I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. My fifth round selection is the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers.
It’s just that demon life has got me in its sway…
When it comes to filthy, gritty, living in the moment, above the law, unforgiving, unapologetic rock bands, the Rolling Stones are the original standard bearers. Within their unlikely and absurdly long life as a group – fast approaching 60 years – the stretch of albums loosely termed by many fans as the “Mick Taylor years” stand out for their return to basics, while at the same time cranking it up about 100 notches (I also include the pre-Taylor Beggars Banquet with these releases). For me, at the top of the heap, even if only by a few degrees, is Sticky Fingers. This is the one. This album represents everything I love about the Stones, Brian Jones’s unique contributions notwithstanding.
There were a couple of periods of recording beginning in early 1969, with the bulk of studio work taking place the following year, concluding in December 1970. It was released on April 23, 1971. The album, with its distinctive Andy Warhol Factory designed cover which included, on initial pressings, an actual functioning zipper, topped the charts worldwide soon after. Sticky Fingers was the band’s first album of the 1970’s, and the first on their Rolling Stones label featuring the iconic tongue and lips logo. But, as always, it’s about the MUSIC, maaaan.
And the vibe. To my ears, the vibe or tone of the album is actually set with the count in to the second track, Sway, and it never lets up. Chances are you know this album well, or are at least familiar with it, and you know what I mean. And let’s give major credit where it’s due right now: The session players on Sticky Fingers were an all-star band in themselves, and are just as important to this record as the principals. Bobby Keys and Jim Price brought crucial sax and trumpet contributions. They rocked on tracks like Bitch, and displayed soul on the Stax ballad inspired I Got the Blues along with Billy Preston on the organ. Price also added the beautiful piano part to Moonlight Mile, with only he and the two Micks on the main track.
Other major contributions include Ry Cooder’s slide guitar and Jack Nitzsche’s piano on Sister Morphine (co-credited to Marianne Faithfull), and Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements on Sway and Moonlight Mile. Other session players included stalwarts Nicky Hopkins, Rocky Dijon, Jim Dickinson, and Ian Stewart, and though he didn’t play on the album, Sticky Fingers wouldn’t have been what it is without the influence of Gram Parsons. The evidence is on Wild Horses and Dead Flowers. If we’re to include alternate versions, Eric Clapton and Al Kooper can be heard on the looser 2015 bonus disc cut of Brown Sugar. But the core, as always, was Mick and Keith and the boys, now including Mick Taylor, and it’s Taylor’s lead guitar interacting with Richards’s and Jagger’s rhythm playing that took the band’s sound to a place it hadn’t been before his arrival and hasn’t returned to in the 46 years since his departure, with all due respect to Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood.
I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated by bands from that era that stretched and often broke the rules and not only kept it together but seemed to thrive on the chaos. Perhaps guys like Elvis, Hank, and others raised eyebrows earlier, but the Stones flaunted damn near every taboo in society’s face in these songs and said what of it, mate? These years found them defying not only the law, but the Grim Reaper as well, bless Keith’s heart (and veins), and they survived. Sticky Fingers is truly a fly on the wall album for anyone who wants to know what they were about without the visual horrors of watching the cinéma vérité documentary of their 1972 U.S. tour, Cocksucker Blues, that make one want to take a shower after viewing (just remember, I didn’t tell you to watch it). It’s not the first “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” album, but along with Let it Bleed, Exile on Main St. and the others, it’s about as extreme as it gets, especially considering when it came out. It’s an album that makes Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and certainly latter day examples like the Gallagher and Robinson brothers of Oasis and the Black Crows, respectively – great rock artists that they all are – look like silly wannabes (and I like all of those bands, too). It’s a perfect rock album, and it’s on my island if you want to kayak over and listen some time.
- Brown Sugar
- Wild Horses
- Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
- You Gotta Move
- I Got the Blues
- Sister Morphine
- Dead Flowers
- Moonlight Mile