The Rolling Stones’ first studio album of the Seventies was their sayonara to a messy 1969: Brian Jones’ death; Altamont; guitarist Mick Taylor’s partial entry on Let It Bleed. Recorded over more than a year and finally issued in April 1971, Sticky Fingers was an eclectic affirmation of maturing depth — the poise and polish before the titanic grunge of ’72’s Exile on Main Street. As writers, singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards rolled out a breadth of introspection (the swagger and warning in “Sway,” the Asian-sunset tinge of “Moonlight Mile”) while Taylor’s searing tone was fully integrated into the treble tangle of “Bitch” and “Brown Sugar.”
The alternate takes in this reissue show how hard the Stones worked to sound so natural. “Dead Flowers” is more folk rock, not yet country enough; you’ll actually miss Jagger’s crooning-trucker exaggeration. A run at the pre-jam half of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” with an almost-Grateful Dead groove, peters out — there is clearly no Plan B yet. The big prize (along with the live-’71 mania here and in an even more deluxe edition) is a December ’70 outtake of “Brown Sugar”: loose, feral fun with Eric Clapton on slide guitar. Richards briefly lobbied to issue that as the single, but good sense prevailed. The version we got first was a labor of months but the perfect opening shot — taut, blazing, assured — to a second golden decade.