For The Record: Inside The Wild Ride Behind The Rolling Stones' 'Sticky Fingers' At 50

The Rolling Stones in 1972


Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


For The Record: Inside The Wild Ride Behind The Rolling Stones' 'Sticky Fingers' At 50

'Sticky Fingers,' the Rolling Stones' chart-topping 1971 album, is an essential and dangerous rock and roll project that marked a rebirth for the iconic band

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2021 - 02:58 am

The succession of high-profile drug busts and tragedies that shadowed the Rolling Stones in the late 1960s came to a head with the 1971 release of the band's 11th U.S. album, Sticky Fingers.

Recorded amid the disastrous Altamont concert aftermath and between famously debauched concert tours of the U.S. and Europe, Sticky Fingers is every bit as raw as the band's lives were at the time. The smoky barroom swagger of "Sway," the twitchy riffs and raspy vocals of "Bitch," and the grooving yet grimy "Brown Sugar" reflect just how wild the rock and roll ride had become for the band.

A drug bust in 1967 that ensnared Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was a prelude to the years that followed. Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones drowned in his swimming pool two years later, less than a month after the Stones fired him for excessive drug use, which had led to dwindling involvement with the group; he barely showed up to sessions for Let It Bleed, the band's 10th U.S. album, which was released in the months following his death.

Eager for a fresh start and desperate for cash, the Stones played a now-legendary concert at Hyde Park in London and hit the U.S. for their first tour in two years during the latter half of 1969. Chaos followed the band, culminating in a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in the hills between Livermore and Tracy, California. Billed as a sort of West Coast Woodstock, with a lineup featuring Jefferson Airplane, Santana and the Grateful Dead, the concert instead punctuated the end of the hippie peace-and-love era.

Clashes between members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, which was hired as concert security at the event, and audience members created an atmosphere so charged, the Grateful Dead chose not to perform, even though they had helped organize the event. One biker assaulted Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin while others took aim at concertgoers like Meredith Hunter, who was stabbed to death in front of the stage during the Stones' performance.

The tragedy followed the triumph of the first recording sessions for Sticky Fingers, which had begun four days earlier at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Florence, Alabama.

Opened earlier that year by a group of session musicians known as the Swampers, who had backed Aretha Franklin on "Respect," the studio was hungry for its first hit. With the Rolling Stones, they got two: "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses," the album's two singles, were tracked at Muscle Shoals, alongside a faithful cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move," between December 2-4.

"Brown Sugar" has the distinction of being one of the most controversial songs to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked in May 1971. Musically, the song is a Stones master class that builds on a signature Richards guitar riff. By the time Bobby Keys blows his climactic saxophone solo, the guitars are playing off each other, percussion and piano are clanging away underneath, and Jagger is howling his head off.

The song's lyrics, however, are another matter. Although Marsha Hunt, a British actress of African descent, with whom Jagger fathered a child in 1970, is credited as the muse behind "Brown Sugar," the song is rife with allusions and outright explicit references to slavery, sex and drugs that were indefensible even half a century ago. In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger called the lyrics "a mishmash" that combines "all the nasty subjects in one go." He appears to have cooled on his lyrical concept over the years, though; in the same interview, he said he "never would write that song now."

At the other end of the spectrum, the country-tinged "Wild Horses" and the album-closing ballad "Moonlight Mile" show a more introspective Jagger, wistful and longing on the former and road-weary on the latter. Acoustic guitars provide the foundation for both songs, as well as "Dead Flowers" and "Sister Morphine," while tremulous guitars and ascending horns accent the otherwise sparse, pleading soul of "I Got the Blues."

Read: Pink Floyd's 'The Wall': For The Record

Sticky Fingers also marked several key personnel changes in the Rolling Stones universe. The ouster and subsequent death of Brian Jones led them to hire guitarist Mick Taylor, of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, who refueled the band's energy.

Taylor stepped into the role fully on Sticky Fingers, providing nuances like the chiming harmonics on "Wild Horses" and setting the jam-band template with his extended guitar solo on the seven-minute "Can You Hear Me Knocking" over a single-chord vamp. He played all the guitars on "Moonlight Mile" after an increasingly unreliable Richards failed to show up to sessions at Stargroves, Jagger's English countryside home, and often nodded off while high on heroin when he did. Taylor would have to step up more in the coming years as his bandmate's habit grew.

The end of the group's relationship with record label executive Allen Klein and his ABKCO label also gave lift to the band and began the modern era of the Rolling Stones. Sticky Fingers was the first album released on Rolling Stones Records, which debuted the iconic lips-and-tongue logo, designed by John Pasche.

Despite landing right in the middle of what many fans consider their golden era—the four-album run from 1968-1972 that also included Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile on Main St.Sticky Fingers marked a rebirth for the Rolling Stones; the album's legacy and impact would continue to evolve in the decades to come.

Sticky Fingers reentered the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 in 2015 following a massive reissue campaign. The Deluxe reissue includes alternate takes, such as "Brown Sugar" recorded with Eric Clapton on guitar and an extended version of "Bitch," alongside live tracks recorded in 1971. The Super Deluxe reissue adds a bonus 13-song live recording from a gig at the University of Leeds that same year.

And while the band members' personal habits veered further off the rails in the Exile on Main St. period and throughout the '70s, "the Rolling Stones" as a corporation grew into a recording, touring, promotion, and merchandising machine. By the end of the decade, the Rolling Stones were a stadium act—and they haven't turned back since.

The Doors' Self-Titled Debut: For The Record


GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards