For fans of The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers is a classic among classics that continues to resonate. Believe it or not, the album was 500 days in the making. The wait was worth it. Upon its original release, Sticky Fingers was greeted with delight by fans and critics alike. As Rolling Stone magazine said, “It is the latest beautiful chapter in the continuing story of the greatest rock group in the world.” On May 8, 1971, it hit No.1 in the UK. Two weeks later, on May 22, 1971, the album deposed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s live album 4 Way Street from the No.1 position on the Billboard album chart and then stayed there for the next month.
Sticky Fingers is a perfect record: great music, an iconic album cover – and the story around its making has further added to its legend. Many classic Stones records were recorded in America, at both RCA’s studio in Hollywood, and at Chess Records in Chicago, but for Sticky Fingers the band chose a far less glamorous studio, one in the American South that only those in the know had heard of – Muscle Shoals Sound, in Sheffield, Alabama.
Having finished their US tour in December 1969, the Stones flew to Muscle Shoals where they recorded three songs at the very heart of the album – “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” and “You Gotta Move.” The band then flew from Muscle Shoals to San Francisco, on December 5, and, 24 hours later, they played their infamous free concert at Altamont. Over the course of the next year, the band worked on more recordings at London’s Olympic Studios and at Mick’s country house, Stargroves, using the Stones’ Mobile Studio to capture the remainder of the tracks that make up the album.
But 1970 was not all about recording – far from it. There was a European tour and, behind the scenes, much was changing. The Stones had decided to leave Decca Records at the end of their contract period and looked to start their own label, to be funded by another record company. After much negotiation, the band decided to go with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records.
Forming their own label meant coming up with a name and an identity. The name was simple – Rolling Stones Records – but the identity and the logo took a little longer. Eventually, it was the now-famous “tongue and lips” logo was created, and has since become one of the most recognizable band logos in the world.
Given some of the issues that the band had faced with earlier album covers, they were determined to have one that looked the way they wanted it to, and so Mick and Charlie set about working with Andy Warhol to come up with a concept that the band loved. The original vinyl sleeve, with its fully working zip, is now one of the best-known album covers in the world; at the time, the New Musical Express was prompted to write, “Fame has spread from Mick Jagger’s lips to his zips.” It was all part of the single-mindedness with which the Stones went about getting Sticky Fingers just right.
By the time mixing was completed in early 1971, the band had two things on their collective mind: a short tour of the UK and a move to France; the tour to say farewell and the move necessitated by financial mismanagement over a long period that would have bankrupted the band had they stayed in Britain.
And so it was that, on April 16, 1971, “Brown Sugar” came out in the UK and, a week later, Sticky Fingers was unleashed upon the world.