Friday, April 23, 1971

The Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers

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Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones

Released: April 23, 1971

Recorded: date

Charted: May 8, 1971

Peak: 14 US, 15 UK, 15 CN, 12 AU

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 0.3 UK, 7.5 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: classic rock

Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Brown Sugar [3:48] (4/26/71, #1 US, #1 UK)
  2. Sway [3:50]
  3. Wild Horses [5:42] (6/19/71, #28 US)
  4. Can't You Hear Me Knocking [7:14]
  5. You Gotta Move (Fred McDowell, Gary Davis) [2:32]
  6. Bitch [3:38]
  7. I Got the Blues [3:54]
  8. Sister Morphine (Jagger, Richards, Marianne Faithfull) [5:31]
  9. Dead Flowers [4:03]
  10. Moonlight Mile [5:56]

All tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards unless noted otherwise.

Total Running Time: 46:25

The Players:

  • Mick Jagger (vocals)
  • Keith Richards (guitar)
  • Mick Taylor (guitar)
  • Bill Wyman (bass)
  • Charlie Watts (drums)


4.702 out of 5.00 (average of 25 ratings)

Quotable: “They were called the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band for entierely too long, but if that designation ever applied, it was here.” – Mark Richardson, Pitchfork

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“Few bands represent…the move from the relative innocence of the mid-‘60s into the hedonism and burnout of the ‘70s better than the Rolling Stones.” PF Their performance at the Altamont Speedway, during which a group of Hell’s Angels killed a man, has often been held up as a “symbolic end of the peace-and-love ‘60s.” PF With 1971’s Sticky Fingers, “the Rolling Stones came back nastier and more assured than ever.” TL It “proved that the endless summer of the 1960s was over, but that the Stones would rock just as hard in the following decade.” CDU

The album was “their biggest seller to date,” TL coming during “one of the great four-album runs in pop music history,” PF following Beggars Banquet (1968) and Let It Bleed (1969) and preceding Exile on Main Street (1972). Even amongs those lofty albums, this “classic among classics” UD “could reasonably be called their peak.” PFBeggars and Let It Bleed might have had higher highs, but both also had their share of tossed-off tracks.” PF “It doesn’t have the sprawl and mood of their next release, Exile on Main Street,” TL “the underground music’s fan’s favorites, but it never had the broader cultural impact of its predecessor.” PFSticky Fingers truly captures the Stones at the peak of their game.” TL

In Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, he says of the #10 ranked album that “dirty rock like this has still to be bettered, and there is still no rival in sight.” WK A Q magazine review said this was “the Stones at their assured, showboating peak.” WK

“The key to the album…[is] the utter weariness of the songs.” AMG In addition to the aftermath of Altamont, Mick Jagger was dealing with his breakup with Marianne Faithfull while Keith Richards was worried about his newborn son Marlon. CDU “Well over half the songs explicitly mention drug use.” AMG “Where they once sounded like English boys doing their version of the blues, now their songs felt as lived-in as their inspirations.” PF Chicago Tribune’s Lynn Van Matre said the album captured the band “at their raunchy best” WK as the band delves into “familiar Stones terrain: sex…drugs…the blues…and dirty rock and roll all over.” FP

Recording the Album
The band did some recording at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama at the close of their 1969 U.S. tour., laying down “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” and “You Gotta Move.” UD Drummer Charlie Watts said it was “a great studio to work in, a very hip studio…you wanted to be there because of all the guys who had worked in the same studio.” TS

In 1970, the band also recorded at their mobile studio in Jagger’s Stargroves mansion in England – TD the same location where Led Zeppelin would record Houses of the Holy. FP Jagger described it as “a big hall with a high ceiling, which was my optimum kind of room.” TS Additional recording was done at Olympic Sound Studios in London in 1969 and 1970.

The album is marked by “a loose, ramshackle ambience.” AMG It is “a slow, bluesy affair, with a few country touches thrown in for good measure.” AMG “Richards’ riffs and melodies were in full flower” PF and “Jagge’s voice never sounded richer or fuller than it does here.” PF The album also “displayed the improvisational talents of guitarist Mick Taylor,” FP and “the spicy horn arrangements of saxophonist Bobby Keys and trumpet player Jim Price. The use of horns in the Stones’ repertoire seemed inevitable – when they kick in during ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Bitch,’ it’s as if Keith’s guitar is rebirthed in brass.” CDU

New Label and Logo
This was also the band’s first release on their new label, Rolling Stones Records. Since 1963, they’d been with Decca Records in the UK and London Records in America. This was also the first studio album from the Stones to not feature any contributions from Brian Jones, the band’s founder, who died at age 27 on July 3, 1969.

Sticky Fingers was also the first Rolling Stones’ album to feature the now iconic lips logo. John Pasche designed it in 1970 after Jagger suggested copying the outstuck tongue of the Hindu goddess Kali. WK

Kali, the Hindu goddess

It “recast the band in a new light: a rock and roll brand.” FP Critic Sean Egan says it “quickly and deservedly became the most famous logo in the history of popular music.” WK

back cover of album

Album Package
“The whole thing was wrapped up in a brilliant packaging concept by Andy Warhol” PF which “emphasizes the suggestive innuendo of the Sticky Fingers title.” TD The cover “expresses the essence of Rolling Stones at their peak: salacious, impossible to ignore, and rough around the edges.” FP In 2003, VH1 ranked Sticky Fingers as the greatest album cover of all time. FP

It featured a close-up shot of the crotch of a man in tight jeans which, at Jagger’s suggestion, FP featured a working zipper. When pulled down, it revealed a pair of cotton briefs. Warhol suggested the idea to Jagger at a party in 1969. FP Warhol conceived the cover and Billy Name and Craig Braun, members of his art collective, The Factory, photographed and designed it respectively. WK Contrary to popular belief, the crotch in the photo does not belong to Jagger. Several men were photographed during the shoot and Warhol never revealed which model was actually used for the cover. TD

There were, however, problems with the zipper. When the albums were stacked for shipping, the zipper would press into the vinyl and damage it. The solution was to pull the zipper down manually so that it would hit the center disc label and not damage the vinyl. As Braun said, “It worked, and it was even better to see the zipper pulled halfway down.” FP

The album cover was censored in Spain so a second cover was created which featured what would seemingly be more controversial – severed fingers in a can of Fowler’s Treacle. KR

alternate cover

“Brown Sugar”
“The classic opener” AMG “begins with some magical raunch chords…in the tradition of…[The Kinks’] ‘All Day and All of the Night,’ [and the Stones’ own] ‘Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown,’ and ‘Satisfaction.’” RS “As if to prove their minds were still as dirty as their music,” AZ “with its quintessential blues-rock riff” PF is “a gleeful tune about slavery, interracial sex, and lost virginity.” AMG

Of the questionable lyrics, Jagger has said it was “all the nasty subjects in one go” PF and that he’d “never write that song now. I would probably censor myself.” TS He’s also said that this was the first riff he wrote. TS He said, “at the end of the ‘60s I had a little more time to sit around and play my guitar, writing songs rather than just lyrics for the first time.” TS He wrote it while on the set of filming Ned Kelly in Australia. TS

Sway is pure terror,” TL a “midtempo rocker that would sound orchestral even without Paul Buckmaster’s climactic string arrangement.” AZ “The sound is characteristic Rolling Stones messiness…[but] lacks intensity…it remains a series of riffs whose lack of content is obscured by prolonged and indifferent guitar semi-solos and a fine string arrangement that suddenly enters towards the end.” RS

The song features backing vocals from Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane. TD Jagger and Taylor have both said that Richards isn’t on the song. Jagger plays rhythm guitar on it while Taylor does the solo. TS Of Taylor’s performance, Richards said, “acoustically he’s got a nice touch.” TS

“Wild Horses”
Wild Horses is their first non-ironic stab at a country song, and it is a beautiful, heart-tugging masterpiece;” AMG it “is as tender as the Stones can get.” TL “The longing of the song’s lyrics coupled with its ultimate hope constitute as much of a theme as there is on this record.” RS Richards said the song “was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road being a million miles from where you want to be.” TS Specifically, the band was headed out on the road again and Richards didn’t want to be away from Marlon, his newborn son. TS

According to Richards, the song came about from him playing around with tunings on a twelve-string. The chorus was written in the bathroom at Muscle Shoals. He also said, “If there is one classic way of Mick and I working together, this is it. I had the riff and the chorus line. Mick got stuck into the verses.” TS

The band also worked with Gram Parsons on the song and his actually came out before the Stones’ version. TS

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
“The laid-back tone of the album gives ample room for…Taylor to stretch out, particularly on the extended coda” AMG of “the near-dangerous electrified ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’” CDU Richards said, “We didn’t even know they were still taping…We were just rambling and they kept the tape rolling…Basically we realized we had two bits of music. There’s the song and there’s the jam.” TS

In his 2016 book Never a Dull Moment, David Hepworth suggested that Taylor’s “Latin-flavored guitar solo” was influenced by the 1970 Santana album, Abraxas. WK Jagger himself called the song “slightly Carlos-Santana-like. Mick Taylor plays a bit of that style.” TS

“You Gotta Move”
Critic Robert Christgau said this Mississippi Fred McDowell cover is on par with the band’s previous covers of “Prodigal Son” and “Love in Vain.” WK Taylor said they used to play it all the time in the studio. Jagger echoes that, saying, “We used to mess around doing it in rehearsals or in a hotel room…and we decided to record it…This sort of stuff is very hard to recreate. Fred McDowell’s version is full of emotion. But I think we managed to pull it off.” TS

“Taylor’s electric slide guitar is absolutely exquisite.” RS “Combined with Richard’s fine work on the acoustic they create one of the album’s few real moments. Charlie Watts’ bass drum holds it together perfectly, while Richard’s harmony smoothes off the more outrageous edges of Jagger’s lead vocal. In the end, all the pieces fit. A small but important triumph.” RS

On the “mean-spirted” AMG “rocker Bitch,” AZ Jagger assumes “one of his most popular poses: demonic. here he flaunts naughty words and naughty thoughts as if he still thought they were naughty.” RS Jagger said, “to my mind there was never anything written that was offensive in that.” TS

“The arrangement is straight-ahead” RS on this “crunchy boogie” PF which Jagger says is “a guitar song, but it’s also somewhat dependent on the horn lines.” TS Indeed, “the horns sound great here as they are used primarily for purposes of syncopation and rhythm. The bass and drums…burns like a bitch.” RS Jagger called it one of the band’s “groove tunes.” TS

“I Got the Blues”
“In the tradition of the earlier R&B imitations,” RS this “ravished, late-night classic” AMG is a “swelling Otis Redding-style R&B” PF song “that ranks among their very best blues.” AMG “This is the first time they actually added Stax horns.” RS

Jagger said, “When you get really slow tunes like this, it’s hard to keep the tempo…but this one holds the tempo. It’s kind of wrenching. You can only get that by doing it really slow and this one comes off.” TS

“Sister Morphine”
“The terrifyingly spare Sister MorphineCDU is “one of the most vivid, horrifying songs about drug abuse ever recorded.” AZHowever, Jagger said, “It’s about a man after an accident, really. It’s not about being addicted to morphine so much as that.” TS

The song was actually recorded during sessions for Let It Bleed in March 1969 WK and features Ry Cooder on slide guitar. TD Jagger says Marianne Faithfull claimed she wrote the song, although he says she only contributed a couple of lines. TS

“Dead Flowers”
“The tongue-in-cheek honky tonk” PF of “the countryish Dead FlowersAZ is “a definitive comedy of decadence.” TL Jagger said, “It’s a sort of joke.” TS “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously.” TS “The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer, not a country singer.” TS “The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.” TS

“Moonlight Mile”
“The gorgeous” AMG closer is “sad, yearning, drug-addled, and beautiful;” AMG “a masterpiece.” RS Richards said he had nothing to do with the song. “I was very out of it by the end of the album.” TS “‘Moonlight Mile’ was all Mick’s….Mick came in with the whole idea of that, and the band just figured out how to play it.” TS

Jagger said he wrote some of the early lyrics in the summer of 1970, probably while they were on a train and the moon was out. “The feeling I had at that moment was how difficult it was to be toruing and how I wasn’t looking forward to going out and doing it again. It’s a very lonely thing, and my lyrics reflected that.” TS

“Grandiose strings” AMG “push the intensity level constantly upwards…The energy becomes unmistakably erotic.” RS “There is something soulful here, something deeply felt.” RS It is “a coked-out, somnambulant drift through an era’s last days.” TD It is Jagger’s “best performance on the album – the only thing that compares with his singing of ‘Gimme Shelter.’” It “is a perfect closure,” AMG “a beautiful end to a beautiful journey.” TD


In 2015, Sticky Fingers was reissued with a bonus disc featuring five alternate versions of songs and five songs performed live at the Roundhouse on March 14, 1971. A super deluxe edition featured a complete show performed at the University of Leeds on March 13, 1971.

Review Sources:

Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 9/4/2021.

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