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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