Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones

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"Brown Sugar" - The Rolling Stones (1972)

“Brown Sugar” was written by Mick Jagger with his secret girlfriend Marsha Hunt, in mind. She and Jagger met when she was a member of the cast in the London production of the musical Hair and their relationship, a closely guarded secret until 1972, resulted in a daughter, Karis. According to bassist Bill Wyman, the lyrics were partially inspired by a black backing singer called Claudia Linnear who was one of Ike Turner's backup singers.

Jagger noted that the 1971 song can mean many things and that the combination of those subjects and the lyrical ambiguity was the reason why the track was so successful, adding:

“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 can’t just write raw like that.”

The lyrics are about slaves from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters. The subject matter is quite serious, but the way the song is structured, it comes off as a fun rocker about a white guy having sex with a black girl. Music Robert Christgau called it "a rocker so compelling that it discourages exegesis". The lyrics also describe a number of taboo subjects, including interracial sex, cunnilingus, and less distinctly, sadomasochism, lost virginity and heroin. 

Keith Richards wrote in his autobiography that the lyric in the song, “Scarred old slaver know he doin' alright" was a mistake in the transcription for the lyrics and that what Jagger was singing, "Skydog Slaver," as "Skydog" was a nickname for Allman Brothers lead guitarist Duane Allman as he was high all the time.

The track was simultaneously interpreted as a racist, sexist slur as well as referring to Mexican heroin. Jagger added to the confusion by scrambling the vocals, which were deliberately mixed down into the instrumental track. In doing so, he was taking Fats Domino's advice, "You should never sing the words out very clearly," a philosophy to which the Stones lead singer adhered on more than one occasion.

With its prominent blues-rock riffs, dual horn/guitar instrumental break, and danceable rock rhythms, “Brown Sugar” is representative of the Stones' definitive middle period and the tough, bluesy hard-rock that defined its signature sound in the late 60s-early 70s.

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