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Sister Morphine by The Rolling Stones

Album: Sticky FingersReleased: 1971
  • Marianne Faithfull recorded this during The Stones' Let It Bleed sessions (she was Mick Jagger's girlfriend at the time). Her version was released in 1969 and tanked. Decca Records pulled it after 2 weeks.
  • The song is about a man who gets in a car accident and dies in the hospital while asking for morphine.
  • Mick Jagger wrote the music in Rome in 1968. Marianne Faithful wrote the lyrics, but The Stones did not give her an official songwriting credit until they released it on their 1998 live album No Security. The Stones were very protective about songwriting credits - they made sure most of their songs were credited to Jagger/Richards.
  • Faithfull was not a heavy drug user when she wrote the lyrics, but became an addict in 1971, at the same time The Stones' version was released. She called this her "Frankenstein," consuming her and leading her into an abyss of drugs. In later years, she was able to break the habit resume a successful career as both a singer and an actress.
  • Some of the lyrics were inspired by the time Anita Pallenberg, Keith's girlfriend, was hospitalized and given morphine.
  • Ry Cooder played the bottleneck guitar on this track. He was filling in for the drug-addled Brian Jones, who died before this song was released, but after it was written. This was the only song on Sticky Fingers that Mick Taylor, who replaced Jones, didn't play on. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
  • The Stones recorded this in 1968, but their version was not released until 1971.
  • This was left off the Spanish release of Sticky Fingers because of the explicit content. It was replaced with "Let It Rock."
  • The Sticky Fingers album had an actual zipper on the cover. On many copies, this track was damaged because the zipper pressed into it. To solve the problem, the zipper was opened before the album shipped, this way it just dented the label.
  • This was influenced by the Velvet Underground, who were writing dark songs about drugs, especially heroin.
  • Marianne Faithfull recalled writing the song to The Guardian newspaper in January 2013: "I just liked the name, and loved Lou Reed's work, 'Sister Ray and 'Heroin.' I liked the idea poetically. I thought it was like Baudelaire, but the song doesn't glamorise anything. It was a really interesting vision."
  • Not long after writing the song, the lyrics came painfully true to Marianne Faithfull. She recalled to The Guardian: "The story is about a man in a car accident in hospital, who's very damaged and wants to die. It isn't exactly what happened to me, but my feelings about it are probably the same. I was hospitalised in Sydney after an attempted suicide after Brian Jones died. It was a terrible time."
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Comments: 15

Taken from Original Rolling Stone Review [June 10, 1971]: "This was supposed to be stark, intense and realistic. Some hear it that way. I find it lyrically convincing, but labored to the point of being unlistenable musically. Perhaps that is part of the conception: obviously, a song about morphine should not be pleasant to hear. The question is, is the song unpleasant because it makes us uncomfortable emotionally, or simply because it is an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to depict reality through music?"Deethewriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
In his 1995 Rolling Stone interview, MJ says that Marianne contributed the line "sweet cousin cocaine" but that otherwise the song was his (words and music). This would stand to reason as Marianne was very fond of cocaine in the sixties. In her bio, she states she started using H in the late sixties, and was on serious nod during the Hyde Park concert.

I've often wondered about the connection between "Sister Morphine" and "your jaded, faded junkie nurse".

I think it was originally recorded in the 1968 'Beggars' sessions. Keith is not on it, as apparently he and Ry Cooder didn't hit it off. This would have been the same time as "Memo From Turner" and the "Jamming with Edward" sessions.
Paul - Boston, Ma
I'm glad Marianne Faithfull has finally got witing credit for this song along with Jagger/Richards, she wrote tyhe lyrics...Must of been an interesting time for the Stones and their people....truly a lot of substances around that time..Jim - Long Beach, Ca
well it..just goes to show..things are not..what they seeem.Harold - San Bernadino, Ca
Love this song, had to do a search while hearing it tonight. Great comments. Mick, ry, keith, and mick2 are great.Michael - Farmington, Mi
Marianne Faithfull said told INTERVIEW MAGAZINE that, although the Stones did not originally credit her with co-writing this song, Keith Richards made sure she got paid royalties.Susan - Toronto, Canada
This song is hauntingly beautiful. It seemed that every song on Sticky Fingers was a drug reference. Sister Morphine is probably the druggiest song the Stones every did.George - Little Rock, Ar
The "treatment" on the piano is just a ton of Reverb...I personally love the way Ry makes an electric slide guitar sound like an electric piano...and the great sound of Keith on that Nashville-tuned acoustic, banging out the open Am7-Am chords...FYI Nashville-tuning, also referred to as "high-strung" tuning, involves replacing the 4 lowest strings on the guitar, usually an acoustic, with the high strings from a 12-string set, which are tuned an octave higher. As Keith puts it, "it gives the sweet sound of a 12-string without the boominess underneath". Keith employed it a lot; also Mick Taylor used it for one of the acoustics on "Wild Horses". The other acoustic on "Horses" is in Open-G tuning.Andrew - New York, United States
Ry Cooder was not sitting in for Brian Jones. Brian Jones was six feet under in 1971. Mick Taylor was the lead guitarist at the time of this album. Keith Richards played rhythm and occasional lead.Richard - Louisville, Ky
This is my favorite Stones song, and I have a lot of songs I really love by them. It's so beautifiul, and yet very very haunting. It starts off slow on acoustic only, then builds momentum when Ry Cooder starts in on the slide guitar, and finally it gets moving when the rest of the band joins in with Jack Nitzsche on that really creepy sounding treated piano. That piano has to be one of the creepiest sounding instruments used in any rock and roll song.

Best line in the song:
Ah, come on, Sister Morphine, you better make up my bed
'Cause you know and I know in the morning I'll be dead
Yeah, and you can sit around, yeah and you can watch all the
Clean white sheets stained red.
Chad - Eagan, Mn
Cocaine was in the past used as a local anesthetic (and may still be used in some countries)... Putting cocaine on the skin has a numbing effect, which makes surgery possible without hurting the patient... It doesn't get the patient high, though...

Today, medicines that are chemically related to cocaine is used... Novocaine and xylocaine are two examples...

Sister morphine is a great song, btw... Really captures the eerie feeling of lying in a hospital bed waiting for the morphine to take the pain away...
Someone - Somewhere
"This is about a man who gets in a car accident and dies in the hospital while asking for morphine." If this is true, whats up with the cousin coacaine thing? There are many possible reasons, can someone tell me which one?Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
I doubt it Jon. Ibet this actually was happening to a Rolling Stones member, and he decided to write a song about it. I'm listening to it and I just heard the cousin coacaine part.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
freaky lyrics but an awesome song.. yeah he wants cocaine too.. the "cousin cocaine" partMaya - Cal, United States
in this song,not only does the guy want morphine. He seems to want cocaine too, so it will ease his pain.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc