Sticky Fingers. I read a quote from Chris Hillman recently where said “the 60s took a left turn in 1968.” True enough, but I wonder whether what he’s talking about is really the sharpening of a turn that began earlier. Thinking about The Rolling Stones made me reflect on this quote because of the way their sinister image seemed to predict the ‘left turn’ several years before it happened. It’s commonplace by now to point out that there’s always been something sinister in the air with The Rolling Stones. Still, starting on Beggar’s Banquet, released at the presumed beginning of the left turn, their darkness becomes more manifest, with the Nietzchean historical scope of “Sympathy for the Devil,” and the violence, rape and decay represented in “Street Fighting Man”, “Stray Cat Blues”, and “Dear Doctor.” The balefulness is then ratcheted up a notch on Let it Bleed. 'I’ll stick my knife right down your throat,' Mick spews at the end of “Midnight Rambler,” one of the album's two or three genuinely scary songs. …The Summer of Love was only two years in the rear view mirror by then, but the notion of ‘letting it bleed’ (or bloodletting) must’ve made that world of peace and flowers seem distant and quaint.
If you could choose only one Rolling Stones album as their definitive Great Collapse record, a great case could be made for either Beggar’s Banquet or Let it Bleed. But in my mind the distinction goes to Sticky Fingers, the third volume in this ‘Collapse Trilogy.’ Part of this is just personal preference. When I’m in the mood for late-60s Stones (which is an important distinction to make), Sticky Fingers is usually where I go. But the reason I love the album as much as I do is that it’s their most fully realized expression of the period. It all starts with the statement of intent made with the notorious bulge ‘n zipper album cover, an assertion of the primacy of unbridled libido, Mick’s cock symbolizing debauchery as the only thing that matters anymore. “Brown Sugar” continues the blithe depravity with its sharp, choppy riff and lyrics using master-slave imagery as a metaphor for interracial sex. The line, ‘brown sugar, how come you taste so good?’ still brings a smirk to my face, (one part guilt, one part sly satisfaction), as does the story I once heard that Mick and Keith initially wanted to call the song “Black Pussy.”
Although Rolling Stones records going all the way back to Aftermath, if not before, are all probably soaked in drugs, this feels especially true of the albums in their Collapse Trilogy, and I think the druggy vibe reaches a peak, at least as a creative force, on Sticky Fingers. But we are no longer talking about the hashish clouds hanging over "Ruby Tuesday"and "She Smiled Sweetly", nor the psychedelia of "Dandelion" and "2000 Light Years." Instead, Sticky Fingers paints a scene of people with ‘cocaine eyes’, speaking ‘speed freak jive.’ What’s amazing to me – admirable even – is how aware the band seemed to be of their own decadence at the time. ‘It’s just that demon life has got me in its sway’ is one of the greatest stoned harmonies you’ll ever hear from Mick and Keith. Part of the self-awareness, though, entails a harrowing recognition of consequences. 'You know and I know in the morning I’ll be dead,' Mick cries on “Sister Morphine.” …Maybe the greatness of ‘Collapse-period Stones’, and Sticky Fingers in particular, is that they know they’re inching closer to the abyss, but they embrace it lovingly, as the realization of their destiny.