Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones song)
|Single by The Rolling Stones|
|from the album Sticky Fingers|
|B-side||"Bitch"/"Let It Rock" (UK)|
|Released||16 April 1971|
|Recorded||2–4 December 1969|
|Studio||Muscle Shoals Sound, Sheffield, Alabama|
|Label||Rolling Stones Records|
|The Rolling Stones singles chronology|
American single label
"Brown Sugar" is a song by the Rolling Stones. It is the opening track and lead single from their album Sticky Fingers (1971). Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 495 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and at number five on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.
Inspiration and recording
Though credited, like most of their compositions, to the singer/guitarist pair of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was primarily the work of Jagger, who wrote it sometime during the filming of Ned Kelly in 1969. The song was written by Jagger with Marsha Hunt, Jagger's secret girlfriend and mother of his first child Karis, in mind. It is also claimed it was written with Claudia Lennear in mind. Lennear claimed to be the song's subject on BBC's Radio 4 (25 February 2014, Today), because she kept Jagger's company at the time when it was written.
"Brown Sugar" was recorded over a three-day period at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, from 2 to 4 December 1969. The song was not released until over a year later due to legal wranglings with the band's former label. At the request of guitarist Mick Taylor (who had joined the band as Brian Jones' replacement in July of 1969), the Stones debuted the number live during the infamous concert at the Altamont Speedway on 6 December 1969.
In the liner notes to the compilation album Jump Back (1993), Jagger says, "The lyric was all to do with the dual combination of drugs and girls. This song was a very instant thing, a definite high point".
In the Rolling Stone interview (14 December 1995, RS 723) Jagger spoke at length about the song, its inspiration and success, and taking credit for writing the lyrics. Keith Richards also credits Jagger with the song in his autobiography. He attributed the success of the song to a "good groove". After noting that the lyrics could mean so many lewd subjects, he again noted that the combination of those subjects, the lyrical ambiguity was partially why the song was considered successful. He noted, "That makes it... the whole mess thrown in. God knows what I'm on about on that song. It's such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go... I never would write that song now." When interviewer Jann Wenner asked him why, Jagger replied, "I would probably censor myself. I'd think, 'Oh God, I can't. I've got to stop. I can't just write raw like that.'"
The lyrical subject matter has often been a point of interest and controversy. Described by rock critic Robert Christgau as "a rocker so compelling that it discourages exegesis", "Brown Sugar"'s popularity indeed often overshadowed its scandalous lyrics, which were essentially a pastiche of a number of taboo subjects, including slavery, rape, interracial sex, cunnilingus, sadomasochism, lost virginity and heroin.
An alternative version was recorded on 18 December 1970, at Olympic Studios in London, after (or during) a birthday party for Richards. It features appearances by Al Kooper on piano, and Eric Clapton on slide guitar. Richards considered releasing this version on Sticky Fingers, mostly for its more spontaneous atmosphere, but decided on the original. The alternative version, which had previously been available only on bootleg recordings, was released in June 2015 on the Deluxe and Super Deluxe editions of the reissued Sticky Fingers album.
Top of the Pops
To promote the song, the Rolling Stones performed on Top of the Pops with the performance taped sometime around late March 1971, and being shown on 15 April and 6 May. They performed "Brown Sugar", "Wild Horses" and "Bitch" for the show's segment dedicated to albums, which was shown on 22 April 1971; due to BBC practices at the time, the performances were erased and all that remains is "Brown Sugar".
"Brown Sugar" was eventually released in May 1971 as the first single from the album, becoming a number one hit in both the United States and Canada and a number two hit in both the United Kingdom and Ireland, and has since become a classic rock radio staple. While the US single featured only "Bitch" as the B-side, the British single featured that track plus a live rendition of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock", recorded at the University of Leeds during the 1971 tour of the United Kingdom. In the United States, Billboard ranked it as the number 16 song for 1971.
In the United Kingdom, the single was originally issued in mono using a now-rarely heard bespoke mono mix. This mono mix has never been used on any compilation.
The song was performed routinely during the Stones' 1970 European Tour, occupying a prominent spot near the end of the set list even though audiences were unfamiliar with it. The band opened the shows of their infamous 1972 American Tour with "Brown Sugar", and it has become a Stones concert staple.
When the Stones perform "Brown Sugar" live, Jagger often changes the lyrics from "Just like a young girl should" to "Just like a young man should". The line "Hear him whip the women just around midnight" is often changed to the less offensive "You shoulda heard him just around midnight". This is evident on their live albums Love You Live, Flashpoint, Live Licks, Shine a Light,Totally Stripped, and Voodoo Lounge Uncut. This change also occurs on the version recorded at Richards's birthday party. The Altamont debut of the song in December 1969 uses "You shoulda heard him just around midnight." (Source: YouTube recordings).
The song is also the first single released on Rolling Stones Records (catalogue number RS-19100) and is one of the two Stones songs (along with "Wild Horses") licensed to both the band and former manager Allen Klein (a result of various business disagreements) resulting in its inclusion on the compilation album Hot Rocks 1964–1971. "Brown Sugar" is also included on the most significant latter-day Rolling Stones compilations, Jump Back, Forty Licks and GRRR!.
In popular culture
"Brown Sugar" was used prominently in the 1981 film Nighthawks as background music for the scene in which New York police detectives played by Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams search a crowded disco for a terrorist (Rutger Hauer).
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||250,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
The Rolling Stones
- Mick Jagger – vocal and percussion
- Keith Richards – electric guitar, acoustic guitar
- Bill Wyman – bass
- Charlie Watts – drums
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