The early 1970s was a good time for The Rolling Stones, and with the first release of an album in this decade, the band’s first single was Brown Sugar.
Releasing the album Sticky Fingers in April 1971, the songs on this album were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, many done while Jagger was filming Ned Kelly in 1969.
Its beat made it popular, although Jagger does credit drugs and girls with the inspiration; another folk tale is that the song was inspired by his secret relationship with Marsha Hunt, mother of his first child.
Recorded at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama in 1969, the band was in a battle with its former label until 1971, when the band could get themselves out of the contract and form their own label: Rolling Stone Records.
Brown Sugar is the first single from Sticky Fingers, the song and album the first releases on Rolling Stone Records. Released a week before the album released to radio stations across North America and western Europe, the song’s lyrics touched on many controversial subjects: slavery, racism, rape, interracial love, sex and drug use.
But the song had been previewed in December 1969 at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, a notorious event for the band. The song was also performed during the band’s 1970 European tour, but the song wasn’t known to audiences.
The Rolling Stones taped a Top of the Pops show for BBC, doing live performances of Brown Sugar, Wild Horses and Bitch, but the network only allowed the airing of Brown Sugar at the album release in April.
Quickly climbing the charts, the song went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in the first week of June, while the song also was certified silver in the UK with sales of 250,000 singles and was number one in Canada on the RPM charts.
Jagger often changed the lyrics of the song to make it less controversial, especially when the live performances were being taped for live albums. A perfect example of a song, where everyone sings along but many don’t know what the song is exactly about.
The band’s consequent 1972 tour of America made this song an essential of every night’s playlist and a must-have addition of future compilation albums.