Brown Sugar by Rolling Stones was released 16 April in 1971


“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.”
– Mick Jagger

“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 (1969, The True Adventures of Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth)

Brown Sugar is the opening track and lead single from their 1971 album Sticky FingersRolling Stone magazine ranked it #495 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and at #5 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.

The group sings the lyric with all the enthusiasm of tongue-wagging dogs swooping onto a prime rib, leading up to one of the band’s strongest shout-along choruses. As on other Stones classics of the period like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Bitch,” beefy horns start to duel with the buzzing electric guitars in the instrumental break; few if any other groups have used guitars and horns as deftly in unison. 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.

– Richie Unterberger (allmusic)

It is credited, like most of their songs, to  Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but the song was primarily the work of Jagger, who wrote it sometime during the filming of Ned Kelly in 1969.

Brown Sugar from the fantastic concert film Ladies and Gentlemen (1972):

This version of the song features Mick Jagger on vocals, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor on guitar, Charlie Watts on drums, Bill Wyman on bass, Nick Hopkins on piano, Bobby Keys on saxophone, and Jim Price on horns.

Brown Sugar, Lyrics:

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
Sold in a market down in new orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he’s doin alright.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a young girl should

Drums beating, cold english blood runs hot,
Lady of the house wondrin where it’s gonna stop.
House boy knows that he’s doin alright.
You should a heard him just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a black girl should

I bet your mama was a tent show queen, and all her boy
Friends were sweet sixteen.
Im no schoolboy but I know what I like,
You should have heard me just around midnight.

Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a young girl should.

I said yeah, I said yeah, I said yeah, I said
Oh just like a, just like a black girl should.

Rolling Stones performing Brown Sugar on a flatbed truck (Tour Announcement 1975):

Brown Sugar was originally recorded over a three-day period at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama from 2–4 December 1969, the song was not released until over a year later due to legal wranglings with the band’s former label, though at the request of guitarist Mick Taylor, they debuted the number live during the infamous concert at Altamont on 6 December.

“We’re gonna do a new song, we’ve just written it… we don’t know how good it’s gonna be “ – Mick Jagger

The debut of the song (audio only):

“That makes it… the whole mess thrown in. God knows what I’m on about on that song. It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go… 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 to Rolling Stone Magazine in 1995

Footage of The Stones listening to their new song Brown Sugar in 1969, from the movie Gimme Shelter:

An alternative version was recorded on 18 December 1970, at Olympic Studios in London, after (or during) a birthday party for Richards. It features appearances by Al Kooper on piano, and Eric Clapton on slide guitar. The alternative version is widely available on bootleg recordings. Richards considered releasing this version on Sticky Fingers, mostly for its more spontaneous atmosphere, but decided on the original.

Here is is, I like the released single best, what about you?

“We cut a version of Brown Sugar with Al Kooper, it was a good track. He’s playing piano on it at Bobby Keys’ and my birthday party, which was held at Olympic Studios… We wanted to use it ’cause it’s a new version but there’s something about the Muscle Shoals feel of the album, one that we got into at the end of the last American tour. “ -Keith Richards

Brown Sugar, alternate version with Eric Clapton and Al Kooper (audio):

When the Stones perform “Brown Sugar” live, Jagger often changes the lyrics from, “Just like a young girl should”, to, “Just like a young man should.” The line, “Hear him whip the women just around midnight”, is often changed to the less offensive, “You shoulda heard him just around midnight.” This is evident in their live albums Love You LiveFlashpointLive Licks and Shine a Light. This change even occurs on the version recorded at Richards’ birthday party with Clapton and Kooper.

This is a rock’n roll classic and one of the best songs by The Rolling Stones.

– Hallgeir

Sources: The True Adventures of Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth, Wikipedia, Rolling Stone Magazine, Allmusic