Why the Rolling Stones Aren’t Playing ‘Brown Sugar’ on 2021 Tour
"Brown Sugar," the chart-topping opening track to Sticky Fingers, deals with a number of scandalous topics including slavery and rape, while its title is a double entendre for oral sex and heroin. Unsurprisingly, the song's problematic lyrics have often overshadowed its musical merits. But Keith Richards feels like critics of the song have missed the point.
“You picked up on that, huh?" the guitarist told the Los Angeles Times about the set list omission. “I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they’re trying to bury it. At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this shit." That said, Richards is still "hoping that we'll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track."
Mick Jagger gave a more diplomatic explanation for excluding the song. "We've played 'Brown Sugar' every night since 1970, so sometimes you think, We’ll take that one out for now and see how it goes," he said. “We might put it back in.” The singer conceded that “the set list in a stadium show, it’s kind of a tough one,” but he was proud that the band recently pulled off "Let It Bleed," with Jagger playing 12-string guitar.
Jagger reflected on "Brown Sugar" in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview. "God knows what I’m on about on that song," he said. "It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go." The singer also admitted he "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.'"
The Rolling Stones kicked off the latest leg of their No Filter Tour on Sept. 26 in St. Louis. It marks their first trek without drummer Charlie Watts, who died in August at the age of 80. The band has been honoring Watts onstage every night, featuring him heavily in the concert visuals.
"I know Charlie wanted us to [continue touring], and I think the audience wanted us to do it," Jagger told Apple Music 1 host Zane Lowe. "And of course it’s different — and of course in some ways it’s kinda sad. ... But you just go out there and rock out, and you feel better. And it’s very cathartic. So I think it’s really good."