If you had to pick one album from the Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers would be a most solid choice. Released in 1971, it was the band’s first album of the 1970s, the first release on their label, Rolling Stones Records, the first album without Brian Jones, and the first to feature his replacement, Mick Taylor, on every track. The Beatles were no more and it was time for the Rolling Stones to take over. Sticky Fingers is part rock with swagger and a heavier swing, part simmering blues and country music stylings, loose and willing, without a care. This record and perhaps two or three others are really the reason the Rolling Stones became known as the World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band.
As they did with Exile On Main Street in 2010 and Some Girls in 2011, UME, Rolling Stones and now Capitol Records (the Beatles’ American label, no less) have packaged a few extras, in a few different configurations and price points, with a remastered Sticky Fingers for a 2015 release, coinciding with the Stones’ ZIP CODE tour, on which the band is playing several cuts from the album.
When “Brown Sugar” kicks out your speaker grills, it’s hard to fathom how energized the band was at this point in their career. The tragic loss of Jones, who died shortly after he left the band, and the disastrous Altamont concert that ended the 60s in a dizzying swirl of confusion could have very well ended the Rolling Stones. “Brown Sugar” sends a loud and raucous signal that the band was back in business.
Even though the record was recorded at three different studios — Muscle Shoals in Alabama, Mick Jagger’s home studio at Stargroves, and Olympic Studios in London — it feels cozy and cohesive, heavy at one turn, moody at another. Taylor and Keith Richards engage in sacred riffery interplay wherever they can — be it stumbling with crash-and-burn abandon on “Sway,” grooving and letting loose on the infectious “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” or lock and loading with unmitigated precision on “Bitch.”
The softer side of Sticky Fingers ranges from the eloquence and ease of “Wild Horses” to blues numbers like “You Gotta Move,” “I Got The Blues” and the haunting “Sister Morphine.” Jim Price, who plays trumpet on “I Got The Blues” and “Bitch,” is credited with the poignant piano lines on “Moonlight Mile,” but it’s Ian Stewart on “Dead Flowers,” the Stones’ snappy tip of the hat to the country music they learned to appreciate hanging around the likes of Gram Parsons and recording at Muscle Shoals. It was a style that would become more prominent on future albums.
With the 2015 reissue, there’s a second disc filled with outtakes and live tracks. It’s nice to hear the rough and steamy version of “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton, in circulation for years on the bootleg market, all cleaned up and roasting over a resolute yet looser rhythm. After sax man Bobby Keys, who shined on the original, blows a brief variation, Clapton peels off an equally short lead and the song resumes. The alternate take of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” almost sounds as if the band was writing the song on the spot, with Jagger singing random lines and Charlie Watts angling for the beat before punching it forward into a boogie massaged by Taylor’s handiwork. The extended “Bitch” is raw and tentative, another one on which Jagger was still trying figure out the lyrics. Five live tracks from the Roundhouse in London, including “Live With Me,” “Midnight Rambler” and “Honky Tonk Women,” serve as keen reminders that the Stones in 1971 were as hot on the concert stage as they were in the studio.
When it was released, vinyl copies of Sticky Fingers featured a provocative photo of a fitted pair of jeans and a real zipper, courtesy of Andy Warhol. The zipper makes its triumphant return since the 1994 Virgin reissues on the Super Deluxe and Double Vinyl Deluxe Editions of the 2015 reissue. A DVD from the March 26, 1971 Marquee Club show with “Midnight Rambler” and “Bitch” comes with the two CDs in the Deluxe Edition boxset. The Super Deluxe Edition boxset has the DVD, the two CDs, and a third CD called Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out! with 13 live tracks from a Leeds gig in March 1971, including versions of the just-completed “Brown Sugar,” “Bitch,” and “Dead Flowers.” A print, a postcard set, and a 120-page hardback book with the zipper, new liner notes, and rare, unseen photographs tops off the Super Deluxe Edition, likely the choice of many a Stones diehard. For the rest of us, the music on Sticky Fingers doesn’t get much better.
~ Shawn Perry