons' influence on Keith and in getting the Stones back on track. Check the Nashville tuning Taylor uses on this one, it is beautiful, sounds like a 12-string. As for the song, more than any other I believe this one speaks for itself. But, if you haven't heard it yet, you can also hear The Sundays, Gram Parsons, Guns n' Roses, The Cranberries or Bush speak for it. I'm sure I missed a few, this is such a great song to cover.
Can't You Hear Me Knockin' - (Jagger/Richards) - 7:18
Alright, two slow songs in a row, it is time to pick it back up. This is just an awesome jam session. Alright, gimme some percussion. Yeah, like that, I like that, Caribbean. Now, give me some guitar, gimme a little pluck. Right on. Now where's my horns? A little Santana, loungey blues, plucky jazz - it doesn't matter what you call it, the instrumental outro on this song is worth the price of admission. It is rumored that Mick Taylor's preferred version of this song is 25 minutes long - whew, what I wouldn't give to hear that... As it is, we are lucky they got this little studio adventure on tape, it was just Mick refusing to stop playing and the rest of the band joining back in. Music doesn't get better than that.
You Gotta Move - (Fred McDowell) - 2:35
"The end of Side A is always a throw-away song." Oh yeah? This Fred McDowell tune is well executed and shows true blues chops. As a big fan of the blues, this is easily my favorite song on the album. Mick's vocals weave through and around the slide guitar. Oh my goodness, the guitar, can't even say it that way, in this song it's a gee-tar. Bump, high hat, bump, high hat - sittin on the porch, humidity through the roof, toes a tappin, somethin chilly within reach. Oh yeah.
Bitch - (Jagger/Richards) - 3:40
There are about 427 musicians contributing to this cacophony. Mirroring the intro to side A, this tune takes off fast and doesn't look back. It goes back and forth from perfect orchestration to loose and jangly and you expect it is right about to fall apart. The pace just keeps on going though, and every musician has no choice but to keep up or fall out. Dig the big band sound the horns lend, it makes you wonder why there are so damn many four piece rock groups out there. Hasn't anyone told them there is more than lead guitar, bass and drum?
I Got The Blues - (Jagger/Richards) - 3:57
So now it is time to slow it down again? Sounds like it... oh wow, where'd that come from? Okay, no, it's a slow one. Whoa! Did you hear that organ?! I did, that's Billy Preston. We like him. We like this tune. It is a masterpiece of tempo, of orchestration. Listening to the way the instruments work together, the way they work with Mick Jagger (who is positively soulful in this tune) you could almost believe the entire sound was engineered on one instrument - it is that tight. This song may prove the ultimate test for the rhythmless - if you can't find a beat while listening to this you are almost certainly never going to find one.
Sister Morphine - (Jagger/Richards/Faithful) - 5:36
Marianne's influence on this song is immediately evident, compared to the other songs on this album this one is best described as intimate. Other useful adjectives include raw, evocative, moving and powerful. Check out the guitar work in this song, the slide, the warped notes, it isn't the same flavor we find elsewhere on the album, it is a little darker, edgier. Also, unlike the other songs, Mick Jagger's part isn't integrated into the music quite the same way, he is a lot more out front, a lot more the focus.
Dead Flowers - (Jagger/Richards) - 4:07
A country song?! Really? Well, kinda, yeah. Damned if it don't work... It is the Stones though, so they don't exactly pick a country topic. What the hell, when you assemble this many talented musicians it probably doesn't matter what style they decide to play, it is going to be good. The fans didn't appreciate this song when the album first came out, but they were probably all stoned and expecting another Beatles album. Tough luck! This country song rocks. It is a great punctuation mark to all of the southern fried blues earlier in the album. The result of a natural progression, it is the perfect song for this spot. Think of it in terms of a concert, it is all the well wishes that come just before the goodbye.
Moonlight Mile - (Jagger/Taylor) - 5:56
Take us home Mick. This album could not have been closed with a better song. Moonlight Mile pulls every song together, every influence heard in a previous song can be heard here - it is intimate, big band, Middle Eastern, tightly orchestrated and arranged, bluesy in places, melodic and soulful in places - it is brilliant. Thematically it belongs as the last song on the B side. In terms of quality this song is better than most bands can claim for Side A, Song 1. If you can only listen to one song at the headphone station at Barnes & Noble, pick this one. Then thank me for recommending it, go to the counter and buy the CD.
A JG challenge, I hope it was worth the wait. I really do appreciate the album. I've been listening to it a lot more than was necessary to finish this w/u.
Source: The album.