Classic Rock Review

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The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers (1971)


With Mick Taylor’s muscular yet fluid guitar tone now firmly entrenched as an essential part of their sound, and with the Jagger/Richards axis writing an outstanding set of varied songs, Sticky Fingers stands as arguably the band’s finest hour.

Despite being recorded with the band in turmoil – people were pissed at them for Altamont, Jagger was dumped by Faithfull and subsequently replaced her with the polarizing Bianca, Keith was clearly a junkie, and they were trying to extricate themselves from Klein’s clutches – the drug addled, death obsessed end result somehow still turned out to be one of their signature works.

The band’s first U.S./U.K. #1 album, the first album on their own Rolling Stones Records label, and the first album on which their signature lapping tongue band logo appeared, Sticky Fingers was as famous for its Andy Warhol designed zipper cover (which has to be obtained on vinyl to get the full effect) as its great music.

But consistently great music it does contain, both hard rocking and more often laid back. Increasingly, r&b elements were being seamlessly interwoven within the Stones’ sound (the album was partially recorded in Muscle Shoals and the Stax-y horn section of saxophonist Bobby Keyes and trumpeter Jim Price are all over the record), and the album also included a pair of classic country numbers.

Perhaps no song better epitomizes the classic Stones sound than “Brown Sugar,” the lewd, lustful party anthem that leads off the album, and the next track, “Sway,” a great guitar showcase for Taylor (Keith doesn’t even play on it), is definitely one of the great “overlooked gems” in the Stones catalogue. “Wild Horses,” a beautiful country ballad containing one of Jagger’s most affecting vocal performances, is easily one of the greatest Stones songs ever (I’d rank it #4, with “Paint It Black” rounding out the top 5 for those who are curious), and it’s followed by “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” one of the band’s longest (7:16) and most ambitious songs.

Starting with those memorable stuttering riffs and moving onto a soaring Keith-led chorus, the song controversially morphs into an extended, jazzy jam, with moody organ from Billy Preston (a significant contributor to the album), Santana-styled Latin percussion from Rocky Dijon, and some groovy soloing from Keyes and Taylor that’s either “inspired improvisation” or “pretentious noodling,” depending on your perspective (I definitely vote for the former though this is far from a unanimous opinion).

“You Gotta Move,” a Fred McDowell cover that’s by far the weakest of the blues covers on their last three albums, is the albums weak link in that is seems almost like a blues parody rather than the real thing, but the ship then gets righted on “Bitch,” a tough, attitude soaked hard rocker that’s a veritable feast of memorable riffs (Keith’s imprint is all over this baby), punchy horns, and sneering vocals.

Though not a standout considering the competition, the self-explanatory “I Got The Blues,” presumably about Faithfull, features a heartfelt, impassioned vocal from Jagger and some soulful accompaniment from Preston/Keyes/Price, and the bummer portion of the album then continues with “Sister Morphine,” a haunting drug tale whose lyrics were at least partially co-written by Faithfull, who recorded it in 1969.

So did the Stones, even if it wasn’t released then, and the song’s sparse yet effective instrumentation, including some stellar bottleneck guitar work from Ry Cooder, yielded another terrific album track, on which Mick’s ghostly vocals are most memorable. Fortunately, things then briefly brighten on “Dead Flowers,” a catchy, lighthearted (despite being another obvious drug song) country number on which Stewart plays boogie piano and Richards chimes in with some flavorful backing vocals. Finally, “Moonlight Mile,” also recorded without Keith, provides a grand finale that stands as one of the Stones’ most evocative efforts, in no small part due to Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements (which had also appeared on “Sway”).

Thus ends the classic Sticky Fingers, the album on which the band’s loose, ramshackle sound was arguably at its most perfect, as the best Stones lineup settled into its unstoppable prime.


March 24, 2013 - Posted by | The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers |

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