Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
How come you taste so good?
Just like a young girl should
On April 23, 1971, fifty years ago today, the Rolling Stones released their eleventh American studio album, “Sticky Fingers.” By summertime, the album was a major part of my record collection. I was listening to it almost every night.
“Sticky Fingers” has some marvelous songs. “Wild Horses”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, “Bitch”, “Sister Morphine” and “Moonlight Mile” still hold up fifty years after their release. They are still part of the Stones concert setlist.
But the one I’ve loved from the beginning and still remains my favorite is “Brown Sugar.”
It begins with a thirty-second guitar intro that still plays in my head after five decades. Those chords keep driving throughout the song. It’s the perfect riff for us air guitar virtuosos.
At the minute-thirty mark, you hear a classic sax solo from Bobby Keys, one of the greatest sidemen in rock music history. A listener drops his air guitar and picks up his air sax to play along with Bobby….and by listener I mean me.
There’s even a sing-a-long with Mick Jagger towards the end. You all know the part….”Yeah…yeah…yeah…woooo!”…and you raise your arms during the woo!
When you put it all together, “Brown Sugar” is four minutes of classic rock and roll. And we haven’t even talked about the lyrics. Oh yeah, what about the lyrics?
In 1971, I had no idea what Mick was singing. That wasn’t unusual; there are plenty of Stones songs like that. Hell, most of them are like that. Whenever I sang along to “Brown Sugar”, I would just sing what I thought Mick was saying or I made it up. I always thought the first line was about a cot of veal…and I have no idea what that means. But it sounded like something that could be sold in a market down in New Orleans..and that worked for me.
A few years ago, I found a YouTube video of the song that had the lyrics. Hmmm…it was more than a little disconcerting to read the real words. A little slavery and prostitution. Add in some racism and misogyny and you have your typical classic rock and roll song in 1971? And, oh yeah, I really did think “how come you taste so good” was “how come you dance so good.” How naive was I?
So on this fiftieth anniversary of the song and album, we have a couple of questions:
First, could “Brown Sugar” be released today? The answer is obvious, of course not. In 2021, every one of those topics are taboo. Even Mick and Keith know that this song wouldn’t play now. They’ve admitted they wouldn’t and couldn’t write anything close to this now.
Second, now that you know the lyrics, is it okay to still like “Brown Sugar?” That’s certainly a little trickier. It’s never stopped me from performing air guitar and sax. When I saw the Stones in concert a couple of years ago and they played “Brown Sugar”, knowing the lyrics didn’t stop me from standing and singing along with the crowd. I guess I choose to keep the bad stuff in the back of my head and enjoy a song that’s been a part of my life for five decades.
So today we celebrate fifty years of “Sticky Fingers.” I’ll honor one of my all-time favorites by listening to the album in its entirety. I may even pretend to play with the zipper on the album cover; something I did with regularity back in the summer of 1971. When the album begins with “Brown Sugar”, I know I’ll dig out that old air guitar and start hitting those imaginary chords. And when we come to the end, I’ll be singing along with Mick.
“I said yeah…yeah…yeah…WOOOOOO!!!” Don’t forget to throw your arms up in the air.
Related Post: Try to live your life like Keith Richards
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