1971 COUNTDOWN: #4 — #3

ROLLING STONES — Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers is the most consistent collection of quality songs and most satisfying overall album by the Rolling Stones.

Discuss.

Well, it was certainly no tossed off blues-rock pastiche. The songs on the Stones ninth (UK) studio album were laboured over across a two year period and show clear evidence of thoughtful craft. And their drug obsessions.

That it was the first album by the band to reach the #1 spot in both the UK and the US says volumes. 

The LP bursts out of the gate with “Brown Sugar” whose raucous rock energy tended to overshadow some extremely dodgy lyrics (rape, slavery, drug addiction). Even the writers tacitly acknowledged this when they excised the song from the set list of their 2021 US tour having already toned down some of the song’s lines. 

“Bitch” is all raunchy exuberance while “Can you hear me knocking” has a strung-out insistence that sounds both desperate and post-coital; Mick Taylor stretches out.

Yet there is something about the downbeat songs that stays with the listener; “Sway”; the hopeless surrender of “Sister Morphine”; the deep sadness at the core of “Wild Horses”.

It’s the Rolling Stones in their grimy, hip-grinding pomp, while also showing either their oft-hidden emotional intelligence or  a swamp of whimpering self-pity, depending on your Stones love quotient. 

It’s got a Warhol-directed penis cover and a zipper to wound any record that tries to get close. 

It has the unsexiest underwear ever. 

It drips drugs.

It has Mick Taylor on guitar. 

It has an inviolate place in the pantheon of Seventies rock. 

It’s Sticky fucking Fingers.

[Released April 1971]

*

YES — Fragile

If The Yes Album showed the way, Fragile delivered on the promise of Yes. The stable line-up that became known as the ‘classic’ Yes grouping comprised Jon Anderson (unique tenor voice, gloriously bonkers lyrics*), Chris Squire (virtuoso bassist), drummer extraordinaire Bill Bruford, versatile and inventive guitarist Steve Howe and, the final piece, a wizard (draped in a sparkly cape)… ah… Mr Rick Wakeman on keyboards**.

Personally, this is the album that, perhaps more than any other, changed my ear-brain interface. The fusion of electrifying playing animating complex compositions where you could hear some art music structures within the rock fireworks was mesmerising. From the opening of “Roundabout”, where the musicians are jumping out of their skins with ideas through to the hard-riffing “Heart of the Sunrise”, this LP won the band worldwide acclaim and set a benchmark for progressive rock to come. It came out in November, two days before my sixteenth birthday (though I didn’t hear it until a couple of years later) and has been a companion, a joyful comrade through many decades. Talk about “Mood for a day”, this was mood for a lifetime.

* Hot colour melting the anger to stone (“Long distance runaround”). I mean, really. What substance is it if it becomes stone when it melts under prismatic attack?

** That’s a little Yessongs joke for fellow Yesnerds.

[Released 26 November 1971]

*

30 comments

  1. Both classics – Sticky Fingers might win 1971 for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like Exile and Beggar’s Banquet better, but Sticky Fingers has its moments!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Favourites are so personal. Enjoy whatever you spin!

      Like

  3. Great writeup. Sway is a great track.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I get lost trying to pick a favourite album from the era, so I keep Let It Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. all together in one big happy pile and call it incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now that is a very sensible approach, Aaron.

      Like

      1. Ha thanks, it ain’t often I get called sensible! I appreciate it!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    I love getting glimpses into the depth of the Stones lyrics because I’m often not expecting that. And the energy bursting out of Yes as you describe, especially with Roundabout. I’ve found ways to incorporate their songs into my own personal soundtrack at big life moments, like when we moved to Europe in 2015 and Leave It for some reason stuck with me (the dreams we make real). Can’t wait to wrap this puppy up Bruce! Put it on the shelf and smile, adieu to ‘71. Hello hello heaven

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s a different kind of energy in 90125, isn’t there? Kind of motoring, autobahn-ish, maybe?
      Thanks for hanging with the series, Bill. I’m kind of looking forward to putting it to bed, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Yeah 90125 must be hard to swallow for the generation that grew up with those earlier records, whereas I was kind of immersed in them by way of that 90125 record. As far as comebacks go it’s pretty good though. That Owner of a Lonely Heart video was quite something. I think I was 12 when that came out. Around the time of Asia, too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It did take adjustment, for sure. But I really like it, perhaps seeing the band as a Yes variant. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Have you ever seen the cover of the Spanish release of Sticky Fingers?! Quite something. A couple of years ago, I visited the Muscle Shoals Sound studio (in Muscle Shoals, Alabama), where the Stones recorded Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, and You Gotta Move. Kind of thrilling.

    I discovered Fragile a couple of years after its release, when a friend played Roundabout for me…”What was that??!!”…days later, it became the very first rock album I bought. Every cut is a gem, from the opening of Roundabout to the lilting lyrics of We Have Heaven, to Steve Howe’s flamenco guitar on Mood For A Day, to Heart of The Sunrise, with its interesting rhythms and the reprise of We Have Heaven tucked in at the end. A true seminal work for me, one that opened the doors to much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was going to find a photo of either (a) that Sticky Fingers cover; or (b) the music press add where the band are holding the album in front of their (presumably) bare bums. In the end I did neither, but both certainly add to the mythology around one of the Stones finest efforts.

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  7. Two excellent records. If prompted to pick only on Stones album, I’d go with “Sticky Fingers” without much hesitation. Perhaps interestingly, it’s in part because of a tune that doesn’t represent the blues rock that made them famous: “Dead Flowers”, which has become one of my all-time favorite Stones songs. I just love the great guitar work on this track!

    I never got much into prog rock. Genesis and Yes are among the few bands in this genre I’ve repeatedly listened to over the decades. “Roundabout” is among my favorite Yes tunes. I think that song in and of itself is already worth “Fragile’s” price of admission.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great test, isn’t it? ‘You can only have one album by X. What will it be?’ I’d be tossing up between this and Exile, meself, but loving the Mick Taylor grooves on this one gives it the edge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I dig “Exile” as well. I’m not as excited about “Some Girls,” which appears to be quite popular among Stones fans.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Likewise. I also have a soft spot for ‘Their Satanic Majesties’ which is often derided. Ah well, that’s the ‘favourite’ hamster wheel. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I don’t know ‘Their Satanic Majesties’ very well. I love ‘She’s a Rainbow’ and also think ‘2000 Light Years from Home’ is kind of cool.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Exile beats Fingers for me Bruce, although Sister Morphine and Bitch are two of my very fave Stones songs – there was a great extended version of the latter, which is just perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I switcher between the two. I think the stripped back roots feel of Exile makes it just that bit more timeless. I wonder where Exile will settle next year?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I should point out that the 50th anniversary of my birth is the only musical event worth celebrating next year.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Goes without saying. I hear fireworks displays on every continent are planned.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Goodie! I’m pleased that Antarctica has signed up too.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. They were first to raise their flippers. Very progressive down there, in global warming circles.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t wish to blow my own trumpet Bruce, but try and set yourself a bit of time aside to re-read my Exile review. I know it’s a bit verbose, looking back on it now, but I am proud of some of the points I made.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Your intro to the musicians of Yes is perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

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