If you want to trace the moment where the Stones captured the essence of their musical vision and aligned that with their ongoing defiance of social and political mores then Sticky Fingers is the album you need on your record player. It's been 45 years since its release and in some ways this album has been overshadowed somewhat by Exile On Main Street, but it's an album that displays songwriting at it's full maturity and some exquisite playing. The Stones also used Sticky Fingers as a means to voice their unapologetic stance on what occurred the previous year at Altamont in San Francisco and to continue to give conservative elements of American society the middle finger.
The band, especially Keith Richards continued their deep immersion into the history of American music, where Let It Bleed wallowed in the deep molasses of country blues, Sticky Fingers headed more towards the bawdiness of the city to create a more dirty salacious sound, to peek underneath the skirt of American society. Brown Sugar suits Mick Jagger to a tee, all it's strutting and preening, it's also pure nastiness with it's tales of slaves being sold in the markets in New Orleans and being left to the evil devices of old slave owners. For it's entrenched conservative and moral views around sex, Brown Sugar hit America right between the eyes with it's no holds barred attitude. The opening riff indicates a wild ride is in store, typical Keith short bursts and then that underpinning rhythm, so simple yet so brilliant. I've always said that Revolver was Ringo Starrs' moment to shine, same for Charlie Watts on Sticky Fingers his drumming is brilliant because at last he can use those jazz chops on the syncopated twists and turns on most of the songs on the album. The Stones were in a perfect place to cut Brown Sugar, Muscle Shoals Sound imbued some of it's defiant spirit into Brown Sugar.
Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows his doing all right
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
Sway captures the weariness of life on the road and has some sublime guitar work from Mick Taylor, he really was the Stones saviour when he joined the band in 1969. His playing had a complexity that was matched with it's darkness and intensity, his outro solo is amazing drenched in a certain sorrow it has a very ethereal feel. It's matched by the piano work of Nicky Hopkins who plays off Taylor's cascading solo.
Did you ever wake up to find
A day that broke up your mind
Destroyed your notion of circular time
It's just that demon life has got you in its sway
Wild Horses was seen by many as Jaggers farewell to Marianne Faithfull although he has gone to some effort to diffuse this line of thought. It's also thought to be a lullaby of sorts to Keith's son Marlon, it has the hallmarks of a chapter on ones life coming to a close. No bitterness or anger, just resignation and acceptance and the lingering of a memory and some small hope for the future. Recorded at the same Muscle Shoals session as Brown Sugar, it's an elegant tune bought to life by some restrained and understated vocal work from Jagger. It also features prominent session player Jim Dickinson on piano. Can't You Hear Me Knocking has one of the best opening salvos you will hear, it's incendiary rock and roll at it's best, it also sounds like Richards giving a big F you to the critics. Listening to this song you feel that the Stones are taking a swipe at those who are trying to unseat them from their mantle, it's derisive and dismissive and done with pure funk and drive. At the end the song goes into a lengthy jam featuring some great sax work from Bobby Keys.
Yeah you got Satin shoes
Yeah you got plastic boots
Y'all got cocaine eyes
Yeah you got speed freak drive
You Gotta Move is an old gospel song popularised by Mississippi Fred McDowell and the stones strip it back with some intense slide playing and a tortured wailing chorus. The band then slide into the devilish Bitch, driving ballsy funk something the Stones hadn't really unleashed on their audiences at that point. The chorus is brilliant, the horns play a bouncing riff as the guitars sound like they are applying the brakes, Mick is exhorting and probably pacing the studio floor. The opening to I Got The Blues sounds like Otis Redding and the Memphis horns, I can imagine Otis doing this one, with those slow burning horns it has a distinct southern flavour. Sister Morphine was a leftover from Let It Bleed and was co-written with Marianne Faithful, it features Ry Cooder on slide guitar. Cooders' slide creates the feeling of a descent into the hell of addiction and it's frightening in the sense that it captured the drama of Faithful's own descent into addiction at the time the song was written. Dead Flowers has Jagger trying to sound like he is from Bakersfield, it's a raucous country tune with dark undertones. Moonlight Mile closes in a more refined and delicate fashion with Mick Taylor's playing coming to the fore once again. The weariness of the rock and roll lifestyle is at the heart of this contemplative number,
Sticky Fingers is perhaps the Stones' most cohesive album, the band sound fresh and revitalised with the addition of Mick Taylor. However on going legal hassles and drug problems began the slow descent for the Stones.