CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES #14: The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

sticky-fingers-5573143578483Released on the 23rd April 1971, Sticky Fingers was the first album by The Rolling Stones to fully feature new guitarist Mick Taylor, who had been brought in to replace Brian Jones two years earlier. The album also signalled a change in musical direction of which would continue throughout Taylor’s tenure, ending with 1975’s It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. The music the band made during this time is widely seen as their best and even though Let It Bleed contained some great music, it is, in my opinion, Sticky Fingers that fully cemented their new sound.

The opening track is one of the greatest of all time in Brown Sugar, a song which the band had recorded a year and a half earlier at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 1970 they would record another version with Eric Clapton on slide guitar but Keith Richards decided on the original to open the album. It’s difficult to think of another song which manages to capture the energy of a studio performance so well and you also get a taste of what would come on their next album with an incredible saxophone solo from Bobby Keys. Sway is the next song and is the first slow number on the album. One of the standout parts of this song is the incredible guitar solo from Mick Taylor which continues until the song fades out. It’s also important to note that Keith Richards didn’t contribute any guitar to this song, just backing vocals, with Mick Jagger instead playing the rhythm guitar part. The first time he had performed electric guitar on any studio performance.

  1. Brown Sugar
  2. Sway
  3. Wild Horses
  4. Can You Hear Me Knocking
  5. You Gotta Move
  6. Bitch
  7. I Got The Blues
  8. Sister Morphine
  9. Dead Flowers
  10. Moonlight Mile

The sublime Wild Horses is the third song on the album which, just like Brown Sugar, was also recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It’s a gorgeous song and really showed how much their songwriting had progressed from previous albums. But for me it’s Can’t You Hear Me Knocking which provides the most deliciously explosive moments on the album. The opening guitar riff is as infectious as it gets and during the full 7 minutes and 16 seconds of the songs you’re treated to a musical adventure that can be considered one of their all-time best songs. It’s fantastic in every sense of the word and a song I often find myself replaying over and over to enjoy every single aspect. The second half of the song is all instrumental with Bobby Keys again supplying some tasty saxophone playing before Mick Taylor comes in on electric guitar to lay down one of his best ever guitar parts. Next up is a cover of an African-American spiritual song, You Gotta Move, which had previously been covered by bluesman Fred McDowell. I’ve learned over the years that this song isn’t looked on favourably by a number of people but being a fan of the blues I absolutely love it. It may not be the most technical song on the album but the band manage to nail that blues sound perfectly and give the song a real shot in the arm, turning it into a modern blues masterpiece.

Bitch really sums up The Rolling Stones perfectly at this point of their career. The song has everything – a great guitar riff, a superb vocal performance from Jagger, a horn section on fire and Keith Richards supplying the lead guitar work. Normally Mick Taylor would take lead but the roles were reversed here with Taylor instead taking on the rhythm work. It’s a great song which ends up being the last fast tempo electric number on the album. But that doesn’t mean the remaining songs aren’t any good, quite the opposite in fact. I Got The Blues follows Bitch which is a slow paced blues number and it’s one of my favourite songs on the album. At just over 2 minutes in there is an incredible organ solo by Billy Preston which provides one of the most memorable moments on the whole album. Mick Taylor lays down some great lead work too which sounds exquisite over the chords that are played. The lead isn’t front and centre though, more in the background which sounds great for the type of song this is. Sister Morphine comes next which was originally released as a single by Marianne Faithful having co-written in with Jagger and Richards. Ry Cooder makes an appearance here on slide guitar which gives the song a unique sound. It’s a beautiful moment and acts almost like a prequel to some of the acoustic driven songs found on Exile On Main Street, their following album.

The Rolling Stones move in a country direction with the following song, Dead Flowers, which was written when Keith Richards was hanging around with Gram Parsons. It’s an uptempo number which again shows where the band would head on their next album. Moonlight Mile is the last song which has a very Asian sounding opening. It’s an exquisite song, it can’t be described in any other way, and one hell of an album closer. I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the finest ever songs as well. The chorus sections, especially with the strings, add a gorgeous feel to the song. Sublime.

Sticky Fingers has long been one of my favourite albums of all time, and even though I’d place it just below Exile On Main Street in my Rolling Stones album rankings, it is absolutely faultless. There is nothing about this album that isn’t first class and it brought the band into the 1970’s with a a big bang. It also laid down the framework for what the band would do until Taylor’s departure from the band in 1975.

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