Classic Album:Rolling Stones-Sticky Fingers.

By 1970, The Rolling Stones were in the middle of what is now perceived as their “golden age” which  began in 1968, when the Rolling Stones released Beggars Banquet in December 1968. 

Beggars Banquet was released to widespread critical acclaim. It featured an outpouring of creativity from the Rolling Stones. The Jagger and Richards’ songwriting partnership were at the peak of their powers, penning tracks of the calibre of Sympathy For The Devil and Street Fighting Man. Sadly, Brian Jones influence on The Rolling Stones was waning and his appearances in the studio were sporadic.

Despite Brian Jones playing a lesser role in Beggars Banquet, the album was a resounding success. It reached number three in Britain, and number five in the US Billboard. This resulted in Beggars Banquet being certified gold in Britain, and platinum in America. For the Stones, this was their most successful album since Aftermath in 1966. However, a year later, they would surpass the success of Aftermath with Let It Bleed. 

Sadly, by the time that Let It Bleed was released on 5th December 1969, tragedy had struck the Rolling Stones. Founding member Brian Jones had drowned in mysterious circumstances on 3rd July 1969. For the rest of the nand this was a huge body blow as Brian Jones had been the one-time leader of the  Stones. 

Two days after Brian Jones death, shell-shocked Rolling Stones played  a free concert in London’s Hyde Park on 5th July 1969. An estimated 250,000 saw the  Rolling Stones pay tribute to Brian Jones. The group’s one-time leader’s influence may have lessened over the past couple of albums, but Brian Jones had played an important part in the rise of the  Rolling Stones. Sadly, he only featured twice on Let It Bleed, on You Got The Silver and Midnight Rambler. His musical farewell was brief one. So was the debut of a new addition to the Stones, Mick Taylor.

When Let It Bleed was released, eager eyed listeners spotted a new addition, Mick Taylor. He was Brian Jones replacement. Mick played featured on just two tracks, Country Honk and Live With Me. Just like Brian Jones’ contribution, Mick’s success was an important one in the sound and success of Let It Bleed.

On its release, Let It Bleed surpassed the success of previous Rolling Stones’ albums. It reached number one in Britain, and number three on the US Billboard 200 charts. This saw Let It Bleed certified gold in Britain, and double-platinum in America. Meanwhile, critics exhausted their supply of superlatives on songs like Gimme Shelter, Love In Vain, Midnight Rambler and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. The hard rocking Let It Bleed was considered one the Stones’ finest moments. 

The Rolling Stones had picked up where they left off on Beggars Banquet, and taken it further. In doing so, they had created the most successful album of their career. This should’ve been a time for celebration. However, as 1969 and the sixties drew to a close they didn’t feel much like celebrating. 

A day after the release of Let It Bleed, the Rolling Stones had agreed to put on a free concert at Altamont Speedway, in Northern California on 6th December 1969. What was meant to be a concert featuring the great and good of psychedelia went badly wrong. Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,  Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead were all booked to play. It was meant to be a major event in psychedelic’s musics history. After the carnage in Los Angeles, everyone hoped this would be a good news story. It wasn’t. 

As the Rolling Stones took to the stage, the concert descended into chaos. The Hell’s Angels fought with the audience, and Meredith Hunter, a black teenager, was allegedly stabbed by a member of the Hells’s Angels who were meant to be providing security at Altamont. After this, the event was cancelled. The Grateful Dead never even took to the stage. Altamont had been a disaster. There were three accidental deaths, many were injured, property was destroyed and cars stolen. As the sixties drew to a close, the events at Altamont played its part in the decline of psychedelia and a backlash against the hippie movement. 

Between the death of Brian Jones, and the chaos and carnage at the Alatmont Free Festival, the Rolling Stones didn’t feel like celebrating the success of Let It Bleed. They were castigated in the American press. Their decision to use the Hell’s Angels as security drew a huge amount of criticism. Especially when the details of Altamont became clear. Whilst firefighting criticism from politicians and America’s self appointed moral guardians, the press, it was soon business as usual for the  Stones. 

Following the success of Let It Bleed, work began on the followup, Sticky Fingers. It’s the third album the Rolling Stones’ during their “golden age.”

Just like previous albums, Sticky Fingers was mostly the work of the Jagger and Richards songwriting partnership. They cowrote Brown Sugar, Sway, Wild Horses, Can’t You Hear Me Moving, Bitch, I Got The Blues, Dead Flowers and Moonlight Mile. Jagger and Richards also cowrote Sister Morphine with Marianne Faithful. The other track chosen for Sticky Fingers, was a cover of Fred McDowell and Gary Davis’ You Gotta Move. These ten tracks were recorded by The Rolling Stones and “friends” at various studios between March 1969 and January 1971.

Most of Sticky Fingers was recorded during 1970 and 1971. However, the story starts in 1969 the Rolling Stones began recording Sister Morphine between 22nd and 31st March 1969. Further sessions took place between May and June 1969. By then, Sister Morphine was completed. Then just before Let It Bleed was released, three day session took place between 2nd and 4th December 1969, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Sheffield, Alabama. That was last session of 1969.

The first recording session of 1970 took place Olympic Studios on 17th February. Then the sessions began in earnest in March 1970, at Olympic Studios, and continued right through to May 1970. Further sessions at Olympic Studios took place between 16th and 27th July. After a three month break, The Rolling Stones returned tp Olympic Studios on 17th October 1970. Right through to 31st October, they worked on Sticky Fingers. It was nearly completed. 

Eventually, recording of Sticky Fingers was completed in January 1971. The Rolling Stones recorded in both Olympic and Trident Studios with producer Jimmy Miller.

The Sticky Fingers’ sessions had been a poignant time. It was the first recording session without Brian Jones. His replacement, Mick Taylor, played a bigger part in the recording of Sticky Fingers, playing lead, rhythm and acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, Mick Jagger sang vocals and played acoustic guitar. The Rolling Stones’ rhythm section featured drummer Charlie Watts, guitarist Keith Richards and Billy Wyman on bass and electric piano. Joining The Rolling Stones were a few of their musical friends.

Among their musical friends The Rolling Stones brought onboard were Ry Cooder on slide guitar, saxophonist Bobby Keys, percussionist Jimmy Miller, organist Billy Preston and pianists Jim Dickinson, Nicky Hopkins, Ian Stewart and Jack Nitzsche. Rocky Dzidzornu added congas and Jim Price trumpet and piano. Most of these artists only featured on one track. Often their contribution was invaluable. That was also the case with producer Jimmy Miller and engineers included Glyn Johns, Andy Johns, Chris Kimsey and Jimmy Johnson. They all played their part in sound and success of Sticky Fingers.

So did artist Andy Warhol. He was responsible for “designing” Sticky Fingers’ album sleeve. Andy Warhol was inspired by the innuendo laden title. However, the design was by Craig Braun. He shot a close up of a jeans clad male crotch. By the time it made its way onto the album sleeve, it featured a working zip and mock belt buckle. When the zip was undone, a pair of cotton briefs could be seen. They had Andy Warhol’s name stamped in gold on them. This design, like Sticky Fingers, would become a classic, and was a fitting debut for their new label.

The release of Sticky Fingers, marked a new era in The Rolling Stones’ career. It was the first album they had released on their newly founded Rolling Stones’ label. This brought to an end the Rolling Stones’ seven year association with Decca Record in Britain, and London Records in America. Despite the lengthy association between the two parties, it ended on a sour note.

After the end of relationship between The Rolling Stones and Decca and London Records, an expensive error discovered. It came to light that inadvertently, the  Rolling Stones had signed over the copyright to their sixties recordings to their former manager Alan Klein, and his company ABKCO. Having lost the copyright to their Decca and London Records’ recordings, The Rolling Stones decided to form their own label. Their first studio album of seventies, Sticky Fingers launched Rolling Stones Records.

Before Sticky Fingers was released, the  Rolling Stones held their breath as the critics had their say. Most critics heaped praise on Sticky Fingers, calling it The Rolling Stones’ finest album of their career. Tracks like Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Bitch and Moonlight Mile showed that The Rolling Stones had just created a career defining album. Not everyone agreed.

Unsurprisingly, the self appointed “Dean Of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau didn’t agree. While others were heaping praise on Sticky Fingers, he disagreed. As 1971 drew to a close, the contrarian Christgau called Sticky Fingers the seventeenth best album of 1971. Robert Hilburn gave Sticky Fingers a backhanded compliment. While he conceded that Sticky Fingers was one of the best albums of 1971, it was “only modest by The Rolling Stones’ standards.” Lynn Van Matre also proved a past master of the backhanded compliment. She said that the  Rolling Stones were “at their raunchy best” but that the music is “hardly innovative.” She did agree that Sticky Fingers was one of the albums of 1971. Record buyers agreed.

When Sticky Fingers hit the shops on 23rd April 1971, it reached number one in Britain and in the US Billboard 200 charts. Across the world, Sticky Fingers was a huge seller, reaching the top ten in ten countries. Apart from America and Britain, Sticky Fingers reached number one in Australia, Canada, Holland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and West Germany. Sticky Fingers was certified gold in Britain and France. In America, Sticky Fingers sold three million copies and was certified triple-platinum. Forrty-four years after its release, and Sticky Fingers is perceived as a Rolling Stones’ classic.

No wonder. Sticky Fingers features the  Rolling Stones at their very best. It was as if everything had been leading up to Sticky Fingers and then, a year later, Exile On Main Street. That is the case from the opening bars of Brown Sugar, which opens Sticky Fingers.

Instantly, The Rolling Stones are turned in to a good time, rock ’n’ roll band on Brown Sugar. With Mick at the helm, they strut their way through this homage to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, where its its  tough, blues rock sound took shape. Everything falls into place. Jimmy Miller’s decision to pair Bobby Keys’ saxophone and Keith’s guitar in the breakdown is a masterstroke. He plays his part in a future Rolling Stones’ classic.

From good time, rock ’n’ roll, The Rolling Stones drop the tempo on Sway, the first of the ballads. Who wrote the song is disputed. Officially, it’s credited to Jagger and Richards. However, Mick Taylor has subsequently claimed to have written the track. He certainly plays an important part in this slow, bluesy ballad. Mick adds a bottleneck slide guitar solo, while Mick Jagger exercises demons via his vocal. Then on Wild Horses, Mick delivers one of his finest vocals. It’s best described as soul-baring, on what is easily, a Rolling Stones’ classic. 

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking sees The Rolling Stones transformed into a good time rock ’n’ roll band. In 1971, their only opposition was The Faces. Mick’s accompanied by harmonies from the rest of Stones, vamps and struts his way through the lyrics. Then at 2.43, the instrumental break begins, and The Rolling Stones stretch their legs. Rocky Dijon’s congas propels the arrangement along, before Bobby Keys unleashes a saxophone solo whilst Keith and Mick trade guitar licks. Augmenting the arrangement is Billy Preston’s organ. However, later, Mick Taylor unleashes a blistering guitar solo, as he makes his mark on The Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones first played You Gotta Move on their 1969 American tour. This inspired them to cover the song on Sticky Fingers. It’s reinvented, and transformed into a rousing, bluesy jam. Partly this reinvention is down to waves of bluesy guitar, and Mick’s drawling, mid-Atlantic vocal.

Originally, Bitch was the B-Side to Brown Sugar. However, it soon found its way on radio playlists. No wonder. It benefits from an impressive, almost overblown arrangement. Mick whose been unlucky in love, doesn’t hold back; “love is a bitch.” Behind him, big bold horns and duelling guitars fill out the arrangement. Soon, The Rolling Stones in full flow. It’s an impressive sound, and one of Sticky Fingers’ highlights. Bluesy and soulful describes I Got the Blues. Again, the  Stones drop the tempo. Mick, accompanied by growling horns, delivers a needy, soulful vocal.

The first time anyone heard Sister Morphine, was when Marianne Faithful released it as the B-Side to her 1969 single Something Better. Two years later, it’s given a makeover by the Stones and their friends. Ry Cooder plays slide guitar and Jack Nitzsche piano and organ. Against this understated arrangement Mick’s vocal is like a confessional. It’s as if he can relate to, and understand the poignant lyrics. There is also a darkness to the country-tinged Dead Flowers. Especially the line: “I’ll be in my basement room, with a needle and a spoon.” During the period Sticky Fingers was recorded, Keith Richards and Gram Parsons had become friends. Some people believe he inspired the song, which is one of the most underrated in the  Rolling Stones’ back-catalogue.

Closing Sticky Fingers is Moonlight Mile. It’s another ballad with country influence. Jimmy Miller is responsible for a big, bold arrangement. Strings sweep in the background, while Mick sings about how difficult it is being a rock ’n’ roll star, whose constantly in the spotlight. The way he delivers the lyrics, it’s as if he is tiring of life as a Rolling Stone.

That would never happen. Forty-four years later, and Mick Jagger is still a Rolling Stone. They went on to release a string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. However, Sticky Fingers is one of the  Rolling Stones’ finest moments. 

Throughout Sticky Fingers, the  Stones are at their best and most versatile. Seamlessly, they switch between blues, rock and country. Similarly, one minute The Rolling Stones are a good time rock ’n’ roll band, the next they’re delivering soul baring ballads. That is why Sticky Fingers is a captivating, timeless album and career defining album and was the best album of their career so far. It was the third studio album of The Rolling Stones “golden era.” The final album of this period was Exile On Main Street. Somehow, it managed to surpass the quality of Sticky Fingers. That was still to come.

In 1971, the Rolling Stones were back where they belonged, at the top of the charts. They were now the biggest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, which took some doing. The last few years had taken their toll on the Stones. They had been arrested, lost Brian Jones and replaced him with Mick Taylor. Then there was the controversy surrounding Altamont. Somehow, the Rolling Stones the had survived all this, and the band was still going strong, having just released what was a career defining classic album Sticky Fingers.

Classic Album:Rolling Stones-Sticky Fingers.





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