The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers (1971)

A+

1. Brown Sugar 2. Sway 3. Wild Horses 4. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ 5. You Gotta Move 6. Bitch 7. I Got The Blues 8. Sister Morphine 9. Dead Flowers 10. Moonlight Mile

 

There’s something about Hurricane High Gravity Lager. It must be the high alcohol content, because it sure as shit ain’t the taste, which resembles straw doused in gasoline. What? I know it’s Tuesday. Gimme a break here, I’ve only two days left of term.

If there was ever any question that the Stones could outlast the 60s, say goodbye to them right now. Mick Taylor had settled nicely into his role as the New Guy, and in fact had ample opportunity to become The Guy as Keith’s trips to the back alley behind the studio were becoming increasingly frequent. That means the Mick and Mick show has its turn in the sun… “Sway” is a Mick squared attack on guitars, with Keef featured only on backing vocals, and swells to an aching pathos as Jagger laments his dead friends and peers (1971… bye bye Jimi, bye bye Janis, bye bye Jim “drunken asshole” Morrison) and MT’s twiddling conveys more emotion than words ever could. Am I crazy to say that this is the greatest guitar solo ever recorded by mankind? Oh wait, I’m pretty sure I said that about “Sympathy” a couple reviews back… OK, besides that one. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous, orchestrated “Moonlight Mile,” though it originated from a Keith demo entitled “Japanese Thing,” is another Mick & Mick effort, and the song by which all other “missin’ you on the road” rock ballads should be measured. Who says you need Keith to make the Rolling Stones, anyway?

Oh, but you do. “Bitch” was Mick’s idea, but the band tried it without the other Glimmer Twin and weren’t going much of anywhere. Then Keef walked into the studio clutching a bowl of Corn Flakes, told them all to shut the fuck up, and proceeded to instruct Taylor to play the nasty riff that drives it before laying down perhaps the second greatest lead guitar performance of his long career (after “Sympathy,” of course). Goddamn, could there be a better song to hump to? The braying horn section really shines here, and throughout the album. Keef’s real moment in the sun is the first 22 seconds of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” which only constitutes the greatest rock riff of all time (geez, I’m really laying the hyperbole on thick tonight, aren’t I?). Taylor takes over for the Santana-esque jam (and not “ham,” as I originally typed) at the end… two and half minutes of godlike rock to five minutes of low key, jazzy, instrumental groove may not exactly be quite the balanced ration I’m looking for I’m looking for from any given song, but if the interplay between an unbelievably awesome sax player (Bobby Keys) and an unbelievably awesome guitar player (Little Mick) is gonna be this great, I’ll certainly take it.

Even though Keef comes through with a couple of his greatest moments on here, Sticky Fingers is Mick’s show. He wrote “Brown Sugar” himself while filming Ned Kelly in Australia – and, darn it all, in doing so he made slave rape cool for the first time since the Antebellum era! No easy feat. Even if my favorite part of the song is Keith’s giddy proclamation of approval at the end (listen closely and you’ll hear a “yeah!”), Mick’s lusty, guttural vocal performance should constitute the curriculum of Singing Rock ‘N Roll 101, which is presumably taught by Jack Black. Which I’m OK with. He’s a funny dude. Mick also wrote “Dead Flowers,” which is put simply one of the greatest country songs of all time (no, goddamn it! You can’t stop me from spouting off this stuff! I do what I want!). Taylor’s solo is one of the simplest yet most perfect solos he ever laid down, and Mick’s fake Southern accent is awful, of course, but it sounds a thousand times more real to me than any modern-day Nashville cowboy hat-sporting singer you’d care to name. But as a great as a job as he does throughout this record, he’s still not the best man to sing Keith’s country opus “Wild Horses.” Nope, that distinction belongs to the late great Gram Parsons, Keith’s best buddy for a time before his death in 1973, who recorded the song back as early as 1969 with the Flying Burrito Brothers. But hell, it’s still a definitive Stones cut. It’s one of three tracks on the album—along with “Brown Sugar” and the stripped-down country blues cover “You Gotta Move”—that were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1969, back when it was the unsung soul capital of the world… the piano by Muscle Shoals stalwart Jim Dickinson is a crucial element of the track.

After “Bitch” winds down, side 2 is all slow songs, which shouldn’t concern you – I, for one, appreciate the vulnerability that gets introduced as a result. The pleading fireside soul ballad “I Got The Blues” is punctuated by an outstanding Billy Preston organ solo, while another guest steals the show on the haunting accident fantasy “Sister Morphine”: Ry Cooder, laying down as fine a slide guitar part as has ever landed on a Stones song. Marianne Faithfull is credited as co-writer, and claims she wrote all the lyrics… Mick says she only wrote one line. Not sure I can trust either of them, really.

I’ve had a special attachment to this album from the night I first picked it out of my parents’ CD collection and listened to it alone, sitting on the couch in my room, on my portable CD player so I could see what these Rolling Stones were all about. Why be so covert about it? I suppose reputations live on forever – the Stones were dangerous and not at all family-friendly like the Beatles. They were something I had to figure out on my own. Thanks to Sticky Fingers, I understood them immediately.



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