First Hit #1: May 29, 1971
The first thing that strikes you about Brown Sugar is just how great the groove is. This is easily one of the best grooves the band has ever put on record, which is no faint praise considering the Rolling Stones’ library. The song is instantly recognizable and completely badass, and like all the best Stones tracks has a bit of danger tossed in. It’s an intimidating song, but somewhat effortlessly cool.
The second thing that strikes you is the lyrics, which make one wonder what the hell the song is about. Clearly someone is tasting young women – young black women specifically, hence the title – and you don’t quite know what to make of it. The song is super weird, it potentially jumps between perspectives and there’s a message somewhere but it’s unclear what it’s supposed to be saying. It’s either an attempt to push boundaries and hit on taboo subjects, or a grander statement that’s difficult to parse – is it a comment on slavery? A historical story of some kind? A strange comment on the Stones’ appropriation of the blues? Mick Jagger trying really hard to figure out a way to talk about his girlfriend’s vagina on the radio? It could be any of those things, which brings back the best thing about the band. There’s that subtle danger that the best Rolling Stones songs have, and the boundary pushing keeps it from being too safe.