Friday, August 27, 2010

Brown Sugar

An opening riff that is one of the best known in rock, a guaranteed foot tapper and rock classic from the Stones, ranked No 490 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Not bad for what is today a mainstream song, notwithstanding that its subject matter of interracial sex, oral sex, slave rape, sadomasochism, lost virginity and heroin use make it completely non PC.

And it has an Australian connection.

Hear and see it by clicking on:

Mick Jagger wrote Brown Sugar in 1969 when he was filming Ned Kelly in Australia. It was recorded in 1969 just before the infamous Altamont Speedway concert and was debuted at that concert. However it wasn’t released until the 1971 Sticky Fingers album due to a dispute with their former manager Allen Klein over royalties. Although Richards is also credited in the songwriting, the song is wholly Jagger’s.

The song has such a good beat, great riffs and general catchiness that people don’t really listen to the lyrics. Its catchiness has elevated it beyond its controversial lyrics and subject matter, so much so that the song has never really attracted much controversy or flak.

Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
sold in a market down in New Orleans
scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright
hear him whip the women, just around midnight

ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good?
ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should

drums beating cold English blood runs hot
lady of the house wonderin' where it's gonna stop
house boy knows that he's doing alright
you should a heard him just around midnight

ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good?
ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should
ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good?
ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should

i bet your mama was a tent show queen
and all her girlfriends were sweet sixteen
i'm no school boy but i know what i like
you should have heard me just around midnight

ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good?
ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should

i said yeah, yeah, yeah, whew
how come you... how come you taste so good?
i said yeah, yeah, yeah, whew
just like a black girl should
Some comments, facts and trivia about the song:

-  In 1993 Mick Jagger said in the liner notes to the compilation disc Jump Back:
"The lyric was all to do with the dual combination of drugs and girls. This song was a very instant thing, a definite high point."
-  From a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone magazine:
“I wrote that song in Australia in the middle of a field. They were really odd circumstances. I was doing this movie, Ned Kelly, and my hand had got really damaged in this action sequence. So stupid. I was trying to rehabilitate my hand and had this new kind of electric guitar, and I was playing in the middle of the outback and wrote this tune. …

I never would write that song now. I would probably censor myself. I'd think, "Oh God, I can't. I've got to stop. I can't just write raw like that."
-  Mick Jagger in 1969, on the way to the studio:
“I've got a new one myself. No words yet, but a few words in my head - called Brown Sugar - about a woman who screws one of her black servants. I started to call it Black Pussy but I decided that was too direct, too nitty-gritty.”
-  Mick Jagger in 2003:
"At the end of the '60s I had a little more time to sit around and play my guitar, writing songs rather than just lyrics for the first time. I'd written songs before then, but they were little things like Yesterday's Papers. Now I could take it more seriously. Brown Sugar was one of those songs. I wrote it in Australia, somewhere between Melbourne and Sydney, while I was in my trailer filming Ned Kelly - I had a whole bunch of time out there. I was simply writing what I wanted to write, not trying to test the waters. People are very quick to react to what you write, but I just write what comes into my head."
-  Jagger sometimes changes the lyrics when performing the song: 
“Hear him whip the women, just around midnight” to “You shoulda heard him just around midnight:

“Just like a young girl should” to “Just like a young man should” following the second verse.
-  According to the review at allmusic:
“The crowning embellishment is the final choruses, which vary the melody and tempo so that the group sings and make a high-pitched exclamation in a rhythm that very much resembles that of a sexual climax. …

The brilliance of the track is that it is so musically powerful and irresistible that the most PC-conscious listener will find it hard not to dance to it before getting around to pondering the lyrics. But it can't be denied that the words are among the most troubling evocations of evil and sexploitation that Jagger and Richards devised, whether that was a conscious or subconscious effect.”

-  The lyrics refer to the delights of interracial sex, with analogies to slaves transported from Africa, sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters.

The lyrics were inspired by Claudia Lennear, one of Ike Turner's backup singers (Ikettes) with whom he had an affair. They met when The Stones toured with Turner in 1969.

-  The lyrics also refer to heroin, “brown sugar”.

-  According to the book Up And Down With The Rolling Stones by Tony Sanchez, all the slavery and whipping is a double meaning for the perils of being "mastered" by Brown Heroin, or Brown Sugar.

-  Jagger wrote the riffs for Brown Sugar.

-  This was the first song released on Rolling Stones Records, The Stones subsidiary label of Atlantic Records. They used the now-famous tongue for their logo.

-  As an indication of how times and attitudes change, or possibly that moral indignation is at times selective, the song was used in a Pepsi commercial with a fly singing a cover version after drinking some spilled Pepsi.

-  One final item: there is an interesting video clip at:

The reason that the clip is interesting, apart from Jagger doing a 7 minute version of Brown Sugar during the 2006 Bigger Bang tour, is that it opens with little kids rocking to the song and closes with the entire audience repeatedly doing the high pitched “oooh” in unison at the end of the song that is representative of the orgasm mentioned above.

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