The lyric is about slaves from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters. The subject matter is quite serious, but the way the song is structured, it comes off as a fun rocker about a white guy having sex with a black girl. (thanks, Phil - Palo Alto, CA)
Mick Jagger wrote the lyric. According to Bill Wyman, it was partially inspired by a black backup singer named Claudia Lennear, who was one of Ike Turner's backup singers (Ikettes). Jagger and her met when The Stones toured with Turner in 1969. David Bowie also wrote his Aladdin Sane
track "Lady Grinning Soul
" about her.
American-born singer Marsha Hunt is also sometimes cited as the inspiration for the song. She and Jagger met when she was a member of the cast in the London production of the musical Hair
, and their relationship, a closely guarded secret until 1972, resulted in a daughter, Karis.
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." (thanks, Kyle - Wichita, KS)
The Stones recorded this in the musically rich but luxury deprived city of Sheffield, Alabama, where Jerry Wexler of The Stones' label, Atlantic Records, often sent his acts. The Rolling Stones arrived in Sheffield on December 2, 1969, stayed until the 4th, then performed their fateful Altamont Speedway concert on December 6, where they performed this song live for the first time. At the show, a fan was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angels security guard.
During their three days in Alabama, The Stones recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which opened in May, 1969 when four of the musicians from FAME Studios left to establish their own company. "Wild Horses
" and "You Gotta Move
" also came out of these sessions, making it a very productive stop. The engineer at the Muscle Shoals sessions was Jimmy Johnson, the producer/guitarist who was one of the studio's founders. The Rolling Stones engineer Glyn Johns added overdubs in England (including horns), but he left Johnson's mix intact. Johnson says that Johns called him from England to compliment him on the mix.
Even though this was recorded in December, 1969, The Stones did not release it until April, 1971 because of a legal dispute with their former manager, Allen Klein, over royalties. Recording technology had advanced by then, but they didn't re-record it because the original version was such a powerful take.
Mick Jagger started writing this while he was filming the movie Ned Kelly in the Australian outback. He's been in a few movies, including Performance, Freejack and The Man From Elysian Fields.
In Keith Richards' 2010 autobiography Life, it floats a theory as to what the lyrics "Scarred old slaver know he doin' alright" are all about. Some poor guy at their publishing company probably came up with that transcription for the lyrics, but Jagger was most likely singing, "Skydog Slaver," as "Skydog" was a nickname for Muscle Shoals regular Duane Allman, since he was high all the time. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
A year after this was first recorded, The Stones cut another version at Olympic Studios in London with Eric Clapton on guitar and Al Kooper
on keyboards. It was considered for release as the single.
Originally, Mick Jagger wrote this as "Black Pussy." He decided that was a little too direct and changed it to "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.
The album cover was designed by Andy Warhol. It was a close-up photo of a man wearing tight jeans, and contained a real zipper. This caused considerable problems in shipping, but was the kind of added value that made the album much more desirable. You don't get this kind of stuff with CDs.
Sticky Fingers also marked the first appearance of the famous tongue and lips logo, which was printed on the inner sleeve. The logo was designed by John Pasche, who was fresh out of art school (the Royal College of Art in London).
This was used in commercials for Kahlua and Pepsi. The Stones have made big bucks licensing their songs for ads. (thanks, whitney - Houston, TX)
The fortunate souls who got to see The Rolling Stones on their 9-date UK tour in 1971 got a preview of this song, since it was included on the setlist even though Sticky Fingers wouldn't be released for another month.
This was one of four songs The Stones had to agree not to play when they were allowed to perform in China. After getting approval to play in China for the first time in 2003, they canceled because of SARS, a respiratory illness that was going around the country.
Jimmy Johnson, who was a guitar player for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as "The Swampers"), engineered the sessions that produced this song as well as "Wild Horses" and "You Gotta Move." Johnson worked with many artists, including Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Johnnie Taylor. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
This has been covered by Mos Def and ZZ Top. Bob Dylan often performed it on his 2002 US tour. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)
In 327BC Alexander the Great came across the cultivation of sugar cane in India. From this reed, a dark brown sugar was extracted from the cane by chewing and sucking. Some of this "sweet reed" was sent back to Athens. This was the first time a European had come across sugar. (From the book Food for Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World
by Ed Pearce)
The bootleg version which has Eric Clapton playing lead slide guitar was recorded at a birthday party for Keith Richards. It is widely considered to have been part of an informal audition by Clapton to become The Stones second guitarist. The bootleg version shows why Clapton likely did not get offered the job, or withdrew himself from consideration. While Clapton plays a million notes a minute, his lead has almost no interaction with the rest of the band. It is like a studio musician simply playing along with a CD that has already been recorded. In many interviews, Richards has spoken admiringly of his good friend Clapton's musicianship, but has always commented that the 2-guitar sound he and Ron Wood have developed is not Eric's cup of tea. (thanks, David - Orlando, FL)