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From the Dust Bin

Friday, August 27, 2004

Introducing a new recurring feature here at transcendentalfloss, From the Dust Bin will present reviews of recorded stuff currently collecting dust in boxes, both literal and figurative, in the forgotten corners of the literal/figurative closet or basement or attic. The concept developed upon discovery of a shoe box of analog cassette tapes that had been stored away, discarded like so much unappreciated trash, after the arrival of the compact disc and DVD.

So, without further ado, the first installment of From the Dust Bin.

Sticky Fingers

by The Rolling Stones - 1971

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
Sold in a market down in New Orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he's doin' alright.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.

Brown Sugar how come you taste so good
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should

Jagger-Richards, Brown Sugar

Chilling, huh? Disturbing? Insensitve? All for you to decide. One thing is for sure, it is classic Rolling Stones, all in-your-face, no-holds barred, telling-it-like-it-is audacity.

While they may be disturbing, the lyrics are actually brutally honest; Jagger exposing to the world the harsh realities of his white, European, slave-trading heritage that most would like to hide away forever.

It's a risky business as a singer/songwriter, having the narrator of a song say such nasty things. Sure, it was fun writing it, creating characters, so to speak, and trying to get in their shoes, to put words in mouths that would actually be used, to be accurate. Yet when, as the singer, you step up to the microphone, you are bound to feel uncomfortable speaking those lines, knowing that everyone who listens to the record or watches you on stage will think first that they are your own thoughts or beliefs, and that some listeners may never delve deeper to explore what the intention was. Brown Sugar has been greatly misinterpreted as glorifying or trivializing the events described therein.

The Stones are definitely not known for profound lyrics, with most of their catalogue filled with standard R&B/Rock&Roll fare, tales of love and betrayal, sex and drugs, money won and lost, life on the road. But, with Brown Sugar, Jagger crafts one his greatest songs, painfully vivid, full of images one would rather not think about. Racism and the oppression of women are still very real problems that many would rather not think about, so to have them thrust in our faces in this way is important.

Sticky Fingers was released in 1971, sandwiched between the classics, 1969's Let It Bleed and 1972's Exile On Main Street, making these three consecutive albums one of the greatest runs of all time. It was the first record on the band's own label, Rolling Stones Records, and the first album after the death of Brian Jones, with new full-time guitarist Mick Taylor now a full-fledged member of the band. While the Stones always mined American R&B for source material, out from under Jones' British Pop sensibilities they were able to, starting with some of the tunes on Let It Bleed, really connect with the deep roots of the blues, while at the same time perfecting their own signature Rock&Roll sound. To join the Stones, Taylor left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, a veritable training ground for traditional blues, the same band that produced Eric Clapton. Add to the mix the increasing amount of time the Stones were spending with party buddy Gram Parsons, whose "Cosmic American Music" influence is heard all over Wild Horses and Dead Flowers, and Sticky Fingers starts to make a lot of sense.

On the surface, musically, Brown Sugar seems to contradict this, and perhaps it is a farewell of sorts to Brian Jones. The opening guitar riffs sound more like Jumpin' Jack Flash than Tumbling Dice. However, a closer listen reveals a subtle honky tonk piano banging away in the background, and a horn section straight out of a Chicago blues club.

Followed up by the second track, Sway, it was clear that the band had moved on and were in new territory. Sway is probably the most overlooked rock anthem in history - it's that majestic.

From the rare extended jam on Can't You Hear Me Knocking, and Jagger's soulful crooning on I Got The Blues (which would make Otis Redding proud), to the erie drug melodrama Sister Morphine, and finally, perhaps their most beautiful song, Moonlight Mile, this is one for the ages.