This is an unusually long Stones track, runing 7:14. Mick Jagger's work is done by 2:45, however, as the groove plays out for the next four-and-a-half minutes. The Stones were experimenting with different styles around this time, and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?" has a distinct Santana influence.
This featured Bobby Keys on sax, Rocky Dijon on percussion, and Billy Preston on organ. Keys, along with trumpet player Jim Price, joined The Stones on their 1970 European tour after performing on Sticky Fingers. His lengthy sax solo on this track wasn't planned out, but once he got going, he kept blowing while the tape ran and Keith Richards loved it.
Probably best not to read too much into the lyrics of this one, since even Mick Jagger isn't exactly sure what he wrote. As Robert Greenfield recounts
in his book Ain't It Time We Said Goodbye
, shortly before the album was released, someone realized that the lyrics for this song and a few others had not been filed, making them impossible to copyright. Members of the Stones camp were dispatched to write down the words by listening to the acetate pressings, and on this song, the best they could come up with for one of the lines near the end was "I've got flatted feet, now." Jagger insisted he didn't write that line, but couldn't remember what the real line was, so it stuck.
Andy Warhol designed the Sticky Fingers album cover. Before he started working on it, Mick Jagger send Warhol a note warning that a complicated design could cause nasty production delays, but nonetheless giving him total creative control. The artist responded with a cover that contained an actual working zipper, which of course was a production nightmare.
The cover, however, was one of the most memorable ever made. It showed a man wearing very tight jeans behind that working zipper - many folks assumed this was Mick Jagger, but it was actually Joe Dallesandro, a actor and Warhol cohort. Dallesandro appeared on the cover of the April 15, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone magazine; the album was released on April 23.
Stones producer Jimmy Miller played percussion on this track. In the '60's, Miller mixed records for The Spencer Davis Group and produced Steve Winwood's next group, Traffic.
The Stones played a truncated version of this song a few times before it was released on the Sticky Fingers album. These performances took place on their 11-date UK farewell tour before they left England to avoid taxes. After these shows, they didn't play it live again until 2002, at which point they could bring alone plenty of musicians to support it. They had percussionists on earlier tours, but didn't feel comfortable performing this song since anytime they rehearsed it, they either made stale attempts to duplicate the album version or did sloppy improvisations.
This was used in the movies Casino (1995), Blow (2001), Without a Paddle (2004) and The Fighter (2010).
Mick Taylor was lead guitarist for The Stones at the time. This was one of his earliest songs with the band - he replaced Brian Jones, who died in 1969.
In 1979, Taylor said: "Can't You Hear Me Knocking is one of my favorites. (The jam at the end) just happened by accident; that was never planned. Towards the end of the song I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing. A lot of people seem to really like that part." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France for above 2)
This appears in the video game Guitar Hero II.
With mentions of "cocaine eyes" and "speed-freak jive," this song contains some pretty obvious drug references, which makes sense considering the company the band was keeping at the time - pretty much everyone in their circle was doing drugs.