From the rather puerile title, which conjures up images of wanking boys in public schools, to the in your face crotch shot of the cover there is much to dislike about Rolling Stones seminal and recently re-released album ‘Sticky Fingers’ but on careful listening much, much more to love.
In fact for me it’s the one Stones album I can play from start to finish.
Yet before we go any further lets not skirt around the opening track ‘Brown Sugar’. It has lyrics that if created and sung by an all white rock group today would incite a social media riot, if not an actual riot, with the band condemned as culturally appropriating racists. Just in case you’ve never really listened to the song before here’s the opening section for you to appall yourself with,
Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in the market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doin’ all right
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should
I could go on and if anything it gets a little worse from here but I think this tells you everything you need to know.
However there is no denying, and it almost pains me to say this, that it is a great song. It’s probably because people just ignore the reality of its content and sing along to the catchy chorus.
It’s also worth pointing out that the ‘just like a young girl should’ line has extremely strong connotations of underage sex. So what we’re dealing with here is song about black underage slave girls being whipped and shagged by prosperous white men. Nice. I must play it for my mother sometime.
It’s this complete lack of editing, for let’s face it the lyrics must have been problematic even big in the liberated early seventies, that gives the album its element of threat and danger. In the next song ‘Sway’ Jagger sings about a demonic possession and later in the album about heroin addiction in the song ‘Sister Morphine’. While ‘Can’t you hear my knocking?’ could be interpreted as the cries of an obsessive animal-like prowler who wants to get with the women with ‘cocaine eyes and a speed freak jive’.
I say ‘could be’ because there is something instinctual about the lyrics that suggest you not read too much into them. They feel like they have been spewed forth in much the same way as the jam on the back half of the aforementioned song. Something unplanned but much appreciated.
Mixed in with all this craziness are sweet love songs like classic ‘Wild Horses’ and twisted but upbeat country ballads like ‘Dead Flowers’
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
Strangely though it’s often mentioned by Stones critics that they are impersonating black man like an old minstrel show it is rarely pointed out that they are also appropriating country in much the same manner. These are white boys from the suburbs who know as much about blue-collar southern life as could be written on the back of an English postage stamp. Yet once again it doesn’t really matter because they carry it off with such aplomb and swagger.
And of course they bring the songs, which makes everyone forgive an awful lot.
All of which makes me ask the question, could there be an album as audacious, offensive and outrageous made today? Undoubtedly not. For the downside of political correctness is that as much as makes us aware of other people and how they might feel about certain aspects of our more egregious behavior it also closes down the madness that is often at the heart of great art.