One of my favorite albums ever, Sticky Fingers, turned 50 in late April. The 1971 classic shares with Exile on Main Street a place atop the podium of best Rolling Stones albums. I first heard Sticky Fingers when I was about 15. Like many teenagers, I only cared about the greatest hits, or songs I heard on the radio. I didn’t come to fully appreciate the entire album until later in life. Now, “later in life,” Sticky Fingers stands firmly for me as one of the greatest albums ever produced. There are so many things that make it great, but I will try to succinctly summarize my thoughts.
What makes a great album to me is the entirety of its contents, not just the few hits sprinkled throughout. Every song is immaculate on this one. The album starts with the huge hit “Brown Sugar,” but also includes popular songs like “Wild Horses” and “Bitch.” But here is why I love this album: while I adore the aforementioned songs, my favorite tunes on Sticky Fingers – and some of my favorite Stones songs in general – were never big hits. And THAT makes a great album.
I credit Sticky Fingers with my current love for singer/songwriter/Americana music. The album deftly, yet seemingly effortlessly intermixes blues, rock, and country. It also made horns in rock music cool to me. In each Sticky Fingers song you can hear the inspiration behind the music of current bands/artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Lucero. 50 years later, this masterpiece continues to inspire and motivate. Jason Isbell, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, cites The Rolling Stones classic as his favorite album and the engine of inspiration for his songwriting.
In an era when rock music and just simple guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are drowned out by overproduced songs featuring drum machines and auto-tune, Sticky Fingers is a welcomed listen for “get off my lawn” music snobs like me.
I want to make some comments on a few of the songs. If I leave off a song, it’s not because I don’t like it. After all, I have already christened it one of the best of all-time. But I don’t think I need to promote songs like “Brown Sugar” or “Wild Horses.” Those are pretty well-known.
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
I guess this song is pretty well-known too, but I have to say: this is one of the greatest intros and guitar riffs in music history. In addition to the guitars, this really stands out as a Charlie Watts special. The Stones’ drummer has a very distinct style in today’s music world. He carries a very traditional sound on the drums. For example, he rarely hits the snare and hi-hats at the same time. You can also usually count on Watts to use the ride cymbal during the chorus. This song captures all of the signatory Charlie Watts drum components. Watch Jason Isbell cover Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.
I Got the Blues
There is no description I – or anyone else – can offer to give these songs the justice and praise they deserve. These are the songs that make this album one of the greats. Tucked at the end of the album, none of these songs were huge hits. So many people, like me when I was 15, never make it this far listening to an album. The hits are usually featured towards the beginning, around tracks 1-4.
These four songs are ridiculously good. This set of songs really accentuates the fact that the Stones are just as much an acoustic driven band as they are electric. The acoustic guitar figures very prominently in their catalogue, and these four songs (and “Wild Horses,” of course) are wonderful examples.
The melody and lyrics of “I Got the Blues” give me chills every time.
“Sister Morphine” might be my favorite Stones song. The first time you hear it, you don’t really expect the drums to come in later in the song. “Sister Morphine” also makes me think that this entire Stones record is very different, lyrically, than the previous releases. It is like Sticky Fingers was the album that, in retrospect, saw the Stones transition from Oldies music to Classic Rock music. Just like The Beatles. They have Oldies songs like “Help” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” But at some point they transitioned to becoming a Classic Rock band with songs like “Helter Skelter.” Anyways…..
“Dead Flowers” is perhaps the band’s most glaring differentiator. So many bands in the 60s and 70s had that blues-rock combo, which is featured prominently on all Stones records. Rarely did a band throw in the country vibe like the Stones do here. More specifically, rarely did a band throw in an entire song that is blatantly country. The Stones did this on a lot of records, but “Dead Flowers” might be the most prominent straightforward country song in their catalog. Okokok…”Country Honk” is up there too.
You can hear the country influence throughout the record, but “Moonlight Mile” is another track that accentuates the country influence more than others. Such a wonderful end to an album.
That’s it. I don’t know what else to say. This is a classic. Every time I hear a song – whether on the radio or on my shuffle – I want to listen to the entire album. The Stones had an insane 4-album run from 68-72. Every song on every one of those albums was good. Somehow, still, Sticky Fingers stands out.