Released April 23, 1971
by Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2023. No part of this text may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part, in any manner without permission.
Sticky Fingers has one of the greatest album covers of all time. The Rolling Stones paid Andy Warhol £15,000 for his artwork. They probably did not know that it was based on a root beer ad, featuring a close-up of a cowboy’s crotch and holster – just as Warhol based his cover for The Velvet Underground’s debut LP upon the graphic design of a promotional ashtray, advertising bananas.
Warhol co-opted the ad for Dad’s root beer from an issue of Boy’s Life in 1970, one year prior to the release of Sticky Fingers. The Stones cover was interactive (as was the VU banana with its’ peel-off sticker). It had a working zipper, revealing the cover model’s thigh and underwear beneath the jeans. Because the metal zipper was scratching the vinyl records inside, it had to be re-configured and was later omitted.
Dad’s Root Beer – Boys’ Life. June,1970. Vol. 60, No. 6
* Banana ashtray – Howie Pyro collection.
Warhol’s first album cover design was in 1949 for Carlos Xhavez – A Program of Mexican Music on Columbia Records. In the 1950s, Warhol designed covers for Toscanini, Count Basie, Thenonious Monk, and many others in the 60s.
Warhol also created the artwork for the Stones EP with songs from Sticky Fingers (‘Brown Sugar’ / ‘Bitch’ with the addition in France of ‘Let It Rock,’ recorded live at Leeds). In a shoot by David Montgomery, the band members (except for Bill Wyman) had their pants off, holding the album cover at their waists, appearing as if they were wearing it! The artistic execution was taken over by Greg Braun, who had designed covers for The Carpenters and Joe Cocker.
Of course (as with several other Stones album covers) the Sticky Fingers artwork was banned in Spain. The replacement image of actual sticky fingers covered with treacle was even more suggestive! The Spanish cover was designed by John Pasche (who also created the Stones’ tongue and lips logo, which appeared for the first time on the Sticky Fingers album art (the first album to be released on The Stones’ own record label).
Pasche’s tongue logo was based on a drawing by Ernie Cefalu. The tongue in Ernie’s illustration was inspired by an image in a book called The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics Vol. 1, edited and drawn by Alan Aldridge in 1969.
Sticky Fingers was not released in the Soviet Union until 1992. The cover bears similarities to the original. Alternately, it has only a photograph of the jeans with a zipper, and a Soviet Army uniform belt buckle (bearing a hammer and sickle insignia within a star).
A song from the album was also banned. ‘Sister Morphine’ was replaced with a live cover version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Let It Rock.’
There are two different stories of the album title’s origin. One is that Mott The Hoople’s working title for their second album was Sticky Fingers. (It later became Mad Shadows). Their front cover was already complete, featuring Frankenstein’s monster driving a dragster at night. Their producer Guy Stevens (who had given Mott their band name) was chatting with Jagger when the Stones were mixing their new album in the studio next door. However, Bill Wyman states in his book that Sticky Fingers was an early title choice for the Stones album Let It Bleed, which was eventually released in late 1969. Keith has said the same.
This was the Stones’ 9th British album, and their 11th American studio album. It followed up Beggar’s Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969) and it rocked – especially because guitarist Mick Taylor was allowed to shine. The songs span several genres unique to British and American ears at the time, yet still based on blues, country and rock – foreshadowing the varied style and druggy themes of their next masterpiece, Exile on Main Street. (Some of the unused tracks later appeared on Exile). Some songs were recorded at Alabama’s now famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in December of 1969.
The album opens with ‘Brown Sugar.’ This was recorded in late 1969 but not released until almost 6 months later because the Stones were still in a lawsuit with manager Allen Klein. The great Bobby Keys is on sax. At the time, this song was not considered as controversial as it is now. Although it has been performed at almost every live Stones gig since 1970 (and on Top of the Pops in 1971 when Jagger sang the line, “Get down on your knees / get down on the ground… just like a young girl should.” It was removed from their setlist in 2021.
Besides the theme of having wild and wonderful sex with a young black girl, the lyrics also allude to brown heroin (aka brown sugar). The song’s opening lines about African slaves sold in New Orleans who are raped by their masters went over people’s heads, and made it onto the radio. However, the Stones claimed that these lines refer to being enslaved by the drug. The use of castanets on this song is amusing to me.
Jagger’s then current flame, was the beautiful backing singer Claudia Lennear, a member of Ike & Tina Turner’s Ikettes. Bowie’s song ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ on Aladdin Sane is also about Claudia. The song could also be referring to Jagger’s relationship with singer Marsha Hunt, with whom he had a child. Prior to the album release, ‘Brown Sugar’ was performed live for the first time at Altamont, a concert which notoriously ended in violence and death.
Taylor shines again on ‘Sway.’ Another reference to the demon life of drugs.
The amazing ballad ‘Wild Horses’ was written when Jagger’s then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull was hospitalized after an OD. It was at first discarded and deemed not worthy of the album. The Flying Burrito Brothers released it in 1970, a year prior to the Stones’ version. This stemmed from Keith’s friendship with Gram Parsons. It’s on the Burritos’ second album, Burrito Deluxe.
Original promo poster, 1971
‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ is perhaps one of Taylor’s most sublime performances. Over seven minutes, it veers from crunchy grungy rock to a bluesy jazz excursion, including congas. On the McDowell/Davis blues ‘You Gotta Move,’ Taylor plays slide guitar on a 1954 Fender Telecaster, which he often did from this point forward. Bill Wyman substitutes electric piano for bass.
‘Bitch’ is another ode to heroin. Horse. Mix it and fix it. Pavlovian hunger. But what a great rock song!
‘I Got the Blues’ prefaces the Stones’ next album, Exile on Main St. and returns to their roots. The horns of Bobby Keys and Jim Price are more glorious than ever.
The nightmarish opus ‘Sister Morphine‘ was originally not credited to Marianne Faithfull, but she received recognition much later on, as her lyrics were entirely autobiographical.
The brilliant mock country song ‘Dead Flowers’ is wonderfully sarcastic. The junkie singer puts down an upper-class girl, and refers to heroin as “another girl” to take my pain away.
Although it’s credited to Jagger/Richards, ‘Moonlight Mile’ is a Jagger/Taylor composition (with strings by Paul Buckmaster). The band members are high on the road, touring with ‘a head full of snow.’ Jagger told Marc Myers of The Wall Street Journal that he had an Oriental-Indian riff on acoustic guitar, which he played for Mick Taylor. The song is about “Looking forward to returning from a foreign place while looking out the window of a train and the images of the railway line going by in the moonlight.”
A Super Deluxe box set was issued in 2015, including a complete March 13, 1971 performance at Leeds University, and a DVD with two songs from London’s Marquee (March 26, 1971). It includes a version of ‘Brown Sugar’ with Eric Clapton on slide guitar,
Here is the amazing story of the cover model controversy and more…
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3 thoughts on “STICKY FINGERS”
Madeline, Great piece and I never realized my third favorite Stones record was released on my 14th birthday. But the designer is Craig Braun (not Greg), who’s a friend of mine. Ironically, Craig’s son Nicolas Braun plays “Cousin Greg” in Succession.
Another fantastic post. Aloha!
Thanks so much!