The year was 1971. Richard Nixon was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, a gallon of gas cost forty cents, a humble little resort called Walt Disney World opened up in Orlando, Florida, and a group of five eccentric, rough-and-tumble rock-n-rollers from across the pond released their eleventh American studio album.
Fast forward forty-four years and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers is back with the same bite and twang that kept listeners glued to their 8-tracks, this time comprised of remastered editions of original tracks alongside previously unreleased recordings and live bonus material.
The hit track off Sticky Fingers is the opening Brown Sugar, a jam whose opening riff alone makes it nearly impossible to resist grooving along with each bluesy whine. The mix of smooth licks and staccato jolts makes the guitar work infectious, nearly as heavy and risqué as the controversial lyrics that are still capable of turning heads today. It’s rock-n-roll incarnate, but in the track, the Stones also manage to incorporate the innumerable other genres they played with over the span of their career, from disco to pure punk.
The 2015 re-release also housed an alternate edition of the track featuring guitarist Eric Clapton, a musician so legendary he was inducted into the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame…three times. Rumors of the collaboration have flitted amongst classic rock fans for decades, but the track, first recorded in 1970, was finally officially released with the deluxe re-release this year. While the track comes as a treat for fans of Clapton, whose guitar work, as always, is full of finesse, it is missing the signature grit and guttural feel that drives the released edition. With Clapton’s slide, the song feels simultaneously cluttered and clean, missing the signature bluesy pluck of the original release.
While many wouldn’t consider the Rolling Stones a band likely to reduce an individual to tears, the previously unreleased acoustic version of Wild Horses is gorgeous, raw, and stripped down. The distorted solo of the original is swapped for a plucky acoustic harmony that feels lonesome and angsty, giving the song a long-lasting emotional echo. Sparse and stripped, the track is actually quite lovely and triumphantly defiant, full of the loss and longing of youth.
The re-release also includes an extended version of Bitch, one of the original release’s most iconic. With the added minutes, the horns take the time to really play around with scales, feeling out the full breadth of the instrumental. (It’s worth noting here, though, that the lyrics are weaker, differing from the original release. These detrimental little differences really impact the overall bite of the song. Gone are clever quips like “Yeah, when you call my name/I salivate like a Pavlov dog.”)
Other standouts include the always staggering Sister Morphine, a stomach-churning, spooky ballad with a ghostly guitar and a dark, empty sound and a terrific live edition of Stray Cat Blues recorded at a 1971 show at the Roundhouse in London, a track that manages to pack the wanderlust punch of Americana rhythm and blues straight from the mouth of an Englishman.
Forty four years later, it seems the Stones are destined to keep rolling and our fingers are meant to stay sticky after all.
Goes Well With a Side Of: Cream, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, and obscenely tight leather pants.