Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sticky Fingers

If you feel like the Rolling Stones have been around forever, you aren't alone. A lot of us feel that way.

I saw the Stones perform in concert when I was in college — and they had been around so long by that time that much of their show consisted of songs that were already designated as "golden oldies."

Don't get me wrong. It was a good show, one of the best I have ever seen in person. But the Stones clearly were a nostalgia trip by that time.

You had to go back about a generation to find someone who could remember — vividly — when the Stones were new, a testosterone–enhanced version of the Beatles.

They built that image with a list of songs that seems, in hindsight, to have been destined for greatness, for inclusion among the all–time greats — "Satisfaction," "Sympathy For The Devil," "Gimme Shelter," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Honky Tonk Women" and others, of course.

When I saw them, they were still cranking out hits (that hasn't changed although the Stones' pace definitely has slowed in recent years), but there was no doubt that the Stones were a relic from another era. There were people in the crowd that day who were my age, but there were also people who were 20 or even 30 years older. Even then, the Stones had a remarkable reach that spanned generations.

I can only imagine what kind of age range is drawn to a Stones show these days — everything from 6 to 60 and beyond, I suppose.

Well, whatever the size of the crowd that may come to see a Stones show these days, the Stones have earned the attention — in no small part because of an album they released 40 years ago today, "Sticky Fingers."

It was the Stones' first studio album since "Let It Bleed," the album they had been promoting on their late 1969 tour, just before the deadly free concert at Altamont. That event seemed to disrupt, at least momentarily, the Stones' momentum. The only album they released between Altamont in 1969 and this day in 1971 was a recording of live tracks.

(That live album, by the way, was a great album. For many years, it was widely considered to be the best concert album ever made — and you can still find people who will tell you that.)

There were lots of great Stones albums and singles coming out in those days. In fact, if I had to name the most productive five–year period that the Stones have ever had, I would have to pick 1968 to 1972, which included the releases of four of their best studio albums — "Beggars Banquet," "Let It Bleed," "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street."

(Those four were, in my opinion, flawless, although some might argue that nearly every album the Stones released until about the mid–1970s was flawless or nearly so, and the same probably could be said of the albums that followed "Exile""Goats Head Soup" and "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.")

But "Sticky Fingers" was the first to be released on the Stones' very own, newly created recording label, and it featured a rather risque (for the time) album cover showing a jeans–clad, presumably male figure from the waist down with an actual zipper.

In spite of the controversy that I do remember erupting around me when that record was released, I don't remember being overly influenced by album cover art at that time. I was just starting to appreciate the popular music of the day, and I tended to think of an album in terms of which songs it contained, not its theme or message.

There were two great singles on "Sticky Fingers." A lot of people would tell you that "Brown Sugar" was the best, and there's good reason for saying that. It was certainly more commercially successful. It reached #1 on the charts, and it was more of an up–tempo song, the kind of a song that the Stones have always done so well.

But I always felt drawn more to "Wild Horses."

I don't know why that is. Could be several reasons for it, I guess. I was raised in the South, and "Wild Horses" had more of a country sound to it than anything else the Stones had done up to that time. I wasn't exactly a fan of country music when I was growing up, but it was familiar to me.

But the thing about "Wild Horses," you see, is that it is really more of a ballad, in my view — and that means that people can adapt it to fit their personal styles.

So many people have done so already — including Susan Boyle, who soared to worldwide fame after her appearance on "Britain's Got Talent" a couple of years ago.

Both songs have been standards on Stones tours for years now.