Vintage Review – The Rolling Stones – ‘Sticky Fingers’ (50th Anniversary)
Even as a corn fed country music-listening beat-you-over-the-head-with-the-Bible-of-Waylon-Jennings good ol’ American boy, I will stand on the coffee table of any living country music legend or their blessed widow, and scream at them about how Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones released 50 years ago this week is one of the greatest albums of all time.
Here 50 years after its original release, it remains one of the most influential and relevant albums ever recorded in popular music. From the songwriting, to the guitar tones, to the overall style and vibe, artists in country and rock and everything in between have been trying to capture that loose and sweaty heroin sound ever since, and failing spectacularly. Legions of musicians more technically proficient than The Rolling Stones have quit music entirely, crestfallen they’re unable to emulate what Sticky Fingers achieved by accident, and perhaps thousands have overdosed trying.
This record is dangerous. Don’t try this at home. It has more hard drug references on it than the Amy Winehouse autopsy report. This record is pure sex. It has the capability of causing unplanned pregnancies simply by listening to it, and the original cover with the actual zipper down the front had the power to deflower virgins simply by running your hand across it. And remember, this was 1971, when the pearl clutchers of society were still very much in charge.
You couldn’t even make a record like this anymore, just like all those cool old films from the 70s. They’ll tell you the song “Bitch” is sexist, and “Brown Sugar” is racist. They’re racy by today’s standards for sure, and perhaps problematic for any era. But they must be taken in context, understanding that The Stones were always aping those old black American blues guys who were making audiences blush back in the 40s. Besides, the folks complaining about those songs are the same ones declaring the song “WAP” and Lil Nas X having ass sex with Satan as “empowering.” So screw it.
Forgo those songs if you want though; the songwriting on Sticky Fingers is still legendary. It’s so good, there’s not one, but two conspiracy theories tied to songs on this record. Gram Parsons fanatics love to say he’s the true writer of “Wild Horses,” and point out he recorded it before The Stones, even though according to both Gram and The Stones, it’s a Keith Richards and Mick Jagger joint. Similar arguments are made about Townes Van Zant and “Dead Flowers.” I guess folks just can’t believe a couple of drugged-up Britons could write such quality stuff. But despite the theories on the origins of these songs persisting still to this day, the credits remain unchanged.
Really though, it’s just the overall sound of Sticky Fingers that has lent to its longevity. You know how smart music people love to say they would rather take Keith Richards over Steve Vai as a guitarist, even though Steve is unarguably more technically astute? That’s because of Sticky Fingers. Sure, some people love the cite The Stones’ Exile on Main Street as well. But that effort is almost too messy. When people mention “soul” in white music, Sticky Fingers is what they’re referencing.
“Sway” might be the greatest rock and roll non-single album cut of all time. Ask dudes like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jason Isbell, and they will concur. But this is a roots record at its core, from deep blues to true country. It’s not just more country than what you’ll hear on mainstream country radio today of course, it’s more country that much of what they were making back in 1971 with Chet Atkins and Billy Sherrill overproducing everything. Then you have songs like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Moonlight Mile” that are just super damn cool no matter how you categorize them.
Sticky Fingers is the antidote to all overproduced music regardless of genre, with Keith Richards missing many of his cues, Charlie Watts playing just behind the beat, and Mick Jagger one greeny away from needing his stomach pumped. This is a legendary British rock band’s American album, and it is a masterpiece, however accidental. That’s why it was arguably better than most anything else released in 1971, and why it remains better and more pertinent than most anything what that will be released in 2021.
Two Guns Up (10/10)
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Purchase Sticky Fingers
April 26, 2021 @ 7:50 am
Awesome to see this on here, absolutely adore the Stones
April 26, 2021 @ 8:00 am
“This record is pure sex.”
And a singles answer to this album is Alannah Myle’s, Black Velvet.
Sexiest song ever. The bass & that beat.
April 30, 2021 @ 9:46 am
Hmm. Impressive pipes – not surprised some apparently thought that song was being sung by Pat Benatar.
April 30, 2021 @ 9:21 pm
No doubt Benatar could belt this song out.
But i think Alannah sings it like she owns it.
The only other person i think could do right by it, would be Kim Carnes
April 26, 2021 @ 8:04 am
Amen Trig, you just preached the gospel! Thank you!
April 26, 2021 @ 8:05 am
Sorry, but I have never been able to stomach ANYTHING about the Rolling Stones.
On the rare occasions I see that repulsive freak Mick Jagger on the screen, I flip the channel even faster than I do when I witness Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Rascall Flatts or The Dixie Chicks.
April 26, 2021 @ 8:09 am
Trigger I greatly appreciate all you do and I know you’re just one guy trying to do everything for SCM, so please don’t take this as me whining, but I was wondering if you planned on reviewing Heart & Soul by Eric Church? I’d love to read your thoughts on the albums.
April 26, 2021 @ 8:13 am
Coming very soon.
April 26, 2021 @ 8:59 am
Well, this one is a surprise bolt outta the blue! But, man, did you nail it. “… just super damn cool no matter how you categorize them” sums it up perfectly – the songs, the album and the band. So many albums from that year have set landmarks and stood the test of time (The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East foremost among them). What a great review, Trig. Keep ’em comin’.
April 26, 2021 @ 8:12 am
I would love to get inside the brain of someone who thinks Townes wrote Dead Flowers. I’m trying to wrap my mind around any potential timeline on that and failing terribly!
April 26, 2021 @ 8:15 am
Yeah, it’s not true. The Gram Parson theory has some interesting wrinkles, though I’m not sure why Gram would say he didn’t write it if he did. That does have a timeline your conspiracy can get behind though. The Townes one doesn’t.
April 26, 2021 @ 4:18 pm
Is that the Gram who basically orchestrated and inspired Exile On Main Street too??
At 26 years old??
And he`s going in a Hall Of Fame when??
Shame , shame , shame!!
April 28, 2021 @ 8:53 am
Maybe Gram just couldn’t recall one way or the other.
Speaking of Gram, Ruthie Collins leaned a bit on the Gram/Emmylou connection for inspiration on her album from around a year ago, Cold Comfort. Yeah, she trainwrecked Rambling Man a few years ago, but Cold Comfort is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve listened to lately, and would’ve definitely made it into my 2020 favorites list if I’d heard of it a year ago.
April 26, 2021 @ 8:20 am
10/10 album no doubt, right next to Exile on Main Street
April 26, 2021 @ 8:27 am
Well done, Trigger!
April 26, 2021 @ 8:30 am
Go visit the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama and you will see and can feel one of the major ingredients that helped this album be what it is.
And here is a fun fact told to me by our tour guide… Mick recorded the vocals for Wild Houses in the Studio bathroom because he felt and had the perfect acoustics.
April 26, 2021 @ 8:36 am
I’ve never been a Stones fan. Been looking for a way to start listening to them to give them a real chance, and with me trusting your opinion on all things country, I may have to give this album a shot based on your recommendation alone. Cheers, Trigger.
April 26, 2021 @ 9:18 am
This is a welcome surprise! Absolute classic album. The Stones really got into that Muscle Shoals vibe you can tell. Been wanting to add this to my vinyl collection for quite some time, great listen!
April 26, 2021 @ 9:20 am
I watched that documentary about Amy Winehouse. Knowing more now about her tortured soul I felt like your comment on her was a little harsh and insensitive. You have excellent writing skills but making her the punchline of that joke seems a bad choice to me.
April 26, 2021 @ 9:54 am
Obviously, no disrespect was meant towards Amy. It was a joke, which I recognize, are off limits for some these days.
April 26, 2021 @ 2:06 pm
Yeah I get it. I just would’ve used Keith Moon or John Bonham or Jim Morrison maybe. They were all proud of their lifestyle and wore it on their sleeve. I’m not a snowflake by any means.
May 3, 2021 @ 1:46 am
But you are being a snowflake when you said that-Winehouse’s fall was all on her, and she’s deserving of any joke said about her, because she too wore her lifestyle on her sleeve, as evidenced by her song ‘Rehab’.
April 26, 2021 @ 9:55 am
She made herself the punchline when she recorded the song “Rehab.”
Robert's Country Blog
April 26, 2021 @ 3:54 pm
According to a 2016 LA Times article, Loretta Lynn recorded a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” I wonder when/if it will be released ? Loretta’s last album played it so very close to the vest that a “wild card” or two like that would’ve added a lot.
April 26, 2021 @ 9:44 am
Sticky Fingers and Exile On Mainstreet might be two greatest back-to-back albums ever recorded by one artist in any genre. On Sticky; Wild Horses, Sway and Dead Flowers are more country than anything on the radio today but the whole thing is great. On Exile, too many great songs to mention but I will say that Torn and Frayed is my favorite song of all time and to me is the greatest non-single cut ever but I am not knocking Sway!
Great summary, Trig. As always, thank you for your service!
April 26, 2021 @ 10:37 am
Torn and Frayed Yes! Sway often gets overlooked in the Stones catalog but man that song bangs. I always thought if anyone asks what a Gibson Les Paul is suppose to sound like, id say listen to the outro solo of Sway. Beautiful Mick Taylor!
April 26, 2021 @ 11:09 am
Agree on Torn and Frayed but want to add Let It Bleed to hour comment for back to back to back because I love it just as much
April 26, 2021 @ 3:13 pm
I say add Beggar’s Banquet on the front. A four album run for the ages.
April 26, 2021 @ 4:12 pm
And they did it all in about 3 1/2 years!
One of my favorites on SF is I Got the Blues. Very underrated and includes Billy “the Fifth Beatle” Preston on organ.
The Who had a nice 4-album run with Tommy, Quadraphenia, Who’s Next and Who by Numbers.
April 26, 2021 @ 5:41 pm
Great four album run by the Who for sure (and if you add Live at Leeds a five album run of excellence) and also agree with Jack W and StopPopCountry that four album run by the Stones almost impossible to beat. Probably not as popular for readers on this site but I put Springsteen’s Born to Run, Darkness, The River and Nebraska as equal (or darn close) to the Stones run of four.
April 27, 2021 @ 4:33 am
I’m partial to the Boss. Listened to nothing else from junior year in HS through junior year in college. I might extend those 4 to the prior album The Wild Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (what a second side – my favorite side of any Bruce album) and the subsequent album Born in the USA (7 top 10 hits). And Tunnel of Love, which follows Born in the USA, might be my favorite Bruce album now that I’m in my 40s. Those 7 albums are hard to beat.
May 3, 2021 @ 1:42 am
Especially amazing about The Who By Numbers in a country context are two songs on it that are (IMHO) country-influenced, Squeeze Box and Slip Kid.
D Ray White
April 27, 2021 @ 12:42 am
Damn right. Let it Bleed to Exile was about the greatest 4 album run of any band in any genre.
April 26, 2021 @ 9:57 am
Gun to my head, I might have to pick Exile over Sticky Fingers, but damn if those aren’t the two best back-to-back records of all time. What they “started” on Sticky, the “perfected” on Exile, it’s hard to have one without the other.
On another note, I highly recommend Kieth’s autobiography “Life.” One of the better rock bios I’ve read, especially if you want to know what Keef can remember from the early 70s era Stones recording, touring and living.
April 26, 2021 @ 10:07 am
One of the best for sure! The Rolling Stones are one of the few bands that, year after year, still get played by me at least once – damn near every day.
April 26, 2021 @ 11:43 am
I can listen to Sticky Fingers or Exile on Mainstreet any day. Don’t forget about the girl with far away eyes as well.
April 27, 2021 @ 8:40 am
“I ran twenty red lights in His arms…”
April 28, 2021 @ 2:04 pm
April 28, 2021 @ 4:07 pm
I learned after I posted this that the lyric is indeed ‘honor’. I’ve been hearing it wrong for lo these many years. I think ‘arms’ is more fitting, as in ‘safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on his gentle breast’, but it is what it is.
April 26, 2021 @ 12:32 pm
“It has the capability of causing unplanned pregnancies simply by listening to it…”
Amen. Brilliant recognition of a masterpiece so timeless and removed from the mass of today’s soulless corporate music.
Keith Richards is a genius and The Stones will live forever.
Cool Lester Smooth
April 26, 2021 @ 1:06 pm
Dead Flowers is one of the greatest songs of all time – blows anything the Beatles wrote out of the damn water.
April 26, 2021 @ 2:25 pm
exile on mainstreet, 11/10
April 26, 2021 @ 2:49 pm
1971 has to be the greatest year for rock music ever. All released in 1971:
‘Sticky Fingers’ Rolling Stones
‘Led Zeppelin IV’ Led Zeppelin
‘LA Woman’ The Doors
‘Imagine’ John Lennon
‘Who’s Next’ The Who (my personal favorite rock record every song is great. The perfect band.)
There are other s but those are just the ones that come to mind.
Those were the good old days.
April 26, 2021 @ 3:09 pm
And a few more:
Aqualung – Jethro Tull
The Yes Album – Yes
Nursery Cryme – Genesis
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – Traffic
At Fillmore East – Allman Brothers
What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye
Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart
Blue – Joni Mitchell
Madman Across the Water – Elton John
Sticky Fingers and Who’s Next are two bullet proof rock and roll albums. Led Zeppelin IV was my first album purchase and it’s an all time great, but side 2 suffers significantly when compared to side 1 (e.g., Four Sticks and Going to California). Not so with those two albums.
April 26, 2021 @ 4:29 pm
I don’t know how contemporary listeners could keep up with the releases in 1971. You also had:
Pink Floyd – Meddle
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
Don McLean – American Pie
Doors – LA Woman
Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies
Moody Blues – Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
April 29, 2021 @ 6:02 am
I forgot Tapestry by Carol King, which was on the Billboard charts for years. I picked up a CD copy of the album sometime in the ’90s, I think. But back in 1971, I did buy a couple of Carol King 45s that had songs from that album. The first was It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move (yes, both on the same 45) and the second was So Far Away/Smackwater Jack. Also had James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, which was her song and her version was on Tapestry.
April 26, 2021 @ 3:31 pm
1977 might beg to differ but 1971 makes for a strong case too. Can’t go wrong either way. Bottom line though is that the worst year of the 70’s far exceeds any year now in recent memory. I find myself going back into obscure albums and even artists of that time and the quality of music blows modern music away.
April 26, 2021 @ 5:18 pm
1978 is not bad too. Debuts from the Police and Dire Straits are both classics.
Rock music came of age in the latter half of the 1960s and it hit its peak in the 1970s.
mouths of babes
April 28, 2021 @ 5:13 am
Speaking of landmark 1971 albums, Black Sabbath’s Masters of Reality?
I mean, you wanna talk about albums that singlehandedly spawned multiple genres…..
Johnny Too Bad
April 29, 2021 @ 7:51 am
Let’s not forget that Joplin released Pearl posthumously in January of ’71, with her version of Me and Bobby McGee reaching #1 in March of that year.
April 26, 2021 @ 3:24 pm
My favorite Stones album as well. But the unsurpassed masterpiece of that loose, dirty, dangerous, ramshackle sound for me is Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night. On my all-time greatest albums list, Sticky Fingers comes in at around #50; Tonight’s the Night is, and always will be, #1.
April 26, 2021 @ 3:48 pm
Yes, yes. Good call. The pain and anger over the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry just pours out of Neil Young and those cats on Tonight’s The Night.
April 26, 2021 @ 3:43 pm
Oh man. What an album. Thanks, Trigger. Hard to say there’s no roots/alt country without Sticky Fingers, but damn, it laid out that mix of country, blues, rock and folk to perfection. Hate to be that bitchy old man on the porch, but this stuff used to be playing on hit FM radio. Sigh.
April 26, 2021 @ 4:12 pm
Thanks for this review. Sticky Fingers is my favorite stones album and I love reading this kind of stuff on a country blog site. I for one would welcome these reviews on a regular basis. I doubt I’m the only reader who loves old rock, blues, folk, etc and would appreciate your take on some iconic “country-adjacent” albums
April 26, 2021 @ 4:13 pm
If you have Amazon Prime and want to get a feel for the times, watch “Every Night is Saturday Night” about Bobby Keys. Just saw it this weekend and shows what it was like to be in the Stones’ orbit
April 26, 2021 @ 4:21 pm
Don’t forget the great Mick Taylor playing those great leads and solos, they were the glue to that era of the stones.
Also, Check out the Bobby Keys documentary ‘Every Night is a Saturday Night’, Bobby grew up in Slaton Texas, outside Lubbock, same town as the Maines Brothers, played with Buddy Holly and the Crickets , then went on to do amzing things with Delany and Bonny, Joe Cocker, Clapton, Lennon, Harrison and especially the Stones. They loved having a true American sax player putting that authentic touch on their music.
Great article Trigger!
April 26, 2021 @ 4:30 pm
Some girls liked the Zep IV vibe better, but who’s keeping score.
I like Mick’s new record with the drummer from Nirvana, Grohl. I heard that and thought damn, this is more country than all the boyfriend country I scrolled past on the way home.
Resolved: any drummer who rags on Charlie Watts doesn’t get hired, ever.
April 26, 2021 @ 4:50 pm
So does anyone think this album is better than anything lynyrd Skynyrd ever did ? Im not a stones fan is why I asked.
April 26, 2021 @ 5:35 pm
I am a Skynyrd fan and have to say Sticky Fingers is better than EVERYTHING Skynyrd did.
No disrespect, that is just how great this record is.
April 28, 2021 @ 6:04 am
I’d put 2nd helping against it
April 28, 2021 @ 6:36 am
Admittedly, that is a great record.
April 27, 2021 @ 2:21 am
Yes. I absolutely love Skynyrd. Only rock band I like more is the Stones. I might be in the minority thinking Gimmie Back my Bullets is their best followed by Street Survivors. But neither can touch Sticky Fingers.
April 26, 2021 @ 5:40 pm
I love this album. I just heard “Sway” today. Can you imagine something like this coming out today?
The Andy Warhol Museum resided here in his hometown of Pittsburgh. There was a floor of album artwork he was responsible. Sticky Fingers had a whole wall on that floor with outtake and option Bs for Sticky Fingers.
April 26, 2021 @ 5:51 pm
A couple of things not mentioned in Trigger’s great review are that this was the first Stones album without Brian Jones the group’s founder who left/was fired from the band in the summer of 1969 and died a month later and it was also their first album after the disastrous Altamont festival where the Hells Angels provided security and ended up killing a guy. That’s was December 1969 and was a very symbolic ending to the tumultuous decade of the 1960s.
If you look at the Stones career they were remarkably prolific and from 1964 through the early 1980s they had an album or single every except 1970 and that was the environment that led to this album.
April 27, 2021 @ 2:07 am
I cannot put into words how much I love this album and their run of albums for about 10 years. Absolutely incredible. Mick Taylor really added to this band. This album almost killed me. I dedicated about 6 months of my life doing nothing but drinking obscene amounts of Gin, smoking crack and a little meth. I ended up fainting in the food court of the mall vomitting blood and hauled away in an ambulance. Won’t not change a thing . It led me to my longest period of sobriety ever and dumping an insane ex girlfriend. God bless the Rolling Stones.
April 27, 2021 @ 2:08 am
I forgot to mention I had this record and a few others by the Stones on constant repeat during this time.
April 27, 2021 @ 2:25 am
Goddamn I just looked and Beggars – Goat Head was a run of 5 years not 10. Absolutely insane.
April 27, 2021 @ 5:23 am
can you start a Saving Rock n’ Roll blog next? I think it needs saving even more than Country music does. At least you can still hear the occasional good country song on commercial radio. Rock is all but dead on the radio unless it’s classic rock.
April 27, 2021 @ 7:09 am
the 4 album run of Beggers, Let It Bleed, Sticky, Exile, (some say 5 including Goats, which i might tend to agree) has to be the best run of music by one group in Rock n Roll.
mouths of babes
April 30, 2021 @ 8:28 am
I don’t think you can beat Black Sabbath’s 5 album, 4 year run of Black Sabbath (1970), Paranoid (1970), Masters of Reality (1971), Vol. 4 (1972), and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973). No band in any genre has an answer to that. The only thing close would be the John Fogerty controlled CCR 69-70 run of Bayou Country, Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys, Cosmos Factory and Pendulum.
April 30, 2021 @ 9:27 am
A couple of others:
Bob Dylan from ’65 to 69: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline.
Beatles from ’65 to ’69: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road. Those were their proper album projects during that. The Magical Mystery Tour “album” was really two EPs put together as a US release and Yellow Submarine was a soundtrack album.
I was late to the party with respect to early Black Sabbath. I only had Paranoid in my LP collection, but picked up the Symptom of the Universe 2CD anthology of the Ozzy years in 2002, which was front loaded with tracks from the first five (although Symptom of the Universe is a great song). Then, saw the Black Box set on sale in Tower and picked it up. Henry Rollins is one to extol the greatness of the first four, but Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is certainly no slouch.
As for CCR, I love that first one, too. Raw.
Another one that I’m personally partially to is Jethro Tull’s run of Stand Up, Benefit, Aqualung and Thick as a Brick.
mouths of babes
April 30, 2021 @ 12:37 pm
Yeah, I didn’t even think about the late sixties and the Beatles. They inspired everything after.
Black Sabbath’s Sabotage from ‘75 is my personal favorite album of theirs. Symptom of the Universe and Hole in the Sky are killer tracks.
May 1, 2021 @ 4:54 am
Not a Dylan fan by any stretch but Nashville Skyline is pure magic and one oddly one of my favorite albums of all time.
April 30, 2021 @ 3:04 pm
No love for “Get your Ya-Ya’s Out”? Possibly one of the best live sets ever.
April 27, 2021 @ 8:32 am
Sticky fingers was already more punk rock than any crappy punk band that came after that.
And Andy Warhol ain’t gonna design your cover!!
April 27, 2021 @ 9:01 am
I’ve been listening to the Stones since High Tide and Green Grass. All this time I thot Mike was saying ‘I ran twenty red lights in His ARMS’. Now you tell me he’s saying ‘honor’. I prefer my version of that line…
April 27, 2021 @ 12:13 pm
Not a huge stones fan, but Trigger is spot on. This has always been one of my favorite albums of all time. Sister Morphine is perfect… The whole album is great.
Even you stones haters should give it a try!
April 28, 2021 @ 6:07 am
Trigger, I know youre always busy with the new stuff but I love the old rock/ country album reviews. Thanks for putting this one out, hope to see more in the future.
April 28, 2021 @ 3:09 pm
No love for Mick Taylor?
He’s the connective tissue for the amazing 4-album run that stretched from Beggars Banquet to Exile. Best guitarist the Stones ever had.
April 29, 2021 @ 7:29 am
Not with the band at all for Beggar’s Banquet. Looks like he contributed to two tracks on Let It Bleed (Country Honk and Live With Me). So the one doing the heavy lifting on guitar for those two albums was Keith Richards.
May 1, 2021 @ 5:00 am
Supposedly in rock and country lore Mick Jagger has a brother that back in the late 60’s and early 70’s used to travel around WV, KY and TN looking for country sounds and inspiration. not sure if Mick or any of the Stones were with him on any of his travels or how much of influence he was on their country sounding songs but if anyone knows more about this it would be cool to find out.
May 2, 2021 @ 10:02 am
Wild Horses is my favorite from this album, and probably my favorite Stones song overall.
May 3, 2021 @ 1:52 am
Said folks are the new ‘pearl clutchers’ who are making life a living hell with their hypocritical holier-than-thou bullshit (“WAP” and Lil Nas X are okay, but not what’s said on this album?) They can all go fuck themselves.
May 16, 2021 @ 10:13 am
Trig….not one mention of Mick Taylor??? He elevated everything they did while he was in the band. good revive, though. Thanks!! 🙂
May 16, 2021 @ 7:41 pm
Yes, he probably deserved a mention.