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

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Mick Jagger has announced the Rolling Stones have decided to stop performing Brown Sugar ‘for now’, amid discomfort about the 50-year-old classic’s references to slavery.

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 it live was August 30, 2019 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. 

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, 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

‘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. 

Brown Sugar 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!

‘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 song has been controversial from the start, and the band have frequently tried to tone down the lyrics. 

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

The original phrasing was: ‘Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good? / Ah, got me feelin’ now for brown sugar, just like a black girl should.’ 

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

‘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.’ 

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. 

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

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

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 

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.’ 

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 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

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. 

‘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.’



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