Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones – 4/23/1971

Mick Jagger (and the rest of the Rolling Stones), to use a bit of British slang, is a cheeky little bastard. Society has unspoken rules and regulations about what you do and what you don’t do, but he casually bites his thumb at them when it suits him. Mind you, he’s not so shallow or immature to purposefully break social codes for the simple sake of breaking them. Instead, he has a smirking disregard for societal laws, a trailblazing mentality that I sometimes wish I could emulate.

With originality will of course come some ruffled feathers. An example is the artwork for the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers. It features a picture of a man’s jean clad crotch – belly button to thighs. His jeans are so tight that his features (particularly the male ones) are unable to be mistaken. The photograph is fairly grainy, but if you’re paying attention, it’s pretty clear that he has a raging hard-on. But wait, there’s more! In a very avant-garde move, the cover is more than just a picture. It also has an actual zipper that can be moved up and down, letting you dignify and un-dignify the male model at will. The kicker, though (as if that wasn’t enough), is the back cover. It has the same model in the same pose, but instead of skin-tight black jeans, he’s clad only in tighty-whiteys. His erection is even more pronounced.

Andy Warhol, silver screen, can’t tell them apart at all…

The Sticky Fingers cover was designed by Andy Warhol, that guru of all things alternative culture in the 1960s. In addition to producing the first album from the Velvet Underground, he also designed that album cover: a simple white background with a plastic peel-off banana in the center that revealed a pink peeled banana underneath; nudity, phallic symbols and potassium all in one. He’s just starting his decline in 1971, the cover for Sticky Fingers being his last significant statement.

Even the name Sticky Fingers is loaded with innuendo. Back when I was a kid, KFC had the slogan “It’s finger-lickin’ good!” I thought “sticky fingers” meant something similar ‘til I was about 12. I won’t bother to explain the double-entendre of the album title; I think you’ll be able to figure it out. Hint: it’s not about barbecued chicken.

Other album covers had ruffled feathers with their suggestiveness, but Sticky Fingers takes the cake. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of a sly nudge in the ribs, and goes as far as art can go before tipping over into gross overstatement and crass genitalia jokes, the domain of 12 year-old boys. The statement the Sticky Fingers cover seems to make is that men are purely sexual objects to be done with as the user sees fit. On a deeper level, that’s a criticism of the sexual objectification of women, turning the gender bias on it head; sometimes we can’t see a thing until we see its opposite. If the mishandling of males for the sole use of sexual gratification strikes us as ridiculous, why is the use of females that way any less ridiculous?

липкие пальцы

Some international versions of the cover are different; the Russian version features the same type of photograph, but the belt buckle is a five-point star with a hammer and sickle inside. Also, there’s no zipper, and the model is female; it misses the point, I think. The Spanish version had me recoiling the first time I saw it. It’s a picture of a can opener lying next to an opened can of treacle with actual human fingers coming out of it. It’s like something from a 70s foreign horror film. I guess they’re going for the single entendre there.

Sticky Fingers is the first album to be released under Rolling Stones Records, their brand spankin’ new label. Decca, the label they had their previous contract with, claimed they were owed one more single, so the Stones submitted a tracked called “Cocksucker Blues,” knowing full well it would be soundly rejected. See what I mean about cheeky?

Dedos Pegajosos

It’s also the first Stones record of the 70s, a new age where sex has a changing definition, drugs are more available and more stigmatized, and social activism is becoming a thing of the past. For their part, the Stones are settling into a niche. With their last two albums, they’ve set themselves up as the naughty boys of rock and roll. If you’re a parent in the early 70s, you don’t want your impressionable young son or daughter hanging around with kids who listen to the Rolling Stones. Sticky Fingers does nothing to dispel that image. I think Mick, Keith and company are actually enjoying it.

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