The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers – [Record 189]
Sticky Fingers is the ninth British and 11th American studio album by English rock band the Rolling Stones, released in April 1971. It is the band’s first album of the 1970s and its first release on the band’s newly formed label, Rolling Stones Records, after having been contracted since 1963 with Decca Records in the UK and London Records in the US. It is also Mick Taylor’s first full-length appearance on a Rolling Stones album, the first Rolling Stones album not to feature any contributions from guitarist and founder Brian Jones and the first one on which singer Mick Jagger is credited with playing guitar.
Sticky Fingers is widely regarded as one of the Rolling Stones’ best albums. It achieved triple platinum certification in the US and contains songs such as the chart-topping “Brown Sugar”, the country ballad “Wild Horses”, the Latin-inspired “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, and the sweeping ballad “Moonlight Mile”.
1. Brown Sugar.
3. Wild Horses.
4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.
5. You Gotta Move.
7. I Got the Blues.
8. Sister Morphine.
9. Dead Flowers.
10. Moonlight Mile.
History: With the end of their Decca/London association at hand, The Rolling Stones would finally be free to release their albums (cover art and all) as they pleased. However, their departing manager Allen Klein dealt the group a major blow when they discovered that they had inadvertently signed over their entire 1960s copyrights to Klein and his company ABKCO, which is how all of their material from 1963’s “Come On” to Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert has since come to be released by ABKCO Records. The band would remain incensed with Klein for decades over the act.
When Decca informed The Rolling Stones that they were owed one more single, they cheekily submitted a track called “Cocksucker Blues”, which was guaranteed to be refused. Instead, Decca released the two-year-old Beggars Banquet track “Street Fighting Man” while Klein would have dual copyright ownership, with The Rolling Stones, of “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”.
Recording: Although sessions for Sticky Fingers began in earnest in March 1970, The Rolling Stones had recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in December 1969 and “Sister Morphine”, cut during Let It Bleed’s sessions earlier in March of that year, was held over for this release. Much of the recording for Sticky Fingers was made with The Rolling Stones’ mobile studio unit in Stargroves during the summer and autumn of 1970. Early versions of songs that would appear on Exile on Main St. were also rehearsed during these sessions.
Artwork: The album’s artwork emphasises the suggestive innuendo of the Sticky Fingers title, showing a close-up of a jeans-clad male crotch with the visible outline of a large penis; the cover of the original (vinyl) release featured a working zipper and mock belt buckle that opened to reveal cotton briefs. The vinyl release displayed the band’s name and album title along the image of the belt; behind the zipper the white briefs were seemingly rubber stamped in gold with the name of American pop artist Andy Warhol, below which read “THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE—ETC.” While the artwork was conceived by Warhol, photography was by Billy Name and design by Craig Braun.
The cover photo of a male model’s crotch clad in tight blue jeans was assumed by many fans to be an image of Mick Jagger, but the people actually involved at the time of the photo shoot claim that Warhol had several different men photographed (Jagger was not among them) and never revealed which shots he used. Among the candidates, Jed Johnson, Warhol’s lover at the time, denied it was his likeness, although his twin brother Jay is a possibility. Those closest to the shoot, and subsequent design, name Factory artist and designer Corey Tippin as the likeliest candidate. Warhol “superstar” Joe Dallesandro claims to have been the model.
After retailers complained that the zipper was causing damage to the vinyl (from stacked shipments of the record), the zipper was “unzipped” slightly to the middle of the record, where damage would be minimised.
The album features the first usage of the band’s “tongue & lips” logo, which was originally designed by Ernie Cefalu. Although Ernie’s version was used for much of the merchandising and was the design originally shown to the band by Craig Braun, the design used for the album was illustrated by John Pasche.
In 2003, the TV network VH1 named Sticky Fingers the “No. 1 Greatest Album Cover” of all time.
Alternative version and covers: In Spain, the original cover was censored and replaced with a “Can of fingers” cover, and “Sister Morphine” was replaced by a live version of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock”. This version was released on the compilation album Rarities 1971–2003 in 2005.
In 1992, the LP release of the album in Russia featured a similar treatment as the original cover; but with Cyrillic lettering for the band name and album name, a colourised photograph of blue jeans with a zipper, and a Soviet Army uniform belt buckle that shows a hammer and sickle inscribed in a star. The model appears to be female.
Release and reception: Sticky Fingers hit the number one spot on the British charts in May 1971, remaining there for four weeks before returning at number one for a further week in mid June. In the US, the album hit number one within days of release, and stayed there for four weeks. In Germany it was one of only two non-German albums to reach number one in 1971.
In a contemporary review for the Los Angeles Times, music critic Robert Hilburn said that although Sticky Fingers is one of the best rock albums of the year, it is only “modest” by the Rolling Stones’ standards and succeeds on the strength of songs such as “Bitch” and “Dead Flowers”, which recall the band’s previously uninhibited, furious style. Jon Landau, writing in Rolling Stone, felt that it lacks the spirit and spontaneity of the Rolling Stones’ previous two albums and, apart from “Moonlight Mile”, is full of “forced attempts at style and control” in which the band sounds disinterested, particularly on formally correct songs such as “Brown Sugar”. In a positive review, Lynn Van Matre of the Chicago Tribune viewed the album as the band “at their raunchy best” and wrote that, although it is “hardly innovative”, it is consistent enough to be one of the year’s best albums.
Sticky Fingers was voted the second best album of the year in The Village Voice ’s annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1971. Lester Bangs voted it number one in the poll and said that it was his most played album of the year. Robert Christgau, the poll’s creator, ranked the album seventeenth on his own year-end list. In a 1975 article for The Village Voice, Christgau suggested that the release was “triffling with decadence”, but might be the Rolling Stones’ best album, approached only by Exile on Main St. (1972). In his 1980 review of the album, he wrote that it reflected how unapologetic the band was after the Altamont Free Concert and that, despite the concession to sincerity with “Wild Horses”, songs such as “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “I Got the Blues” are as “soulful” as “Good Times”, and their cover of “You Gotta Move” is on-par with their previous covers of “Prodigal Son” and “Love in Vain”.
In 1994, Sticky Fingers was ranked number ten in Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums. He stated, “Dirty rock like this has still to be bettered, and there is still no rival in sight.” In a retrospective review, Q magazine said that the album was “the Stones at their assured, showboating peak … A magic formula of heavy soul, junkie blues and macho rock”. NME wrote that it “captures the Stones bluesy swagger” in a “dark-land where few dare to tread”. Record Collector magazine said that it showcases Jagger and Richards as they “delve even further back to the primitive blues that first inspired them and step up their investigations into another great American form, country.” In his review for Goldmine magazine, Dave Thompson wrote that the album still is superior to “most of The Rolling Stones’ catalog”. In 2003, Sticky Fingers was listed as No. 63 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In 1994 Sticky Fingers was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records. It was remastered again in 2009 by Universal Music Enterprises and in 2011 by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese-only SHM-SACD version.