The Rolling Stones retired one of their most popular rock songs due to lyrics that depict the horrors of slavery. The Stones have not played the 1971 hit “Brown Sugar” on their current tour and said the blues classic has been removed from their setlist.
“You picked up on that, huh?,” Keith Richards, 77, responded to the LA Times when asked if Stones had cut the second most performed tune in their catalog amid a climate of heightened cultural sensitivity.
“I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they’re trying to bury it.”
The first verse of the hit song depicts slaves being sold and beaten in Louisiana, with references to a “slaver” that whips “women just around midnight.”
The famous chorus portrays a non-consensual sex encounter between the violent master and a young female slave, while possibly also alluding to heroin use.
In the next verse, the song describes the abuse suffered by slaves on a plantation. Lead singer Mick Jagger ends the tune by singing, “How come you taste so good … just like a black girl should.”
“We’ve played ‘Brown Sugar’ every night since 1970,” Richards told the newspaper.
“So sometimes you think, ‘We’ll take that one out for now and see how it goes.’ We might put it back in.”
The Stones have played the song live 1,136 times, second to only “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” according to setlist.fm.
“At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this s–t,” Richard said of criticism of the song. “But I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.”
The Stones were five shows into their “No Filter” tour Wednesday. The concerts marked the septuagenarian’s first gigs since 2019, and the first performances without drummer Charlie Watts, who died in August at the age of 80.
Jagger is clearly not singing the song in the first person, but the danceable tune has been slammed in recent years, with some critics dubbing it “stunningly crude and offensive.”
Other commentators have conceded it is “gross, sexist, and stunningly offensive,” but still rocking.
“I never would write that song now,” Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. “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.’
Brown Sugar by Jagger/Richards
Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in the market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
Brown sugar, how come you taste so good? Uh huh
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should, uh huh, oh
Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot
Lady of the house wonderin’ when it’s gonna stop
House boy knows that he’s doing alright
You shoulda heard ’em just around midnight
Brown sugar, how come you taste so good now?
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should now (Yeah)
Ah, get on, brown sugar, how come you taste so good?
Ah, got me craving the, the brown sugar
Just like a black girl should, yeah
Ah, and I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen
I’m no schoolboy, but I know what I like
You shoulda heard me just around midnight
Brown sugar, how come you taste so good, baby?
Ah, come down, brown sugar
Just like a young girl should, yeah
I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
How come you, how come you taste so good?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Just like a, just like a black girl should
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo