Classic Albums: Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

Brandon StonerClassic Albums5 Comments

By the beginning of the 70s the music world was in a significant transition state. The Beatles were done, and a combination of events, including the Stone’s notorious Altamont show in December 1969 signaled that the “peace and love” movement was dead. It was time to usher in a new era. 

Despite the turmoil, The Rolling Stones were really hitting their groove and it seemed they had the Midas touch. With seminal releases like Beggars Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969), and Exile on Mainstreet (1972) the band was out to prove why they would eventually earn the title of “The Biggest Rock n’ Roll Band in the World”.

Sticky Fingers is undoubtedly one of the best classic rock albums of all time, helping to solidify the Stones’s godlike status in the rock pantheon forever. 

I Got the Blues 

Sticky Fingers came out during an intense period of shift for the band – professionally and personally. They left their label Decca and created their own – Rolling Stones Records. They also split with longtime manager Allen Klein, who had…persuaded…them to sign over the American copyrights of their 1960s albums to him.

It was also the first record without any contributions from longtime creative force Brian Jones, who died tragically and unexpectedly in 1969. This left the band in a unique and unexpected position, to carry on the rock torch into a new decade in a rapidly changing music landscape, and having to find a replacement for their band member all at once in addition to their business complications.. 

They moved away from psychedelia and focused on what they do best and returned to their bluesy, boozy, bruising roots and they weren’t apologetic about it. The creative freedom the band was enjoying shines right through the speakers, and gone was the esoteric instrumentation. They returned to the rhythm and blues roots while adding in a dash of country and perhaps the perfect example of that Jagger swagger.

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

Jones was replaced by Mick Taylor of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers fame. This lineup change coincided with what most consider to be the golden era for the band. Sticky Fingers was his first studio record with the band, and his bluesy blend of pulse and groove fit in perfectly with the jagged, spastic parts from co-guitarist Keith Richards. 

Though there would be some credit disputes later, Taylor’s country and jazz influences can be immediately heard throughout the album. His guitar style was a perfect complement to Richards’, and they quickly established a weaving, back-and-forth understanding through guitar arrangements. His soloing chops are on full display in the outro solo to the album’s second track, “Sway”.

Wild Horses

With the creation of their own record label and addressing their toxic management situation, the band’s renewed creativity and newfound freedom translate into the loose feeling of the album.

Recorded with legendary engineers Glyn and Andy Johns, the sessions were as sporadic as the band’s lifestyle. Though it was spread out, the band laid down most of the actual work in short bursts, which punctuated the overall feel of the album.

It was recorded in a hedonistic haze across multiple locations over a span of about 500 days, including the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, Jagger’s Stargroves estate, and Olympic and Trident Studios in London. Some of the album’s songs like “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” were leftovers from the Let it Bleed sessions.

Considering the multiple recording locations and the band’s live commitments, Richards said of the sessions for the album, “I don’t think we’ve been quite so prolific…ever”. Early versions of songs that appeared on the follow-up, Exile on Main Street also came to life at this time. The Stones were good at packing it in.

The kickoff track and enduring hit single “Brown Sugar” was inspired by two of the band’s favorite things – heroin and women. Ever-growing fans of American country music, Sticky Fingers is where The Stones started to really incorporate the style more into their songwriting, and the second single “Wild Horses” was born out of recording sessions with Gram Parsons.

“Brown Sugar” came together very quickly during the sessions in Muscle Shoals. They would debut it live a few days after laying it to tape at the Altamont show. Since they had just released Let It Bleed, they decided to save the single for the follow-up LP.

“Bitch” was the b-side to the “Brown Sugar” single and was arguably just as controversial. And thanks to an 11th-hour changeup by Richards it became the grooving, riff-memorable song that made the final album cut. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is a jagged, groovy blues with an extended instrumental “rave-up” at the end, while “You Gotta Move” is a cover of an African-American gospel song.

Moonlight Mile

As the first release on the band’s newly-minted record label, Sticky Fingers received stellar reviews upon release and numerous accolades since. Its status as one of the band’s best works has indisputably stood the test of time.

Certified triple platinum, the album is essentially a greatest hits record in itself. As their 9th British and 11th American release it spent four weeks at number one on both sides of the pond – a first for the band. It’s in the Grammy Hall of Fame and was ranked #104 in Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

The album’s artwork was just as, if not more, controversial than some of the lyrics. And controversy is great for publicity. Andy Warhol conceptualized and photographed the idea of the infamous closeup shot, and Craig Braun, the go-to album art designer of the 60s and 70s brought it to life. 

The original vinyl cover featured a working zipper that revealed underwear fabric when it was pulled down! But as revolutionary as the cover art was, manufacturing it was costly and the working zipper caused damage to the record itself, so later pressings just featured the flat image. 

The cover model was rumored to be Mick Jagger, but Warhol photographed multiple people and it’s not known who he used. With the album’s release, the world was also introduced to the band’s trademark tongue logo.


Sticky Fingers is the Stones at their unapologetic best, a sonic snapshot love letter of one of the most legendary bands of all time in their prime. By returning to what they do best, they dared other bands to be as brazen as them. And by stripping down the arrangements, they found a perfect “less is more” approach, which is the polar opposite to how they lived their lives away from microphones. 

With Sticky Fingers, it became very clear the Rolling Stones were heading into the creative peak of their career. They were inspired, on fire, and managed to perfectly capture their lifestyle in a batch of songs that are still regarded among their best.

They’re called “The World’s Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band”. And it was on Sticky Fingers that they proved it.


About the Guest Contributor:

Brandon Stoner is a lifelong musician and audio engineer who owns more guitars than anyone needs. As a lover of all things writing and music technology, he crafts every piece with his dog Max on his lap.


  • Brandon Stoner

    Brandon Stoner is a lifelong musician and audio engineer who owns more guitars than anyone needs. As a lover of all things writing and music technology, he crafts every piece with his dog Max on his lap.

Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Definitely the Stones greatest album, and one of the best ever recorded. I still have my original Japanese pressing that I bought when I lived in Japan when it came out. I have all the best vinyl and cd versions including the Live album. All are terrific in their own way. How lucky are we to have been around in 60s and 70s for the greatest of times for modern music.

David Adamson

My favorite Stones album by far.


bitch stinks. wild horses stinks. the only decent track on the record is moonlight mile and it makes the whole album worth it. that of course and the warhol zipper cover. I have a working zipper copy with a photo underneath. can someone tell me if the early early copies had real cloth skivvies under the zipper? I think they did and I think I saw one but that was in the ’60s/’70’s and I don’t have very clear memories of those decades.

ps the reason why the album mostly stinks is because brian jones was gone. just listen to little red rooster or under my thumb and you’ll understand. ok i’m done.


Brain was gone and it didn’t stink. Brown Sugar is a great rocker. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin is a classic. Did you listen to the whole album?

Bob Patterson

Totally agree that Sticky Fingers is one of the best of all time. I am fortunate enough to have an early copy compete with all the inserts and “working zipper” cover! I’m also fortunate to live in Alabama and have toured The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, recently restored to its original glory. I highly recommend the tour and Sticky Fingers and The Rolling Stones are prominently featured. Also if you’ve never seen the documentary Muscle Shoals, it is a must watch!