Rolling Stones drop hit song Brown Sugar from tour set list ‘for now’

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have announced the Rolling Stones will stop performing hit song Brown Sugar, amid discomfort about the 50-year-old classic’s references to slavery.

The hit track was originally titled ‘Black P****,’ but Jagger decided before releasing it that the title was too ‘nitty-gritty’ and it was changed to Brown Sugar.

The band, currently on the road for a 13-date U.S. tour, have not played Brown Sugar – one of their most recognizable songs – since kicking off in St Louis on September 26.

The 1969 song has been a staple of their live show since it came out 50 years ago, and is the second most played song in their catalog after Jumpin’ Jack Flash, with 1,136 known performances, according to Rolling Stone magazine. 

The last time the Stones played the hit track, which has sold a staggering 2,700,000 times in original sales since its release, was on August 30, 2019, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida.

But Rolling Stones fans have fumed that they do not understand the backlash to the hit track as it is anti-slavery, with many people claiming that the band, who were once seen as rebels, have fallen victim to ‘cancel culture’. 

The hit classic, which took 45 minutes for Jagger to write in a field in the Australian outback, is a graphic story about slavery, with the song’s first verse depicting a slave driver whipping a group of women.

The song goes on to use grotesque descriptions to touch on themes of sexual violence and rape, while brown sugar is also commonly known slang for heroin.

Jagger, asked about the song’s absence from their recent set lists, told The Los Angeles Times they had decided to give the song a break. 

Mick Jagger is pictured in 1969 at the Altamont Speedway festival in California - the first time they played Brown Sugar. He is seen with Mick Taylor, who left the band in 1974 and was replaced with Ronnie Wood

Mick Jagger is pictured in 1969 at the Altamont Speedway festival in California - the first time they played Brown Sugar. He is seen with Mick Taylor, who left the band in 1974 and was replaced with Ronnie Wood

Mick Jagger is pictured in 1969 at the Altamont Speedway festival in California – the first time they played Brown Sugar. He is seen with Mick Taylor, who left the band in 1974 and was replaced with Ronnie Wood

‘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,’ he said. 

‘We might put it back in.’

Keith Richards, who wrote the song with Jagger during a 1969 recording session at the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, said he was taken aback by the recent discomfort about the lyrics, since it was always a grotesque story about slavery, rape and sexual violence.

‘I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is,’ Richards, 77, said. 

‘Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? 

‘But they’re trying to bury it. At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this s***.

‘But I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.’

The band has frequently changed its controversial lyrics over the years, starting with Jagger changing the title from ‘Black P****’ to Brown Sugar.

Another lyric that was also altered was: ‘Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good? / Ah, got me feelin’ now for brown sugar, just like a black girl should.’ 

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (right) and Ronnie Wood (left) are seen on stage in Nashville on Saturday night. The band have decided to stop performing Brown Sugar on this tour

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (right) and Ronnie Wood (left) are seen on stage in Nashville on Saturday night. The band have decided to stop performing Brown Sugar on this tour

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (right) and Ronnie Wood (left) are seen on stage in Nashville on Saturday night. The band have decided to stop performing Brown Sugar on this tour

But the band in later recordings swapped the words ‘black girl’ for ‘young girl’. 

Brown Sugar was not released until 1971 as part of the Rolling Stones hit album Sticky Fingers, which has stood the test of time as it has raked in $68,000 (£50,000) this year alone, and immediately became a smash hit, reaching number one on May 29, 1971. 

It has commonly been thought that Brown Sugar was written by Jagger to his former lover Marsha Hunt.

Hunt, who bore Jagger’s first child Karis, is an American-born singer who is considered to be the inspiration for the Stones’ 1971 classic. 

The Stones’ latest – and possibly final – performance of the track was in Miami, Florida, back in 2019, when the controversial lyrics saw a backlash from the woke brigade.

Although it remains unclear the reason why the Rolling Stones have removed Brown Sugar from their setlist, their last performance of the track prompted debate around whether the band should stop singing the song altogether.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, music producer Ian Brennan said: ‘The issue today is not that they ever wrote the song.

‘Nor that they have ever sung it. The fault is that they keep singing it.’

The song, which reached number one in the US and number two in the UK and Ireland in the first year of its release, has been controversial from the start, and the band have frequently tried to tone down the lyrics.

Many of the hit track’s lyrics have come under fire over the years for being controversial and speaking explicitly about rape, violence and slavery.

The opening lines of the song say: ‘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’

While the song later continues: ‘I bet your mama was a tent show queen / And all her boyfriends were sweet 16 / I’m no school boy but I know what I like’

Jagger explained in an interview back in 1995 that he was uncomfortable with the lyrics of the song, which was named as number 495 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Brown Sugar was recorded in 1969 at Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama

Brown Sugar was recorded in 1969 at Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama

Brown Sugar was recorded in 1969 at Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama

It has commonly been thought that Brown Sugar was written by Jagger to his former lover American singer Marsha Hunt (pictured), who bore Jagger's first child Karis

It has commonly been thought that Brown Sugar was written by Jagger to his former lover American singer Marsha Hunt (pictured), who bore Jagger's first child Karis

It has commonly been thought that Brown Sugar was written by Jagger to his former lover American singer Marsha Hunt (pictured), who bore Jagger’s first child Karis

‘God knows what I’m on about in that song,’ said Jagger, in a 1995 interview. 

‘It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go.’

The song was written in 45 minutes, and Jagger described it as ‘a very instant thing’.

‘I never would write that song now,’ he said. 

‘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.’ 

Rolling Stones’ fans have taken to Twitter to express their irritation that ‘woke’ and ‘cancel’ culture has forced Brown Sugar to be removed from live shows, saying that art should be allowed to have freedom of expression.

One person penned: ‘Art is supposed to challenge and offend. Don’t stop playing your songs!!! Brown Sugar is a treasure.’ 

Another fumed: ‘So for over 50yrs they’ve played this song, made millions from it, entertained countless people who equally have enjoyed it (Both young and old) but in today’s ‘Cancel Culture’ doesn’t suit, and these were once classed as ‘Rebels’.’

A third wrote: ‘I’m just glad I’ve been to see them sing it live before ‘offence culture’ took over’ 

While a fourth said: ‘If this is the case there are going to be so many songs not played or performed for fear of offending someone! Ridiculous.’

And a fifth commented: ‘Wokedom is destroying western civilisation everyday, at the expense of matters of great importance.’ 

Another wrote: ‘I guess the Left doesn’t understand what this song is trying to say. As usual.’

One user added: ‘Art is supposed to challenge and offend. Don’t stop playing your songs!!! Brown Sugar is a treasure.’

The classic has already been a topic of controversy in recent years with Vulture describing the song as ‘gross, sexist, and stunningly offensive toward black women’ in 2015.  

The studio has seen artists such as Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson and George Michael record

The studio has seen artists such as Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson and George Michael record

The studio has seen artists such as Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson and George Michael record 

Rolling Stones' fans have taken to Twitter to express their irritation that 'woke' culture has forced Brown Sugar to be removed from live shows

Rolling Stones' fans have taken to Twitter to express their irritation that 'woke' culture has forced Brown Sugar to be removed from live shows

Rolling Stones’ fans have taken to Twitter to express their irritation that ‘woke’ culture has forced Brown Sugar to be removed from live shows

The band was also asked what it was like to be on tour without Charlie Watts, their drummer, who died aged 80 in August, having never missed a show.

Every night they have opened with a montage of images of Watts, who has been replaced by Steve Jordan, 64, who has known Watts since he was 19 and began playing with Richards in the mid 1980s.

‘I’m still trying to put it together in my head,’ said Richards. 

‘I don’t think I can be very erudite on Charlie at the moment.’ 

Ronnie Wood, 74, was the last of the band members to see Watts alive. His death took them all by surprise, he said. 

He visited Watts in a London hospital room — the same room where Wood was treated for cancer in 2020.

‘We call it the Rolling Stones suite,’ Wood told the paper, laughing. 

‘We watched horse racing on TV and just shot the breeze. I could tell he was pretty tired and fed up with the whole deal. 

‘He said, ‘I was really hoping to be out of here by now,’ then after that there was a complication or two and I wasn’t allowed back. No one was.’

Richards said Watts was ‘one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known.’

He added: ‘And the most unlikely man to be famous. He hated that side of the job and used to savagely take the piss out of it.’ 

Jagger said: ‘He didn’t do email or text or FaceTime, so I’d phone him and we’d talk about football.’ 

Asked whether the band should retire after Watts’ death, Jagger replied: ‘I don’t, really.’

He continued: ‘No band is the same when you lose someone. But the Stones is a very resilient band. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs through the years, and we’ve had changes of personnel, as have a lot of bands.

‘When you’re a band for this long, it’s unlikely you won’t have any changes. 

‘Of course, this is probably the biggest one we’ve had. 

Jagger, Richards and Wood are seen on Monday touching down at Hollywood Burbank Airport ahead of their shows in Los Angeles at the SoFi Stadium on Thursday and Sunday

Jagger, Richards and Wood are seen on Monday touching down at Hollywood Burbank Airport ahead of their shows in Los Angeles at the SoFi Stadium on Thursday and Sunday

Jagger, Richards and Wood are seen on Monday touching down at Hollywood Burbank Airport ahead of their shows in Los Angeles at the SoFi Stadium on Thursday and Sunday

‘But we felt — and Charlie felt — that we should do this tour. We’d already postponed it by a year, and Charlie said to me, ‘You need to go out there. All the crew that have been out of work — you’re not gonna put them out of work again.’ 

‘So I think it was the right decision to keep going. The band still sounds great onstage, and everyone’s been really responsive at the couple of big shows we’ve done so far.

‘They hold up signs saying, ‘We miss you, Charlie,’ and I miss him too.’

The woman who was thought to be the inspiration behind Black Sugar, singer Marsha Hunt, crossed paths with Jagger after she appeared as the female lead in the controversial musical Hair.

Jagger had an affair with Hunt while he was dating his girlfriend-of-three years Marianne Faithfull and they share their first child Karis together.

Mick got his PA to contact Marsha to ask her to appear on the cover of the Stones’ new single, Honky Tonk Women, and within days their clandestine affair was in full swing.

On July 5, 1969, Mick announced his affair with Hunt in typically public fashion while performing at a concert.

Sitting in the crowd, just yards from his live-in girlfriend Faithfull, was singer Marsha. Mick opened the musical part of the show by belting out a cover version of the rock song I’m Yours And I’m Hers.

Two days later, Marianne and Jagger flew to Australia where he was due to begin playing the starring role in the flop film Ned Kelly and within months, his relationship with Faithfull was over and he moved Hunt into his Chelsea house. 

Already missing Marianne’s son, Nicholas, to whom he had become a surrogate father, he took Marsha out to Mr Chow restaurant in Knightsbridge, where he asked her to have his child.

But their relationship faltered not long after and Jagger dumped Hunt when she was pregnant in 1970. Hunt gave birth to Karis on November 4, 1970, at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, and she went through the birth alone.

Soon after ending his relationship with Hunt, he moved 22-year-old Californian model Catherine James, who had recently dated his friend Eric Clapton, into his Chelsea home. 

After the relationship turned sour, Hunt was forced to take Jagger on in a legal battle to make him acknowledge Karis was his daughter and pay his way in her upbringing.

Jagger, Richards and Wood are seen on stage on September 26 in St Louis, on the first night of their U.S. tour

Jagger, Richards and Wood are seen on stage on September 26 in St Louis, on the first night of their U.S. tour

Jagger, Richards and Wood are seen on stage on September 26 in St Louis, on the first night of their U.S. tour

In June 1973, Marsha launched court action and after three hearings, Mick agreed to pay into a £10,000 trust for Karis, plus £500 a year, in an out-of-court deal. But his lawyers insisted his former lover sign papers saying he was not the father. 

By the time Karis was seven, her mother was reduced to claiming welfare handouts in Los Angeles where she moved in a bid to revive her flagging showbiz career.

In January 1979, a court in LA ruled that Jagger was the girl’s father and ordered him to pay $1,500-a-month child support.

In 1992, when Karis graduated from America’s prestigious Yale University, her proud father was there, video camera in hand. Mick also invited her to Buckingham Palace when he accepted his knighthood from Prince Charles in 2003. 

A year earlier, he wiped away tears when he was on hand to give away Karis — now a film producer in Los Angeles — as she married film director Jonathan Watson.

In 2012, handwritten love letters from that were written by Jagger from the set of Tony Richardson’s film Ned Kelly, which was shooting in Australia, to Hunt were auctioned off by Sotheby’s for nearly £190,000.

‘Someone, I hope, will buy those letters, as our generation is dying,’ she said. ‘And with us will go the reality of who we were and what life was.’ 

The singer said the letters chronicling their ‘delicate love affair’ that was kept secret until 1972 touch on subjects such as the first moon landing and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

In one, 25-year-old Jagger writes: ‘I will kiss you softly. And bite your mouth, too.’

In poetic mood in another letter, Mick ruminates: ‘If I sailed with you around the world, all my sails would be unfurled.’  

Speaking about the letters in a statement, Hunt said: ‘When a serious historian finally examines how and why Britain’s boy bands affected international culture and politics, this well-preserved collection of Mick Jagger’s hand written letters will be a revelation. 

‘This is Mick in his own words… This is part of English history, it is part of rock history, part of cultural history and it corrects all the misinformation,’ she said, according to Rolling Stone.

How Rolling Stones hit Brown has sold 2.7million in original sales and topped the charts in America the year it was released 

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote Black Sugar during a 1969 recording session at the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama.

It was the opening track and lead single from the Rolling Stones best-selling album Sticky Fingers and rocketed to become a number one hit in both the United States and Canada.

In Britain and Northern Ireland, Brown Sugar charted at number two while it was named by Billboard as the number 18 song for 1971.

In the Billboard music charts, Brown Sugar peaked at number one on May 29, 1971, beating Joy To The World by Three Dog Night and Never Can Say Goodbye by the Jackson 5 to the top slot.

The album which the track features on, Sticky Fingers, has gone on to sell more than three million copies in the US and was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

The album was so successful that it has already raked in $68,000 (£50,000) this year, with two months still to go. In 2018, its revenue came in at $95,000 (£70,000) across that year alone, compared with $12,000 (£9,000) in 2019 and $85,000 (£63,000) the following year.

Since its release in 1971, the Rolling Stones have performed the hit track on every single one of their tours – until pulling it from their latest No Filter Tour. 

It was recorded in December 1969 but was not released until April 1971 due to a dispute with their former manager Allen Klein over royalties. Although recording technology had advanced by this time, the band decided to still release the original track, rather than re-recording it.

The Stones had also cut another version of the track at Olympic Studios in London in 1970 with Eric Clapton on guitar and Al Kooper on keyboards. It was shelved until 2015, when it was unearthed for the Sticky Fingers reissue. 

Brown Sugar, Angie and Miss You sold almost 10million units combined in the 70s, while all three singles went to number one in the US. All of the Stones’ 70s singles have reached nearly 17million copies sold.

Its success has continued through the decades as it has sold an impressive 2,700,000 times, not taking into account digital or re-releases, from 1971 to 2016 while the album Sticky Fingers has sold 9,350,000 times, according to ChartMasters.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked the 1971 classic number 495 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and number five on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.

Rolling Stones are among some of the best selling musicians of all time, claiming 200million sales and a total of 101.5million units shipped, sold or streamed.

It is one of the Stones most popular songs and has been played live 1,136 times, second only to Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which has been played 1,172 times, setlist.fm reported.

Jagger started writing the controversial song while he was filming Ned Kelly in the Australian outback, telling Uncut in 2015: ‘I wrote it in the middle of a field, playing an electric guitar through headphones, which was a new thing then.’

The 1971 song has caused controversy for its lyrics but Richards said he was taken aback by the recent discomfort about the lyrics, since it was always a grotesque story about slavery, rape and sexual violence.  

It was originally titled ‘Black P****,’ but Jagger decided before releasing it that the title was too ‘nitty-gritty’. 

Jagger explained in an interview back in 1995 that he was uncomfortable with the lyrics, describing it as a ‘mishmash’ of all the ‘nasty’ subjects. 

‘Hear him whip the women just around midnight’: Brown Sugar’s controversial 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

Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good

Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should

Drums beatin’ cold, English blood runs hot

Lady of the house wonderin’ when it’s gonna stop

House boy knows that he’s doin’ all right

You should have heard him just around midnight

Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good?

Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should

Brown Sugar, how come you dance so good?

Brown Sugar, just like a black girl should

I bet your mama was a tent show queen

And all her boyfriends were sweet 16

I’m no school boy but I know what I like

You should have heard them just around midnight

Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good

Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should

I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, wooo!

How come you, how come you dance so good

Yeah, yeah, yeah, wooo!

Just like a, just like a black girl should

Yeah, yeah, yeah, wooo! 

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Paul McCartney dismisses the Rolling Stones as ‘blues cover band’ after Mick Jagger joked that Beatles ‘never even did an arena tour’

Paul McCartney has called The Rolling Stones a blues cover band in a new interview in which he compared his Beatles to their fellow British musical legends.

‘I’m not sure I should say it, but they’re a blues cover band, that’s sort of what the Stones are,’ McCartney, 79, told The New Yorker. ‘I think our net was cast a bit wider than theirs.’

The comments came about a year-and-a-half after McCartney told Howard Stern he believed his band was better overall.

The latest: Paul McCartney, 79, called The Rolling Stones a blues cover band in a new interview in which he compared his Beatles tp their fellow British musical legends. He was snapped last month in London

The latest: Paul McCartney, 79, called The Rolling Stones a blues cover band in a new interview in which he compared his Beatles tp their fellow British musical legends. He was snapped last month in London

The latest: Paul McCartney, 79, called The Rolling Stones a blues cover band in a new interview in which he compared his Beatles tp their fellow British musical legends. He was snapped last month in London 

‘They are rooted in the blues,’ McCartney said in the April 14, 2020 interview. ‘When they are writing stuff, it has to do with the blues. We had a little more influences.

‘There’s a lot of differences and I love the Stones, but I’m with you. The Beatles were better.’

In an appearance on Apple Music’s The Zane Lowe Show later that month, Mick Jagger touched on the issue, saying he felt McCartney is a ‘sweetheart’ and he felt there was ‘obviously no competition’ between the iconic musical groups. 

Jagger compared the dynamics of the two bands in terms of touring.

‘The big difference, though, is, and sort of slightly seriously, is that the Rolling Stones is a big concert band in other decades and other areas when the Beatles never even did an arena tour, or Madison Square Garden with a decent sound system,’ Jagger said. ‘They broke up before that business started, the touring business for real.’

He noted how the Beatles played a concert at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965, and how The Rolling Stones ‘started stadium gigs in the 1970s and are still doing them now.

‘That’s the real big difference between these two bands,’ Jagger said. ‘One band is unbelievably luckily, still playing in stadiums and then the other band doesn’t exist.’

The Rolling Stones have continued to hit the road on their No Filter tour in the wake of drummer Charlie Watts’ passing this past August.

In the chat with The New Yorker, McCartney spoke about how the Beatles began to become weary of touring by 1966.

‘It had been sort of brewing, you know, this distaste for schlepping around and playing in the rain with the danger of electricity killing you,’ McCartney said. ‘You kind of just look at yourself and go, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a musician, you know. I’m not a rag doll for children to scream at.”

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