This week’s Song Lyric Sunday from Jim Adams, prompted us with Bounty/Dessert/Eat/Feast/Food/Hungry/Turkey. Hmmm ….what can I say Jim? Thanks? I wasn’t happy with what I was coming up with so I played it safe with one of my favorite Stones songs, “Brown Sugar” Sugar is food, right? I chose a video from a 2015 concert because I think it’s fun to see how fantastic they still are in their seventies! I hope you enjoy it along with the colorful description of the scandalous lyrics to Brown Sugar, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Though credited, like most of their compositions, to the singer/guitarist pair of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was primarily the work of Jagger, who wrote it sometime during the filming of Ned Kelly in 1969. The song was written by Jagger with Marsha Hunt, Jagger’s secret girlfriend and mother of his first child Karis, in mind. It is also claimed it was written with Claudia Lennear in mind. Lennear claimed to be the song’s subject on BBC’s Radio 4 (25 February 2014, Today), because she kept Jagger’s company at the time when it was written.
“Brown Sugar” was recorded over a three-day period at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, from 2 to 4 December 1969. The song was not released until over a year later due to legal wranglings with the band’s former label. At the request of guitarist Mick Taylor (who had joined the band as Brian Jones’ replacement in July of 1969), the Stones debuted the number live during the infamous concert at the Altamont Speedway on 6 December 1969.
In the liner notes to the compilation album Jump Back (1993), Jagger says, “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”.
In the Rolling Stone interview (14 December 1995, RS 723) Jagger spoke at length about the song, its inspiration and success, and taking credit for writing the lyrics. Keith Richards also credits Jagger with the song in his autobiography. He attributed the success of the song to a “good groove”. After noting that the lyrics could mean so many lewd subjects, he again noted that the combination of those subjects, the lyrical ambiguity was partially why the song was considered successful. He noted, “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.” When interviewer Jann Wenner asked him why, Jagger replied, “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.'”
The lyrical subject matter has often been a point of interest and controversy. Described by rock critic Robert Christgau as “a rocker so compelling that it discourages exegesis”, “Brown Sugar’s popularity indeed often overshadowed its scandalous lyrics, which were essentially a pastiche of a number of taboo subjects, including slavery, rape, interracial sex, cunnilingus, sadomasochism, lost virginity and heroin.
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. Richards considered releasing this version on Sticky Fingers, mostly for its more spontaneous atmosphere, but decided on the original. The alternative version, which had previously been available only on bootleg recordings, was released in June 2015 on the Deluxe and Super Deluxe editions of the reissued Sticky Fingers album.
Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Skydog slaver knows he's doing alright
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
Brown sugar how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar just like a young girl should
Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot
Lady of the house wonderin' where it's gonna stop
House boy knows that he's doing alright
You shoulda heard him just around midnight
Brown sugar how come you taste so good, now?
Brown sugar just like a young girl should, now
Ah, get along, brown sugar how come you taste so good, baby?
Ah, got me feelin' now, brown sugar just like a black girl should
I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen
I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like
You shoulda heard me just around midnight
Brown sugar how come you taste so good, baby?
Ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should, yeah
I said yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
How come you... how come you taste so good?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Just like a... just like a black girl should
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Written by Mick Jagger - 1969