Category: Sticky Fingers


I’ve never done a drug that wasn’t prescribed to me. While I realize that doesn’t really reduce my chances of death from drugs (just ask Michael Jackson…), it indicates my lack of reference points about drugs. I never did pot as a kid, even though some friends of mine and people I knew definitely did. I don’t even know where you’d get pot. They don’t sell it at Target, and no stores have signs out that say “we have pot,” so I’m at a loss.

The same is true for other, harder drugs. Being into rock and roll for a while, I know that drugs are simply rampant in that culture, but I have no idea where they come from. How do people get them? I’ve seen pictures of ecstasy tablets with little smiley faces on them, or stars, or question marks, even doves. That means they’re manufactured, but they’re illegal in the US. Is there some ecstasy factory in Bolivia or something? What the heck?

Suffice to say, my understanding of the drug culture is pretty small. I’ve never been tempted to try them, and I’ve never even had the opportunity. I guess I just wasn’t cool enough as a teenager. The Rolling Stones do a lot of songs about drugs, more than any other band I’m into next to Velvet Underground. As such, I’m only able to enter into a song like “Sister Morphine” so far before I’m in foreign territory.

Marianne Faithfull

“Sister Morphine” was first recorded in 1969 by British pop singer Marianne Faithfull, who was another of Mick Jagger’s romantic entanglements during the late 60s. That guy just couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants. Faithfull was a smalltime singer who rode the Rolling Stones wave until it hit the shore. She was part of the London social scene in ’66, at latched herself onto the Stones after being “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager. Her version of “Sister Morphine” sold drearily, not helped by that only 500 copies of the single were pressed. Its writing was credited to the Jagger/Richards team, though Marianne helped pen the lyrics, receiving no credit until 1994. The Stones did their own version in 1971 on Sticky Fingers.

It’s a pretty haunting song, though I didn’t think much of it the first few times I heard it. But when I actually paid attention to the lyrics, I found it to be fairly terrifying. Particularly creepy is the way the narrator refers to drugs as “sister” and “cousin.” Other songs about cocaine and the like that are cautionary tales tell their stories from a high and mighty perspective, accidental though it may be. This is different because the terror of drug addiction feels lived in.

At the cap is “Moonlight Mile,” a hidden gem in the Stones’ discography. After all the posturing of songs like “Under My Thumb” and “Miss Amanda Jones,” the raunchy philandering of “Honky Tonk Women” and “Stray Cat Blues,” and the plastic emotion of “Ruby Tuesday” and “As Tears Go By,” we’ve come to expect a certain character from the Rolling Stones. We think we know them, but they surprise us here on Sticky Fingers. It starts on “Wild Horses,” but “Moonlight Mile is where we truly meet them, and find out they have throbbing hearts and actual vulnerability.

“Moonlight Mile,” unlike any Stones song to come before it, is free of any contrivance, sexuality, or smirking humor. It comes from a place of naked honesty. Through the lyrics, we see that the singer may be a rock and roll superstar, having all the sex and drugs a guy could want, but he’s still, at the end of the day, just lonely. But there’s more. The song is not mired in melancholy and despair, but instead gives a hint of steadfast hope. That hope exists because there’s a girl, and the singer’s “just about a moonlight mile on down the road” from her. He’ll get to her soon, and things will be better.

While Sticky Fingers might have been preparation for the glorious blast of blues, drugs and freedom that is the winner-take-all opus Exile On Main St., to think of it as a mere intro for something greater is to do Sticky Fingers a disservice. It’s a great achievement just on its own merits, and has a definition and form that not many albums have anymore. You can see the Stones letting down the walls here. While they would be completely gone with the next album, Sticky Fingers is a very important step on the journey, one that makes the trip complete.

Advertisements

From their genesis, the Rolling Stones have been putting a white spin on a very black form of music, almost a parody were it not for their complete earnestness about themselves. They developed a tongue-in-cheek approach to the music they played later, but as much as they made fun of different genres, there was always a bit of admiration and tribute in their spoofs.

In “Dead Flowers,” that sense of spoofing is at its highest, and the source material is ripe for ridicule. The song is a send-up of the country-western genre from fingertips to toes, dripping with subtle sarcasm. Mick even tries to imitate an American cowboy accent, sounding like Johnny Cash if he were doing an impression of himself. “Dead Flowers” is supposed to make you laugh, but it ends up sounding strangely authentic. It proves that the Stones’ wicked sense of humor is still intact, even if the weariness of sex, drugs and rock and roll are taking their toll.

“You Gotta Move,” in the opposite way, isn’t even close to being meant as a joke, yet I can’t listen to it without it seeming like a plastic, showroom parody of the blues and gospel. Every element of the song is played completely straight, or at least that’s what the Stones were going for. But by the time it gets to Mick singing in a near-falsetto to match the guitar riff, my laughter breaks. Maybe it’s the fact that Mick tries to do another voice imitation, this time of a black Southern Baptist preacher. Since I find southern people (particularly Christians) to be slightly ridiculous, it’s hard for me to get completely serious about a song like “You Gotta Move.”

these are hillbillies, and not exactly representative of southerners…

Southern Americans have a particular mindset and package of social standards. But being a New Englander through and through, I often forget that I have my own mindset and package of social standards. Too much I think of myself as the default, and anyone different is just weird. This is one of the problems with being human. The biggest place I face this is in my thought process about those from the American south. I’ve tried to combat this (to little or no avail), but one of my hang-ups is that when a person talks in a southern accent, I automatically assume they are of extremely substandard intelligence. “Yoo shoor doo gaat purty teeth…”

Combine that with my high-minded, northern sensibilities about Christianity, and you get some dangerous snobbery on my part. The fact that I am a Christian and yet am comfortable with women in the ministry, am open to ideas about the sin status of homosexuality, and think evolution is a million times more plausible than 7-day-creationism puts me at odds with a lot of Christians that live in the south. But at all times I need to remember (and they do, too…) that no matter the size of our disagreements and differences in mindset, we still have the most important thing in common, and that is that we are children of the Most Holy God. That trumps everything else.

Sticky Fingers enjoys a dual nature, as do other Stones albums before and after it. It shifts between hard and soft, though some albums do it more gracefully than others. That’s why you have a song like “Wild Horses” right next to “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’.” While “Wild Horses” is a sedate and kinda weepy number, “Knockin’” segues from it beautifully with a bluesy distorted guitar and Keith playing a monster of a riff. The song itself is fairly standard except for that savage riff, but the real gem starts halfway through.

Guitarist Mick Taylor says that the band finished the song after 3 and a half minutes and started putting down their instruments, but Taylor kept right on playing. I imagine he was in a sort of blues trance, subconsciously wanting the haze to go on longer. The rest of the band followed suit and started playing again, including Bobby Keys on saxophone. They didn’t even know the tape was still rolling, but they got another 4 minutes of footage. It’s pure blues gold.

After the slight pause of “You Gotta Move,” the vinyl flips and we start the second side with “Bitch.” Like Led Zep’s “The Lemon Song,” it details how a man is entirely sexually beholden to a woman. At the mere sound of her voice, he “salivate[s] like a Pavolv dog.” It’s ironic that most of human history has seen the subjugation of women, sometimes being crushed on the male boot. Yet women, I think, have always had this avenue of power over men.

Lysistrata is a play by classical Greek playwright Aristophanes, first performed in Athens in 411 BC, and the plot of this comedy revolves around a group of women who withhold sexual privileges to their husbands in an effort to get them to negotiate an end to the Peloponnesian War. This careful wielding of the power of sex by women can’t sit well with men, who are used to being top dog. This might be why it’s described as a “bitch” in this song.

It makes me wonder: as women are gaining more of an equal share in the arenas of the workplace, the home and politics, will they find that their trump card of sex is decreasing in value? Might men eventually no longer view sex as the most important thing in the universe?

Ba-dum-bum! Thanks, folks, you’ve been great! I’ll be here all week!

The Rolling Stones were riding high (in more ways than one) in 1969, despite the unfortunate death of Brian Jones. In a print ad for “Honky Tonk Women,” model and stage actress Marsha Hunt was asked to pose. She turned the Stones down saying, “I don’t want to look like I’d just been had by all the Rolling Stones.” That sass must have been appreciated by Jagger, because he immediately called her up and asked for a date. A ten-month fling started, the results of which are the birth of a child and a song. That song is “Brown Sugar.”

Hunt, quite obviously, is black. Her silhouette appears in the famous first-run poster for the Broadway show Hair, and she appeared as Dionne in the London production. “Brown Sugar,” likewise, is about a black girl, but not one with great sexual prowess or skill as one might expect from a Rolling Stones song.

It’s actually pretty similar to “Stray Cat Blues” in that the male of the story sexually dominates the woman, he being of greater social standing than her and able to simply take what he wants. “Brown Sugar” starts from a different place, however; it’s a narrative about a slave girl brought to America from Africa, sold to a rich, married cotton farmer, and used for sexual gratification. In another similarity to “Stray Cat Blues,” the song dispenses with any sense of morality in a sociopathic manner. The fact that she’s black and being used in a sub-human and exploitive way is unimportant; all that is said is that she “taste[s] so good.” The narrator doesn’t know he’s a sexual animal guilty of at least three deadly sins; he just knows he loves screwing black girls.

“Brown Sugar” reveals something about Mick Jagger, too. He can’t help himself when it comes to chocolate women. Like Thomas Jefferson and his famous cross-racial, cross-economincal relationship with slave Sally Hemings, Mick has a fetish for women of African descent. This only says to me that love, lust and everything in between have zero regard for our societal and cultural boundaries. The heart wants what it wants.

Sticky Fingers breaks from the pattern of the previous two Stones albums (is two really enough to be a pattern?) in that it doesn’t have the minor key first track and the country-tinged second track. “Brown Sugar” is a very celebratory and jubilant song, and it’s followed by “Sway,” a slower number that’s nevertheless loud and bombastic. Where “Brown Sugar” has a tightness to it, “Sway” is sloppy and drunken, reminiscent of “Let It Bleed” but crunchier. Though the writing credit goes to Jagger/Richards, Mick Taylor claims he wrote “Sway” with Jagger, and Richards wasn’t even involved. Taylor also plays a killer solo, one of the best of the Stones’ entire catalog.

“Wild Horses” is after that, one of the Stones’ more famous songs, and definitely their best ballad. And as ballads go, this one fills in every cliché there is. Listeners were used to this kind of thing from the Stones, but it never had this kind of honesty. Other ballads like “As Tears Go By” and “Lady Jane” had a sneaking contrivance that made them ring false. “Wild Horses” delivers twice the emotional punch because all contrivance is dropped.

The Sundays

It’s also one of the Rolling Stones’ most covered songs. The Flying Burrito Brothers (yes, that’s an actual band name) covered it before it was released on Sticky Fingers. Others as prominent as Guns N’ Roses, Neil Young, The Black Crowes, Iron & Wine, Elvis Costello and Dave Matthews have done it, as well as women the likes of Jewel, Sheryl Crow, Kelly Clarkson, Deborah Harry, Alicia Keys and the Indigo Girls, just to name a few. But perhaps the most famous version is by the Sundays, back in 1992. “Wild Horses” was their only hit, and what a hit it was. The song lends itself extremely well to a woman’s voice, perhaps even better than Mick himself singing it.

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.