Sticky Fingers is the ninth British and 11th American studio album by the English rock band The Rolling Stones, released in April 1971. It is the band's first album of the 1970s and its first release on the band's newly formed label, Rolling Stones Records, after having been contracted since 1963 with Decca Records in the UK and London Records in the US. It is also Mick Taylor's first full-length appearance on a Rolling Stones album, the first Rolling Stones album not to feature any contributions from guitarist and founder Brian Jones and the first one on which singer Mick Jagger is credited with playing guitar.
Sticky Fingers is widely regarded as one of the Rolling Stones' best albums. It achieved triple platinum certification in the US and contains songs such as the chart-topping "Brown Sugar", the country ballad "Dead Flowers", "Wild Horses", "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", and the sweeping ballad "Moonlight Mile".
With the end of their Decca/London association at hand, The Rolling Stones were finally free to release their albums (cover art and all) as they pleased. However, their departing manager Allen Klein dealt the group a major blow when they discovered that they had inadvertently signed over their entire 1960s copyrights to Klein and his company ABKCO, which is how all of their material from 1963's "Come On" to Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert has since been released solely by ABKCO Records. The band would remain incensed with Klein for decades for that act.
When Decca informed The Rolling Stones that they were owed one more single, they cheekily submitted a track called "Cocksucker Blues", which was guaranteed to be refused. Instead, Decca released the two-year-old Beggars Banquet track "Street Fighting Man" while Klein retained dual copyright ownership in conjunction with The Rolling Stones of "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses".
Although sessions for Sticky Fingers began in earnest in March 1970, The Rolling Stones had been recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in December 1969. "Sister Morphine", cut during Let It Bleed's sessions earlier in March of that year, had been held over from this release. Much of the recording for Sticky Fingers was made with The Rolling Stones' mobile studio unit in Stargroves during the summer and autumn of 1970. Early versions of songs that would eventually appear on Exile on Main St. were also rehearsed during these sessions.
The album's artwork emphasises the suggestive innuendo of the Sticky Fingers title, showing a close-up of a jeans-clad male crotch with the visible outline of a medium-sized penis; the cover of the original (vinyl LP) release featured a working zipper and perforations around the belt buckle that opened to reveal a sub-cover image of cotton briefs. The vinyl release displayed the band's name and album title along the image of the belt; behind the zipper the white briefs were seemingly rubber stamped in gold with the stylized name of American pop artist Andy Warhol, below which read "THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE—ETC." While the artwork was conceived by Warhol, photography was by Billy Name and design was by Craig Braun. Braun and his team had other ideas, such as wrapping the album in rolling paper - a concept later used by Cheech & Chong in Big Bambu - but Jagger was enthused by Warhol's cover with a zipper. Execution was then handled as Warhol sent Braun Polaroid pictures of a model in tight jeans.
The cover photo of a male model's crotch clad in tight blue jeans was assumed by many fans to be an image of Mick Jagger, but the people actually involved at the time of the photo shoot claim that Warhol had several different men photographed (Jagger was not among them) and never revealed which shots he used. Among the candidates, Jed Johnson, Warhol's lover at the time, denied it was his likeness, although his twin brother Jay is a possibility. Those closest to the shoot, and subsequent design, name Factory artist and designer Corey Tippin as the likeliest candidate. Warhol "superstar" Joe Dallesandro claims to have been the model.
After retailers complained that the zipper was causing damage to the vinyl (from stacked shipments of the record), the zipper was "unzipped" slightly to the middle of the record, where damage would be minimised.
For the initial vinyl release the album title and band name is smaller and at the top on the American release. The UK release the title and band name are in bigger letters and on the left.
The album features the first usage of the "tongue & lips" logo of Rolling Stones Records, originally designed by John Pasche in 1970. Jagger suggested to Pasche that he copy the outstuck tongue of the Hindu goddess Kali, and while Pasche first felt it would date the image back to the Indian culture craze of the 1960s, seeing Kali made him change his mind. Before the end of that year his basic version was faxed to Craig Braun by Marshall Chess. The black & white copy was then modified by Braun and his team, resulting in today's most popular red version, the slim one with the two white stripes on the tongue. Critic Sean Egan has said of the logo, "Without using the Stones' name, it instantly conjures them, or at least Jagger, as well as a certain lasciviousness that is the Stones' own ... It quickly and deservedly became the most famous logo in the history of popular music." The tongue and lips design was part of a package that, in 2003, VH1 named the "No. 1 Greatest Album Cover" of all time.
In Spain, the original cover was censored by the Franco regime and replaced with a "Can of fingers" cover, designed by John Pasche and Phil Jude, and "Sister Morphine" was replaced by a live version of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock". This version was released on the compilation album Rarities 1971–2003 in 2005.
In 1992, the LP release of the album in Russia featured a similar treatment as the original cover; but with Cyrillic lettering for the band name and album name, a colourised photograph of blue jeans with a zipper, and a Soviet Army uniform belt buckle that shows a hammer and sickle inscribed in a star. The model appears to be female.
Sticky Fingers hit the number one spot on the British charts in May 1971, remaining there for four weeks before returning at number one for a further week in mid June. In the US, the album hit number one within days of release, and stayed there for four weeks. In Germany it was one of only two non-German albums to reach number one in 1971.
In a contemporary review for the Los Angeles Times, music critic Robert Hilburn said that although Sticky Fingers is one of the best rock albums of the year, it is only "modest" by the Rolling Stones' standards and succeeds on the strength of songs such as "Bitch" and "Dead Flowers", which recall the band's previously uninhibited, furious style. Jon Landau, writing in Rolling Stone, felt that it lacks the spirit and spontaneity of the Rolling Stones' previous two albums and, apart from "Moonlight Mile", is full of "forced attempts at style and control" in which the band sounds disinterested, particularly on formally correct songs such as "Brown Sugar". In a positive review, Lynn Van Matre of the Chicago Tribune viewed the album as the band "at their raunchy best" and wrote that, although it is "hardly innovative", it is consistent enough to be one of the year's best albums.
Sticky Fingers was voted the second best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1971. Lester Bangs voted it number one in the poll and said that it was his most played album of the year. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked the album 17th on his own year-end list. In a 1975 article for The Village Voice, Christgau suggested that the release was "triffling with decadence", but might be the Rolling Stones' best album, approached only by Exile on Main St. (1972). In his 1980 review of the album, he wrote that it reflected how unapologetic the band was after the Altamont Free Concert and that, despite the concession to sincerity with "Wild Horses", songs such as "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "I Got the Blues" are as "soulful" as "Good Times", and their cover of "You Gotta Move" is on-par with their previous covers of "Prodigal Son" and "Love in Vain".
In 1994, Sticky Fingers was ranked number ten in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums. He stated, "Dirty rock like this has still to be bettered, and there is still no rival in sight." In a retrospective review, Q magazine said that the album was "the Stones at their assured, showboating peak ... A magic formula of heavy soul, junkie blues and macho rock". NME wrote that it "captures the Stones bluesy swagger" in a "dark-land where few dare to tread". Record Collector magazine said that it showcases Jagger and Richards as they "delve even further back to the primitive blues that first inspired them and step up their investigations into another great American form, country." In his review for Goldmine magazine, Dave Thompson wrote that the album still is superior to "most of The Rolling Stones’ catalog". In 2003, Sticky Fingers was listed as No. 63 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In 1994, Sticky Fingers was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records. This remaster was initially released in a Collector's Edition CD, which replicated in miniature many elements of the original vinyl album packaging, including the zipper. Sticky Fingers was remastered again in 2009 by Universal Music Enterprises and in 2011 by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese-only SHM-SACD version.
In June 2015, the Rolling Stones reissued Sticky Fingers (in its 2009 remastering) in a variety of formats to coincide with a new concert tour, the Zip Code Tour. The Deluxe and Super Deluxe versions of the reissue featured previously unreleased bonus material (depending on the format): alternative takes of some songs, live tracks recorded on 14 March 1971 at the Roundhouse, London, and the complete 13 March 1971 show at Leeds University. It re-entered the UK Albums chart at #7, extending their UK Top 10 album chart span beyond 51 years and 2 months since their self-titled debuted at #7 on April 23, 1964. It also re-entered the US Albums chart at #5, extending their US Top 10 album chart span beyond 50 years and 6 months since 12 x 5 on December 14, 1964.
The album has sold close to 9.5 million copies worldwide since 1971 and ranks as their 2nd best selling studio album behind of Some Girls.
All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except where noted.
2015 Deluxe edition bonus disc:
2015 Super Deluxe edition bonus disc (Live at Leeds University, 1971):The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger – lead vocals; percussion on "Brown Sugar"; rhythm guitar on "Sway"; acoustic guitar on "Dead Flowers" and "Moonlight Mile"
Keith Richards – rhythm guitar, backing vocals; acoustic guitar on "Brown Sugar", "You Gotta Move", "I Got the Blues" and "Sister Morphine"; twelve string acoustic guitar on "Wild Horses"; lead guitar on "Brown Sugar", "Wild Horses", the first part of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "Bitch"
Mick Taylor – lead guitar on Sway, Dead Flowers, Moonlight Mile; acoustic guitar on "Wild Horses"; rhythm guitar on the first part and lead guitar on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and rhythm guitar on "Bitch"; slide guitar on "Sway" and "You Gotta Move"
Bill Wyman – bass guitar; electric piano on "You Gotta Move"
Charlie Watts – drums
Paul Buckmaster – string arrangement on "Sway" and "Moonlight Mile"
Ry Cooder – slide guitar on "Sister Morphine"
Jim Dickinson – piano on "Wild Horses"
Rocky Dijon – congas on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
Nicky Hopkins – piano on "Sway", "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
Bobby Keys – saxophone
Jimmy Miller – percussion on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
Jack Nitzsche – piano on "Sister Morphine"
Billy Preston – organ on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "I Got the Blues"
Jim Price – trumpet, piano on "Moonlight Mile"
Ian Stewart – piano on "Brown Sugar" and "Dead Flowers"
Engineers – Glyn Johns, Andy Johns, Chris Kimsey, Jimmy Johnson
Doug Sax - Mastering Engineer
Cover concept/photography – Andy Warhol