Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

Alright, I know that everyone in the world has this record, but I just put it on again and got to thinking just how damn amazing this band could be when they really tried. This is one of their absolute best by a long shot and probably my personal favorite.

The cover alone is funny and almost a little disturbing and was provided by none other than Andy Warhol. The front is a close up photo – presuming of Mick Jagger – of a male crotch dressed in jeans, which on the album version had a working zipper that opened to reveal the same crotch in white underwear (and leaving little to the imagination). The back cover was the butt and the inside had another photo of the underwear as well as the now iconic “lips” logo.

Opening with the huge hit, “Brown Sugar”, you get the Stones at the top of their game. Excellent, rockin’ riff from Keith Richards, racy lyrics from Mick, high energy from the whole band and a perfect sax solo from master player Bobby Keyes. Truly one of the highlights of 70’s Top Forty radio!

They slow down considerably for “Sway”, but keep a cool groove while Mick Taylor (I believe) adds some inspired slide playing. Great song construction and more of Jagger’s better lyrics. I’ve seen LA band, Backbiter, cover this one live and it absolutely works in that setting, though I don’t know if the Stones ever did it.

Then we have one of the prettiest songs that the band ever did, “Wild Horses”. Romantic in the extreme, superb acoustic playing and the group comes in with just the right touches – never too much, but just enough to keep everything interesting. If this doesn’t almost bring tears to your eyes then either you’ve never had a tough relationship or your heart is far harder than mine!

Richards comes back with one of his patented, catchy-as-hell guitar chord/riffs for “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’”. Another mid-tempo but very rockin’ groove moves into a cool chorus which should definitely get ya movin’ in your seat! The song abruptly shifts into a conga-driven sax jam – Bobby again playing his soul out – that then lets Taylor show off his skills as one of the better lead guitarists of the day.

Showing their roots, they pull out “You Gotta Move”, a Mississippi Fred McDowell number from just a few years previous. Their version is not that different from McDowell’s stripped down take, though it is a little more fleshed out. Pretty amazing white boy blues!

“Bitch” just sends chills down me when I hear it, even to this day. A near-perfect guitar lick pushed into hard rock territory by the fantastic rhythm section of Wyman and Watts and completed with sax accents, more great Taylor playing and viciously sensual words from Jagger. Another one of the best r’n’r tunes of the 70’s!

Moving into a soul/blues feel with “I Got The Blues”, the horn-driven number is highlighted by the gospel-fueled organ playing of the legendary Billy Preston. Slower, but riveting in the best Otis Redding style.

OK, I really am ravin’ here, but this record really is that strong from start to finish. Another of my favorite acoustic songs of all time is “Sister Morphine”, a harrowing look into the life of a withdrawing addict, co-written by Marianne Faithfull, who was all too familiar with the subject. I love the simple, minor-key chord progression and the Jack Nitzche piano adds an eerie effect, supplemented by Ry Cooder’s slide guitar (who taught Keith much of what he knew). I know at least one writer at the time thought that the drug references were superfluous but to my less-than-depraved ears, I think that the words truly tell a scary and all too real and dramatic story.

Their obligatory pseudo-country song for this album is “Dead Flowers”, though it is far from pure country and has a terrific sing-along chorus. Motherfucker 666 did a great punk rock version of this, showing the song’s versatility (and giving more credence to the lyrics “I know you think you’re the queen of the underground”). This has more drug references, but it a much lighter sense than in “Sister Morphine”.

“Moonlit Mile” throws in the drug mentions right from the first line, and the song itself is a little more atmospheric with crescendo cymbal crashes and dominant piano. They add strings and build into what would later be called a power-ballad, though, unlike most of those, this is still a good song!

Absolutely one of the greatest pure rock’n’roll records of the 70’s and a record of this band at the peak of their career. Damn near perfect…