I was 12 years old and sprawled across the back seat of the family station wagon – a big-finned, hardtop machine with wicked tail lights and heavy metal side panels painted the color of wood. Dad sat in the driver’s seat, directly in front of me, losing his mind.
My sister and I had reached the age when promises of ice cream sodas and enticement of egg creams in exchange for orderly behavior – can you just sit still, for five minutes, please! – no longer carried significance. If we were going to be bribed into silence, it was going to take cash. Five bucks apiece, to be precise. Our palms dutifully greased with paper greenbacks depicting a serious-looking Abe Lincoln, we giddily trotted into the department store. It was a momentous occasion: each of us setting out to purchase our first record album. Dad waited in the car. My sister chose an album by The Beatles: love, love, love, blah, blah, blah. I made a beeline for the new releases. The Rolling Stones. Sticky Fingers.
I cradled it in my arms, this inspired 12-inch by 12-inch platter, double-wrapped in an opaque shopping bag, the contents within filled with strut and swagger and songs about slave-owners and demon lives and drugs, salivating Pavlovian dogs, mad, mad days on the road and nightdreams of sins and of lies and living after we’ve died.
“Beatles, very nice,” said dad, during the unveiling of the albums in the family station wagon. “And you?”
He gazed over the back of the album jacket first, which was festooned with a bright sticker that depicted a big red mouth and a long unfurling tongue. It was the album’s front side that got the more immediate reaction. Here was a near life size snapshot of a human torso wearing a pair of jeans upon which was fixed a working zipper. When unzipped, the jacket revealed an inner-jacket picture of a pair of cotton briefs. To this day I’m not sure what dad said when examining the zipper-front, other than the sound of the words seemed to emanate from somewhere deep in the gut. The jargon itself was a mash-up of words that mixed phrases from the Old Country, new American slang and some otherworld language yet-to-be invented.
Of course, immediately, I was hooked.
“God knows what I’m on about on that song,” Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine many years later, when asked about his lyrics for the album’s first track, “Brown Sugar.” “It’s such a mishmash,” Jagger said. “All the nasty subjects in one go.”
The Rolling Stones debuted a rough working version of “Brown Sugar” at the Altamont festival in 1969 - the first song in the setlist performed immediately after that infamous stabbing captured in the film “Gimme Shelter.” Despite the karmic baggage, when it was finally released as a single a year-and-a-half later, it climbed up the American charts and all the way to number one, displacing Three Dog Night’s six-week cling to the top of the charts - with “Joy to the World” of all things - and provided a daring counterpoint to chart-topping snoozers by Carole King - “It’s Too Late,” James Taylor -“You’ve Got A Friend,” and the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” - that would soon follow.
“Sticky Fingers” begins, as most good things do, with a succession of scything Keith-chords, adds a dose of heavy horns, and a killer rhythm section highlighted by the booming of Charlie bass-drum beats, as Mick Jagger releases the pent-up verse: Gawlko slayship bownfocottan feels/ sawld in-a-mawket-down in New Awleens…
The album was released at an important time in popular rock and roll history: the Beatles had broken up, Bob Dylan a recluse and the trippy-hippy ‘60s were over. ‘Sticky Fingers’ boasts 10 songs in all, and not a throwaway tune in the bunch. There is the acoustic beauty of songs like “Wild Horses” and “Moonlight Mile,” the Gram Parsons-inspired country-rock-and-tonk of “Dead Flowers,” the heavy horn and musical jam explorations of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” and the solemn hair-on-your-neck at attention moodiness of “Sister Morphine.”
The Rolling Stones classic 1971 album "Sticky Fingers" is the focus of the next Rochmon Record Club Listening Party, which takes place Tuesday, Jan. 16 at Caffe Lena. I can’t wait to see and hear what Rochmon’s got lined up for the night. Doors at 6:30 p.m. and show time is at 7. A word of advice: If you want a seat, get there early. A $5 donation is suggested. Donations go to the restoration funds of Caffe’ Lena and Universal Preservation Hall.