Sticky Fingers is probably just as well-known for its music as it is for the Andy Warhol conceived album cover, the one with the famous zipper. I wonder how many people over the years pulled it down and took a peek in the hope of seeing something salacious bulging back at them. Andy was a cheeky bugger to say the least. But album designs aside, what really matters is the content. In fact, this was the first Rolling Stones record (along with Let it Bleed) that seriously turned me on to the group. Sure, I loved all the popular tunes from their previous LP’s, and still do, but this was the one, which seemed to take me on what could only be described as a journey. Because as a teenager in the 80’s, listening to records such as this instead of the latest Prince, or Katrina and the Waves (ever wondered what happened to them? No I haven’t either), was seemingly akin to growing your own food and cooking by candlelight. But let’s face it, when was the last time Duran Duran performed an all acoustic version of “Girls on Film”? I think you get my point.
By 1970, The Stones were a band in transition. The 60’s were over, and so too any hope of a permanent state of hippiedom; reality saw to that. Although for people like Jagger and Richards, the counterculture was nothing more than a vehicle for musical as well as hedonistic self-expression and indulgence (not to mention the opportunity to make a mountain of money in the process). This is obviously one of the reasons that The Rolling Stones are not only one of the most celebrated rock and roll groups but also one of the wealthiest.
With the exception of “Gimme Shelter”, off Let it Bleed, and “Sympathy for the Devil”, from Beggars Banquet, “Brown Sugar” is arguably the greatest opening track of any Stones album ever. The song is almost a culmination of their last two records, albeit combined with a new sense of purpose and confidence. Loose to the point of arrogance. The lyrical content is also enough to persuade the listener that Jagger was not just the Mephistopheles of blues-rock, but its Marquis de Sade as well.
“Sway” is one of two songs on the album where Richards does not play guitar. Mick Taylor’s contributions to the band were nothing less than stellar, and on this track, he simply shines. And while Richards was nowhere to be seen during the recording (he was probably too busy out scoring somewhere), the song is still credited to Jagger/Richards, something which Taylor was naturally unhappy with, considering that he wrote it with Jagger in the studio (or so he claims).
“Wild Horses” is another classic, and a tender bit of Cockney-Country. Interestingly the track was recorded a whole year before Sticky Fingers was released, the band having decided to keep onto it once their contract with ABKCO and the mercenary Allen Klein had expired. Jagger has never exactly been known for sincerity when it comes to singing, but on here he just about manages to pull it off, even if he’s probably really thinking about something else, like when he has to pick up his latest suit from the tailors. Still, the acoustic guitars are wonderful, as is Jim Dickinson on piano.
Side one ends on a high note, first with the exceptional “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’”, one of the Stones’ finest rockers, built around a riff by Richards that could move boulders given half the chance, and the old spiritual/gospel number “You Gotta Move”. The former shifts at mid-point into a Santana-inspired Latin workout, where Taylor once again establishes himself as a major player in the band’s style and direction; while the latter is one of their most convincing interpretations of the blues, and miles away from their earlier efforts at that particular art-form, proving that Taylor brought to the band more than just a certain visual beauty.
The second side kicks off with “Bitch”, a song which could be construed as either sexist or as a sincere expression concerning that oft felt disappointment one gets when things simply don’t turn out the way one was hoping. But who cares, when you have a song so addictive in nature and execution that the listener winds up having withdrawal symptoms once it’s over. The Stones ease off the pedal with the reflective “I Got the Blues”, a slow-paced blues number, in that Stax style, due mainly to the horn arrangements, without which the song would perhaps have trouble standing on its own. It’s well known that Marianne Faithfull wrote the lyrics to “Sister Morphine”, the next track, where Ry Cooder provides haunting slide guitar (I wonder if he ever got paid for his contribution. Knowing Jagger and Richards, probably not), adding additional atmosphere to what is already an extremely sombre subject matter.
“Dead Flowers” may sound like nothing more than a country piss-take, but the topic is anything but. It’s dark, with references to heroin, and “roses on your grave”. Superficial musically, but lyrically, that’s another story.
The album ends with the romantic “Moonlight Mile”, where Jagger takes us on a sentimental journey, and remains for me one of their best written ballads. How the hell Richards got a co-credit and not Taylor, considering Keith wasn’t anywhere near the studio when this song was conceived is a testament to The Glimmer Twins notorious business acumen. Jagger may have written the lyrics, but you can bet that it was Taylor who came up with enough ideas to give it that extra needed sprinkle of gold dust.
Sticky Fingers would mark a new era for the band in more ways than one. The LP is at once both moving in its power and raw in its honesty. On here they manage to play some of the most authentic blues, along with writing riffs that would reinvent blues-rock (at least for the white man) as only they could. The Rolling Stones were more than just a band, they were a lifestyle, who lived as hard as they played, and played as hard as they lived. That one’s for sure.