“The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Stones want to burn down your town.” – journalist and author, Tom Wolfe
As a brand and as a unit, the Rolling Stones have been operating for well over fifty years. Since 1962, they have endured multiple line-up changes and all-out reinventions, ultimately becoming the undisputed Champions of the rock and roll equivalent of survival of the fittest. Although for all of the great, good and purely mediocre songs they recorded over the last five decades, they were never more creative, dangerous or defiant as they were from 1968 to 1972. Far from capturing a rebellion, tracks like “Gimme Shelter,” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” made it seem as if the Stones were leading it. And while “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” introduced them to America as The Spokesmen for disaffected teenagers, just three years later the English band would trade all traces of lightness and youthful naivety for much darker waters. Turbulent and brutal, the group began to disappear into the hostile, depraved world they were singing about, unearthing a crueler, colder sound and likeness that was lethal. Although even as their music began to summarize the daily eruptions and chaos that would come to define the latter half of the 1960s, they would also experiment with warmer tones propelled by the melodic playing of Mick Taylor, guitarist for the band from 1969-1974. Capable of being their most poignant at a time when their lead singles had shown them at their most passive, the band was never again as aware and in control of their strengths and weaknesses. And though there would be highlights from their records released before and after that period, the insurmountable run of Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. would ultimately be impossible to surpass.
Reissued in June of 2015, Sticky Fingers remains a crucial piece of the Stones story. It was their first album on their very own label, Rolling Stones Records, created after their original contract with Decca Records had expired. It was also their first release after the firing and subsequent drowning death of original member Brian Jones, who had died just weeks after his departure from the band had been made public. And even though Mick Jagger had previously expressed utter disgust at the idea of being a rock star at the ripe old age of thirty, their reputation as one of music’s most outlandish bands grew with each day that they got closer to reaching the milestone birthday. Far from slowing down and quietly retiring, their first release of the 1970s, Sticky Fingers, would instead mark the beginning of an entirely new chapter for the road ravaged musicians.
Long before the needle had even touched the vinyl, Sticky Fingers had been cemented as the most notorious Stones album to date. The Andy Warhol designed record sleeve had immediately attracted controversy, as did album opener and single, “Brown Sugar.” And while the deliberate provocations were almost to be expected from the vocally anti-establishment group, the record had also presented the band at their most lyrically and musically bittersweet, something that it’s cover and surrounding media coverage would not have immediately suggested. Affecting an air of heartsick yearning, tracks like “Wild Horses,” and “Moonlight Mile,” each contained a depth and soulfulness that revealed Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor to be more focused, melancholy and vulnerable than they had ever been before. Even now, Jagger recently spoke to Rolling Stone Magazine about how the record’s decidedly slower pace has made them cautious of ever performing one of their most celebrated albums in its entirety, stating, “Normally in a show we’d just do one or two ballads. Sticky Fingers has about five slow songs. I’m just worried that it might be problematic in stadiums. Maybe we’d play it and everyone would say, ‘Great,’ but maybe they’ll get restless and start going to get drinks.” Of course, the record also showcases some of the band’s biggest hard rock hits, including one of their longest songs, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Originally supposed to be just under three minutes, it became much longer after Taylor had decided in the moment to keep going, later explaining how, “Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling, and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing.”
Featuring outtakes that include “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton on slide guitar and a slightly tougher take on “Dead Flowers,” the reissued editions of Sticky Fingers are most unique for their searing live performances. Taken from their 1971 tour, live tracks “Honky Tonk Women” and their famous cover of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” are just some of the songs that capture the group at their gritty, blues-rock best, proving that the band that’s still out on the road after all these years has always been made of steel.
Article: Caitlin Phillips