Saturday, May 29, 1971

The Rolling Stones hit #1 with “Brown Sugar”

Brown Sugar

The Rolling Stones

Writer(s): Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (see lyrics here)

Released: April 16, 1971

First Charted: April 24, 1971

Peak: 12 US, 2 CB, 3 GR, 13 HR, 1 CL, 2 UK, 13 CN, 5 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.45 UK, 0.45 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 36.9 video, 149.06 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In 1971, the Rolling Stones launched their own label. “Once reviled as too scruffy and dirty for decent folk, they became the ruling rock elite, gentlemen of leisure, members of the international jet set.” FB They rolled out a new “immediately identifiable image” FB of a red mouth with a tongue sticking out as their logo. Their new album, Sticky Fingers, sported one of rock history’s most famous covers – an Andy Warhol-designed close-up shot of the crotch of a man’s jeans complete with a zipper.

The first song released under this new incarnation was “Brown Sugar.” It is “a muscular rock song made special by [Bobby] Keys’ and [Keith] Richards’ driving riffs and [Mick] Jagger’s steamy lyrics.” LW It was their sixth trip to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #2 in the UK. The song was written in 1969 and recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama that December. They debuted it live at the infamous Altamont Speedway concert in which a fan was stabbed to death.

The lyrics are about “slaves from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters. The subject matter is quite serious, but the way the song is structured, it comes off as a fun rocker about a white guy having sex with a black girl.” SF The song understandably generated controversy for misogyny and racism. WK

In his book Up and Down with the Rolling Stones, Tony Sanchez suggests “all the slavery and whipping is a double meaning for the perils of being ‘mastered’ by Brown Heroin or ‘Brown Sugar.’” SF Mick Jagger said the song was a “dual combination of drugs and girls.” WK It was “essentially a pastiche of…taboo subjects, including slavery, rape, interracial sex, cunnillingus, sadomasochism, lost virginity, and heroin.” WK In a 1995 Rolling Stone interview, he said it was “a mishmash [of] all the nasty subjects in one go…I never would write that song now.” WK


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for The Rolling Stones
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 292.
  • LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 132.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

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First posted 2/10/2021; last updated 11/22/2022.

Friday, May 28, 1971

Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story released

Every Picture Tells a Story

Rod Stewart

Released: May 28, 1971

Charted: June 19, 1971

Peak: 14 US, 16 UK, 19 CN, 15 AU, 14 DF

Sales (in millions): 2.5 US, 0.1 UK, 6.0 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: classic rock


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Every Picture Tells a Story (Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood) [6:01] (7 CL)
  2. Seems Like a Long Time (Theodore Anderson) [4:02]
  3. That’s All Right/Amazing Grace (Arthur Crudup/traditional, arranged by Stewart) [6:02]
  4. Tomorrow Is a Long Time (Bob Dylan) [3:43]
  5. Henry (Martin Quittenton) [0:32]
  6. Maggie May (Stewart, Quittenton) [5:15] (7/17/71, 1 US, 1 CL, 1 UK, sales: 0.5 million)
  7. Mandolin Wind (Stewart) [5:33] (8 CL)
  8. I Know I’m Losing You [with The Faces] (Norman Whitfield, Eddie Holland, Cornelius Grant) [5:23] (11/20/71, 24 US, 6 CL)
  9. Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin) [4:05] (7/17/71, 19 US, 2 AC, 6 CL, 19 UK)

Total Running Time: 40:31

The Players:

  • Rod Stewart (vocals, acoustic guitar)
  • Ronnie Wood (guitar, bass)
  • Martin Quittenton, Sam Mitchell (guitar)
  • Ronnie Lane, Andy Pyle (bass)
  • Ian McLagan, Pete Sears (keyboards, piano)
  • Ray Jackson (mandolin)
  • Danny Thompson (upright bass)
  • Dick Powell (violin)
  • Micky Waller, Kenney Jones (drums)
  • Long John Baldry, Maggie Bell, Madeline Bell (backing vocals)


4.653 out of 5.00 (average of 18 ratings)


“Few rock albums are quite this powerful or this rich” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Music critic Jimmy Guterman ranked this the best album of all time, calling it “Stewart’s bid for rock-and-roll-immortality.” JG “Without greatly altering his approach, Rod Stewart perfected his blend of hard rock, folk, and blues on his masterpiece, Every Picture Tells a Story.” AMG It was “a loose, warm, compassionate album, rocking hard with mostly acoustic instruments.” 500

Rod Stewart had only abandoned his job of grave digging three years earlier, but he’d already recorded two albums with the Jeff Beck group, two solo LPs, and was the frontman for the Faces. The core for this album consisted of drummer Mickey Waller, “a devotee of Buddy Rich,” CM guitarist Martin Quittenton, pianist Pete Sears, and bassist Ronnie Wood, “who had become Stewart’s best mate.” CM

They recored the album quickly – in less than two weeks. The album sounds “rough and ready, almost sloppy. A couple of tunes seem like afterthoughts…But the reality is that there’s a fierce ambition at work here that makes the complex look effortless and disguises the extraordinary leaps this album takes.” CM

“Every song on the album, whether it’s a cover or original, is a gem, combining to form a romantic, earthy portrait of a young man joyously celebrating his young life.” AMG This is “a man in love with the world and his ability to describe that world.” JG Stewart’s “voice is unique and distinct. It lends itself perfectly to these songs.” BS

The album kicks off with the “loosely autobiographical” CM acoustic title track. While “devilishly witty” AMG and marked by “self-deprecating humour,” CM the song “is a mildly sexist and casually racist song about a man travelling around the world sharing his experiences with different women.” BS It opens with twelve-string guitar played by Ronnie Wood and “goes into hyper-drive with Mick Waller’s primitive drumming.” AMG Long John Baldry is featured on backing vocals. The song was used in the movie Almost Famous.

That title cut and Maggie May are “among the most durable pop-music offerings of the century.” JG Both are “shattering acoustic hard-rock numbers about young men…gaining experience in ways they never expected.” JG “Maggie May,” “the ornate, ringing ode about a seduction from an older woman – is the centerpiece.” AMG It was “the track that would change Stewart’s life and set the course for a massive career.” BS It was originally the B-side for Reason to Believe, but radio DJs flipped the song and played “Maggie May” instead.

However, “the unbearably poignant Mandolin Wind, has the same appeal.” AMG It is a “moving ballad of a country couple toughing out a long winter on the farm.” 500 Writer Nick Hornby called it “as tender and generous-spirited as anything by any of those bedsit people, and a good deal less sloppy.” CM

Stewart brings in his old band the Faces to “blister on the Temptations cover I Know I’m Losing You.” AMG “Stewart knows not to mimic the Motown original. He accepts…that personal expression far outlasts attempts to copy, that copying is in itself not merely fruitless but intolerable.” JG It is “perhaps the Faces’ finest moment.” CM

When it came to covers, Stewart said, “I look for a song that’s probably been forgotten, that no one’s done for a long time. Something that can fit my voices so I can sing it right, and something with a particular strong melody.” CM That included “definitive readings” AMG such as “a rollicking That’s All Right,” AMG the Arthur Crudup tune which, in Elvis Presley’s hands, launched his career at Sun Records. Stewart’s version features “breathtaking guitar work from Sam Marshall.” CM

There’s also “Bob Dylan’s aching Tomorrow Is a Long Time,”JG in which Stewart “found new melodies…that not even Dylan realized were there.” CM Tim Hardin’s “brilliant ‘Reason to Believe’” CM becomes “an organ-driven call for moxie in the face of resignation” JG They “are equally terrific, bringing new dimension to the songs.” AMG Stewart also covers Seems Like a Long Time, originally done by Brewer & Shipley (best known for “One Toke Over the Line”), and even “tackles Amazing Grace and makes it his own.” CM

This is “a great rootsy rock record” BS which bears similarities to the work of the Rolling Stones in the mid-1970s, thanks to the influence of guitarist Ronnie Wood, who would be with the Stones by that point. BS “It’s a beautiful album, one that has the timeless qualities of the best folk, yet one that rocks harder than most pop music – few rock albums are quite this powerful or this rich.” AMG

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First posted 2/18/2010; last updated 10/1/2023.

Friday, May 21, 1971

Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On

What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye

Released: May 21, 1971

Peak: 6 US, 19 RB, 56 UK, 37 CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.3 UK, 1.3 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: R&B


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. What's Going On (1/21/71, 2 US, 1 RB, 69 UK)
  2. What’s Happening Brother
  3. Flyin’ High in the Friendly Sky
  4. Save the Children (12/11/71, 41 UK)
  5. God Is Love
  6. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) (6/10/71, 4 US, 1 RB, 34 AC)
  7. Right On
  8. Wholy Holy
  9. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) (10/9/71, 9 US, 1 RB)

Total Running Time: 35:38


4.688 out of 5.00 (average of 24 ratings)


“The most important and passionate record to come out of soul music.” – John Bush, All Music Guide


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“A masterful stylist of sophisticated soul, Marvin Gaye helped promote the Motown sound throughout the 1960s.” NRR However, “Motown Records – which introduced the concept of the assembly line to pop music – had no interest in giving its artists creative control, much less in venturing into territory that was explicitly political.” BN “Late in 1970, Gaye decided to record a song that the Four Tops’ Obie Benson had brought him, What’s Going On. When [Motown founder] Berry Gordy decided not to issue the single, deeming it uncommercial,” AMG then Gaye, “the label’s greatest pure vocalist,” TL “refused to record any more material.” AMG

“Gordy finally, grudgingly caved to Gaye’s artistic ambitions” TL “after the [single’s] tremendous commercial success in January 1971.” AMG Gaye “recorded the rest of the album over ten days in March.” AMG “Finally free to speak his mind and so move from R&B sex symbol to true recording artist,” AMG Gaye created what “was far and away the best full-length to issue from the singles-dominated Motown factory.” AMG His “self-written, self-produced, concept album” NRR was more than just a peak for Motown; it was “the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music” AMG and “one of the defining albums of its time,” TL allowing Gaye to explore “deeply held spiritual beliefs and social commentary on cultural events of the day.” NRR

“Conceived as a statement from the viewpoint of a Vietnam veteran (Gaye’s brother Frankie had returned from a three-year hitch in 1967),” AMGWhat’s Going On chronicled a multitude of societal ills.” BN It “isn’t just the question of a baffled soldier returning home to a strange place, but a promise that listeners would be informed by what they heard (that missing question mark in the title certainly wasn’t a typo).” AMG “Gaye meditated on what had happened to the American dream of the past – as it related to urban decay, environmental woes, military turbulence, police brutality, unemployment, and poverty. These feelings had been bubbling up between 1967 and 1970, during which he felt increasingly caged by Motown’s behind-the-times hit machine and restrained from expressing himself seriously through his music.” AMG

“Alternately depressed and hopeful, angry and jubilant, Gaye saved the most sublime, deeply inspired performances of his career for Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), and Save the Children.” AMG

What’s Going On “catapulted Marvin Gaye into superstardom.” BN It was his “masterwork, the most perfect expression of an artist’s hope, anger, and concern ever recorded.” AMG It “not only kicked off an era of unprecedented social consciousness in R&B, it also introduced a whole new style of making records.” TL “Marvin overdubbed his voice multiple times, creating a one-man vocal group,” BN and layered “rhythm tracks into mellow, hypnotic grooves that made the hard-nosed message…utterly irresistible.” TL The resulting sound of the album “was like no other record heard before it: languid, dark and jazzy, a series of relaxed grooves with a heavy bottom, filled by thick basslines along with bongos, conga, and other percussion.” AMG

“Fortunately, this aesthetic fit in perfectly with the style of long-time Motown sessionmen like bassist James Jamerson and guitarist Joe Messina. When the Funk Brothers were, for once, allowed the opportunity to work in relaxed, open proceedings, they produced the best work of their careers (and indeed, they recognized its importance before any of the Motown executives). Jamerson’s playing on ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’ functions as the low-end foundation but also its melodic hook, while an improvisatory jam by Eli Fountain on alto sax furnished the album’s opening flourish.” AMG

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First posted 3/18/2008; last updated 2/28/2024.