A Rolling Stones Classic Hits a Big Milestone

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sticky Fingers

While fans of The Rolling Stones may have different opinions which is the best album by the ‘Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’, I think most agree Sticky Fingers ranks among their top records. If I would have to pick one, it would be this gem that was released on April 23, 1971. This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the record by a band that has existed for some 59 years and whose key songwriters became childhood friends in 1950. It’s just mind-boggling!

Sticky Fingers, the ninth British and the eleventh American studio album by the Stones, was the first they released under Rolling Stones Records. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts decided to form their own label in 1970 after the band’s recording contract with Decca Records had expired. Ten additional Stones albums appeared on that label until its discontinuation in 1992 when the Stones signed to Virgin Records.

The Rolling Stones in 1971 (from left): Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger

Sticky Fingers also had a few other firsts. It became the Stones’ first studio album without any contribution from founding member Brian Jones who had been fired in June 1969 over his increasingly erratic behavior due to drug use. As we know, the story didn’t end well. Less than one month thereafter, Jones was found dead in his swimming pool – yet another great music talent tragically lost to drugs! Moreover, Sticky Fingers introduced the iconic tongue and lips logo of Rolling Stones Records, which has appeared on all Stones albums ever since.

The album’s original cover art work depicting a close up of a jeans-clad male crotch with a visible outline of a penis was conceived by none other than Andy Warhol. Unlike many fans assumed, it wasn’t Jagger’s crotch. Instead, Warhol “superstar” Joe Dallesandro claims to have been the model, though apparently this hasn’t been confirmed. Initial editions of the cover had a working zipper and perforations around the belt buckle that opened to reveal a sub-cover image of cotton briefs. Following complaints from retailers that the zipper damaged the actual vinyl records during shipping, the zipper was slightly pulled down toward the middle of the record to minimize the problem. Later reissues eliminated the working zipper and simply showed the outer photograph of the jeans.

In terms of the music, Sticky Fingers marked a return to a more basic and traditional Stones sound that mostly relied on guitar, bass, drums and percussion provided by the band’s key members: Mick Jagger (lead vocals, percussion, rhythm guitar), Keith Richards (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Taylor (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums). Long-time collaborators included Bobby Keys (saxophone) and keyboarders Billy Preston, Jack Nitzsche, Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins. The album was produced by Jimmy Miller, who had started to work with the Stones for Beggars Banquet from December 1968 and produced all of their albums until Goats Head Soup released in August 1973.

Time for some music. Unless otherwise noted, all tracks are credited to Jagger and Richards. Here’s the opener Brown Sugar. Songfacts notes that while the tune comes across as “a fun rocker about a guy having sex with the black girl,” the lyrics written by Jagger are actually “about slaves from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters.” The Stones recorded the tune in Sheffield, Ala. in early December 1969 and performed it for the first time live during the fateful Altamont Speedway concert on December 6 that same year. Brown Sugar backed by Bitch also became Sticky Finger’s lead single on April 16, 1971.

Wild Horses is one of my long-time favorite tunes by the Stones. Referencing the liner notes from their 1993 compilation Jump Back, Wikipedia quotes Jagger: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. [It did, in April 1970 on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ sophomore album Burrito Deluxe – CMM] Everyone always says this was written about Marianne [Faithfull – CMM] but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.” Added Richards: “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like “Satisfaction”, “Wild Horses” was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.” Wild Horses, with Sway as the B-side, was also released separately as the album’s second single on June 12, 1971.

Another highlight on Side One of Sticky Fingers is Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. At 7 minutes-plus, this is an unusually long track for the Stones. One of the song’s distinct features is a lengthy saxophone solo by Bobby Keys. Rocky Dijon and Billy Preston contribute percussion and organ, respectively. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” came out flying,” Richards said, as quoted by Rolling Stones fan site Time Is On Our Side. “I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we’re thinking, hey, this is some groove. So it was smiles all around. For a guitar player it’s no big deal to play, the chopping, staccato bursts of chords, very direct and spare.”

This brings me to Side Two of the album. The first track I’d like to highlight here is Bitch, a tune with a great guitar riff and horn line. Like many other songs on the album, the Stones recorded it at the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, England, using their mobile recording unit. Songfacts points out Mick Jagger had multiple relationships, so the tune is not about Marianne Faithfull or any other specific woman for that matter. It’s safe to assume the song’s lyrics could not be written today without triggering a political fire storm. “When we were doing Bitch, Keith was very late,” recalled recording engineer Andy Jones, according to Time Is On Our Side. “Jagger and Mick Taylor had been playing the song without him and it didn’t sound very good. I walked out of the kitchen and he was sitting on the floor with no shoes, eating a bowl of cereal. Suddenly he said, Oi, Andy! Give me that guitar. I handed him his clear Dan Armstrong Plexiglass guitar, he put it on, kicked the song up in tempo, and just put the vibe right on it. Instantly, it went from being this laconic mess into a real groove. And I thought, Wow. THAT’S what he does.”

Next up is a track I’ve come to increasingly love over the years, even though it’s not a traditional Stones rocker: Dead Flowers. Nowadays, I would go as far as calling this must-play tune for every bar band my favorite Stones song – so much for a guy who used to dismiss country as hillbilly music for the longest time! Recorded at Olympic Studios in London in April 1970, Dead Flowers was written during a time when the Stones were embracing country and Richards’ writing was influenced by his friendship with Gram Parsons. “The ‘Country’ songs we recorded later, like “Dead Flowers” on Sticky Fingers or “Far Away Eyes” on Some Girls are slightly different (than our earlier ones),” Jagger observed, per Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones, a 2013 book by Bill Janovitz. “The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer not a country singer – I think it’s more suited to Keith’s voice than mine.” Be that as it may be. What I particularly love about Dead Flowers are the great guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor throughout the song.

Let’s wrap things with one more tune: Moonlight Mile, the album’s excellent closer! Another track recorded at Stargroves at the end of October 1970, Moonlight Mile came out of an all-night session involving Jagger and Taylor. Notably, Richards was absent for the recording of this tune, so Taylor handled all guitar work. Songfacts also calls out contributions from Jim Price (piano) and Paul Buckmaster (string arrangements). “That’s a dream song,” Jagger reportedly said in 1978. “Those kinds of songs with kinds of dreamy sounds are fun to do, but not all the time – it’s nice to come back to reality.” BTW, even though Richards was nowhere to been when the tune was recorded, it still was credited to Jagger and him.

Sticky Fingers became the first Stones album to top both the U.S. and the UK albums charts. Based on a January 2020 article by news and entertainment outlet The Talko, it is the band’s best-selling record with about 21.7 million units sold, followed by Let It Bleed (21.3 million) and Aftermath (19.6 million). Sticky Fingers was ranked at no. 63 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. While it lost some ground in the most recent revised list from September 2020, it still came in at a respectable no. 104. Sticky Fingers was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Given the album’s significance, you might think the Stones are celebrating the 50th anniversary with a major reissue. Not so. Instead, in early December, the band announced on Twitter a Red Limited Edition LP: Introducing… the Sticky Fingers Stones Red Limited Edition LP. 500 will be available in the Stones Carnaby  Street store from Thursday Dec 3rd & 500 available online later that day at 8pm GMT / 12pm PST. Sign up for reminders: https://the-rolling-stones.lnk.to/StonesSignUpSo. More Stones Red to come! While at first sight, this may be a bit disappointing, it’s important to remember that Sticky Fingers already saw a reissue in 2015. Plus, there’s Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015, a great 2017 release the Stones put out as part of their From the Vault series.

How about a little encore? Ask and you shall receive, and it’s a true gem: a killer rendition of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking from the aforementioned Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015, which captures a gig before a relatively tiny audience of 1,200 people. It marked the opening of the Stones’ two-month Zip Code Tour in 2015 and also celebrated the above noted Sticky Fingers reissue. The band was truly on fire that night. I would argue that performance reaches the level of the legendary Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. If you haven’t seen this clip before and dig the Stones, I’d highly encourage you to watch it. This is rock & roll at its best!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Time Is On Our Side; The Talko; Rolling Stones Twitter feed; YouTube

With Mick Jagger Back In Full Force, Stones Kick Off Postponed ‘No Filter’ North American Tour In Chicago

If you frequently visit my blog, you may have seen I just posted on The Rolling Stones and their new live concert film/album release Bridges To Bremen. Fast forward some 21 years from that 1998 gig in Germany to last night at Chicago’s Soldier Field where the Stones finally opened their North American No Filter Tour. If you watch the enclosed clips and didn’t keep up with the news, you’d never guess anything much had changed. But apart from 21 years of water under the bridge, 75-year-old Mick Jagger underwent heart valve replacement surgery only a few months ago, so it’s fair to say last night was no ordinary kick-off date.

I don’t know how you felt, but when I first learned about Jagger’s heart issues and his then-upcoming procedure, my first thought was how crazy it is that the fittest guy in the band was ‘knocked out.’ My second thought was that if anybody from The Rolling Stones could pull off bouncing back from heart surgery, it would be Jagger. As such, with a Stones ticket in hand I had bought early this year, I selfishly was ‘glad’ the gig was postponed because of him. Coz’ let’s be honest here, had it been Charlie Watts, who earlier this month turned 78, who knows what would have happened. And while 75-year-old Keith Richards has survived many things, I’m not sure how he would have come out of heart surgery.

“This was certainly a swerve, a left-hand ball for us,” Ronnie Wood recently told U.K. tabloid Daily Mirror, commenting on Jagger’s heart surgery. “We knew it was something serious. I think he needed a bit of support, which we gave him. We thank our lucky stars.” So should the fans! While heart valve replacement is a so-called minimally invasive procedure that is not uncommon, especially in older men, I suppose there’s nothing routine about it when it affects the front man of the band you’ve been playing with for more than four decades!

Said Jagger last week: “I’m feeling pretty good. Been rehearsing a lot lately in the last few weeks. This morning a bit of gym. Nothing crazy. Then I go into rehearsal with the band.” Well, ‘nothing crazy’ may be a bit of an understatement when you watch this video of Jagger, which was posted about a month ago, only four weeks after his heart surgery. He is one beast of a guy! Anyway, let’s go back to last night and take a look at some YouTube footage.

Here’s Street Fighting Man. First released as a single in August 1968 and also appearing on the Beggars Banquet album from December that year, perhaps the Stones couldn’t have picked a more appropriate opener.

I was glad to see Dead Flowers is part of the set. I just love that tune off the Sticky Fingers album from April 1971. It’s also great to watch Jagger energetically strumming that guitar in adding to singing. What a triumphant return to the stage!

There are songs you immediately recognize after just a couple of bars, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash is one of them. If I could only pick one of Richards’ guitar riffs, this would be it, baby. The Stones first released the track as a single in May 1968. Okay, it may not be quite as compelling as the version on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, but it still sounds fucking awesome to me!

How about wrapping things up with one additional tune from Sticky Fingers? Here’s Brown Sugar, which was the final tune of the regular set. It was the album’s lead single released on April 16, 1971, just a few days ahead of the record.

Here’s the full set list:

1. “Street Fighting Man”
2. “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
3. “Tumbling Dice”
4. “Sad Sad Sad”
5. “You Got Me Rocking”
6. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
7. “Angie”
8. “Dead Flowers”
9. “Sympathy for the Devil”
10. “Honky Tonk Women”
11. “You Got the Silver”
12. “Before They Make Me Run”
13. “Miss You”
14. “Paint It Black”
15. “Midnight Rambler”
16. “Start Me Up”
17. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
18. “Brown Sugar”

Encore:
19. “Gimme Shelter”
20. “Satisfaction”

Am I ready for “my” August 1st gig at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey? How many days?

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Mirror, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube

When Live Performances Become the Ultimate Listening Experience

A list of great songs performed live

To me there is nothing that beats the experience of listening to music live. But there are only so many shows one can go to. Plus, at least in my case, some of my favorite artists are no longer around or bands have changed their line-ups to the point where they no longer have much to do with the act I initially came to like.

Fortunately, many music artists have recorded live albums. While a live record can never replace attending an actual show, if well produced, it can at least convey an idea of how it must have felt being there. Obviously, some live albums are better and more authentic than others. Following is a list of songs from some of my favorite live records.

Things We Said Today/The Beatles (The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, 1977/1964 & 1965)

Sunny Afternoon/The Kinks (Live at Kelvin Hall, 1967)

Jumpin’ Jack Flash/The Rolling Stones (Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, 1970)

First I Look At the Purse/The J. Geils Band (“Live” Full House, 1972)

Rock And Roll All Nite/Kiss (Alive!, 1975)

Turn the Page/Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Live Bullet, 1976)

I Want You to Want Me/Cheap Trick (Cheap Trick At Budokan, 1978)

Rock You Like a Hurricane/Scorpions (World Wide Live, 1985)

Nutbush City Limits/Tina Turner (Tina Live In Europe, 1988)

Pride (In the Name of Love)/U2 (Rattle And Hum, 1988)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube