Tag Archive: As Tears Go By


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.

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.