*After playing their No. 1 1971 hit “Brown Sugar” at every concert since it was recorded in 1970, the Rolling Stones have decided to remove it from their set list going forward, due to its controversial lyrics regarding the rape of enslaved Black women.
In an interview published last week in the Los Angeles Times, guitarist Keith Richards confirmed the song’s status after a reporter noticed its absence from the group’s current “No Filter” tour.
“You picked up on that, huh?” Richards said.
The song’s opening line recalls the horror of the slave trade. The lyrics: “Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields. Sold in the market down in New Orleans. Skydog slaver knows he’s doin’ all right. Hear him whip the women just around midnight.”
The chorus suggests a slave master’s rape of an enslaved girl: “Brown sugar, how come you taste so good. Brown sugar, just like a young girl should.”
“I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is,” Richards told the Times, perplexed by the pushback from Black women. “Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they’re trying to bury it.”
The song’s out of rotation for now, but Richards and the song’s writer, Mick Jagger, said it’s not been permanently tossed.
“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,’” Jagger told the Times. “We might put it back in.”
Below, an excerpt from our EUR Video Throwback story about the date December 2nd in history. It was on this day in 1969 that the British band recorded “Brown Sugar” in Alabama.
Dec. 2, 1969: The Rolling Stones, en route to what would be their deadly Dec. 6 concert at the Altamont Speedway in Northern, CA, make a pit stop at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama where they recorded “Brown Sugar.” The lyrics are clearly about enslaved women from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters. But the chorus appears as if the song is just Mick Jagger’s mindless ode to interracial sex. Here’s what he had to say about the verses in a 1995 interview. “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. 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 chorus of “Brown Sugar” was inspired by the group’s African American background singer, and Jagger’s one-time girlfriend, Claudia Lennear.
Lennear was interviewed about the song in recent years, admitting: “I don’t think we could sing Brown Sugar now.”