The Rolling Stones are retiring slavery-themed ‘Brown Sugar’ from concerts

The Rolling Stones Perform at Twickenham Stadium, London

“Brown Sugar” is a famous Rolling Stones song. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s arguably one of their most well-known hits. The inspiration for the song was Marsha Hunt, Mick’s girlfriend at the time and mother of Karis Jagger (Mick’s oldest child). Before today, I never realized that the opening lines of the song are “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.” Not the most PC lyrics, but it was written in 1970 and… yeah, whatever, I’m not going to defend it. Anyway, in a recent interview, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards confirmed that they’re retiring the song from their live performances:

“Brown Sugar” was a massive number 1 hit for the Rolling Stones when it was released in 1971. The lead track from “Sticky Fingers,” it became so popular live on tour that it was usually left for an encore. For 50 years. And now, “Brown Sugar” has been dissolved. No more live performances. Since the Stones resumed their No Filter tour on September 26th, “Brown Sugar” is gone.

Keith Richards responded to the Los Angeles Times recently when asked about it.

“You picked up on that, huh?” Richards answered. “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.

“At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this sh-t. But I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.”

Mick Jagger said: “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.’”

[From Showbiz 411]

Is the song about the horrors of slavery?? Damn, I had no idea. I think the song is about a lot of different things, but again, I’m not going to argue with Keith and Mick. It sounds like Keith wants to “argue with the sisters” and Mick just wants zero drama. Mick is just like “hey, we’re trying something new.” Keith is like “tell me exactly why we shouldn’t perform this song!!”

Anyway, it seems like this is the latest cause du jour of the white men lamenting cancel culture. Piers Morgan’s already written a screed about it. It sounds like Mick and Keith just decided on their own to retire the song for a bit? But according to Piers, they’re “cowardly” for the decision.


Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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46 Responses to “The Rolling Stones are retiring slavery-themed ‘Brown Sugar’ from concerts”

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  1. JanetDR says:

    Brown Sugar always gave me conflicted feelings. I was 13 when it came out and loved the rhythm but didn’t care for the imagery that came with the words.
    Ha! Back when you mentally created your own imagery whilst listening to a thing called a radio inside your house…because, you know there were dinosaurs roaming around.

    • @poppedbubble says:

      What is the r-a-d-i-o you speak of? 😉 J/k
      I don’t know where I’ve been but I am unfamiliar with the song.

      • Becks1 says:

        My guess is if you heard it you would recognize it. Like I said below I never picked up on the lyrics but I’ve heard the song many many times.

  2. Sam the Pink says:

    Dude, the song is creepy. A lot of people forget that it has has references to underage girls in it. And it has never come off as a song talking about the horrors of slavery. If that was the intention, why intersperse the verses with a chorus that’s so highly sexualized? I tend to think that Mick just wanted to write something shocking and lewd and “sensational” so he went with that. It’s an over 50 year old song at this point and maybe its time for it to go.

    • Kate says:

      Ew I just read the lyrics. “Tastes like brown sugar, just like a young girl should/just like a black girl should”

      • rainbowkitty says:

        The lyrics are horrifying. How did they not know this was wrong when they wrote it??

      • BayTampaBay says:

        Jagger & Richards wrote this song in the 1970s and I am sure both were high on drugs.

        When played on the radio, you cannot tell what the lyrics are. The advent of the internet put tp stop to that.

      • whatWHAT? says:

        I know a woman who was a sound engineer for the Stones for YEARS. and yes, while Richards is/was (obv) a big drug user, she said that Mick was not. like, hardly at ALL. he wanted people to think he was a party boy, but he was not. he was an athlete (won a football scholarship to LSE) who didn’t drink or drug. (side note: when he was getting ready to tour, his training regimen was to run 6 miles a day on the treadmill – BACKWARDS.)

        his “addiction” was women. and though my friend didn’t say this, I fully believe he had a fetish for brown-skinned women.

      • GraceB says:

        I’ve always hated the lyrics to that song too, but in all honesty there are SO many songs which are so problematic, even now and they don’t get cancelled.

        I’m not condoning the lyrics at all, but I think for a long time many artists have gone for some shock value or depravity in some of their work.

        I don’t think music should be cancelled ever. It’s part of the history of our social evolution. It might have outdated views, but it helps us understand that period. I also don’t like cancel culture because it implies that people are incapable of change and will never be able to contribute anything again. I’m more of a believer in watch, wait and see. Many people grow and learn with time.

        At the same time, if this is the Rolling Stones fanbase saying they don’t want to hear this song played at concerts, I think it’s the right thing to do to listen to them. You have a choice not to listen to a song when you can press skip, but buying tickets to a concert is another thing.

      • Still_Sarah says:

        @ BayTampaBay : I listened to the song for years and never got the lyrics right. I just thought it was about interracial relationships. I looked them up after seeing this story and they are disgusting.

  3. GR says:

    Brown Sugar has always sounded to me like a party song implying that slavery was somehow “sexy” (vomit). I’d say canceling it sounds like a great idea.

    • Sam the Pink says:

      I always took it as some kind of weird “master/slave” fetish thing. Like, the singer is fantasizing about his black girlfriend and how he’d like to treat her like a slave, whip her, etc. Which is ten levels of weird on its own, but then it becomes this major hit and you have stadiums of people dancing to it, and….it’s a lot.

  4. Amy Bee says:

    I knew the song was written for/or about Mick’s ex girlfriend but I didn’t know the lyrics were so offensive. And I think Keith is doing some revisionist history here. The British of his age grew up believing that the Empire was a force for good and that they civilized the non-white people of the world. They were not talking about the horrors of slavery.

    • Jan90067 says:

      Same here! I could never understand most of Jagger’s singing lyrics lol, and when I was a kid (yes, in the Jurassic era!), unless the album jacket had lyrics, you had no way of “looking them up”, just went with what you heard (“There’s a bathroom on the right!” sound familiar anyone? 😄 )

      I knew it was about Jagger’s GF at the time, but knew NOTHING about the real meaning(s). Until reading this post, I STILL had no idea that it was about slavery! I just never really “heard” any of it other than the chorus. JFC! Yes, definitely time to retire this one for good, or change/rewrite new lyrics and keep the music.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      Skydog Slaver is Duane Allman.

      • whatWHAT? says:

        I though the lyric is “scarred old slaver”.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        @whatWhat – You are correct. The original lyric is “scarred old slaver”. However, Mick Jagger always sings it as “Skydog Slaver” as a tribute to Duane Allman who was always high when the Stones were around him. This story is in Keith Richards book “Life”.

      • whatWHAT? says:

        interesting – thanks for that little tidbit.

        True story – I tried to read “Life” and I couldn’t get through it.

        Ozzy’s autobiography, however, is a page-turner.

  5. BW says:

    Damn, that’s the first time I’ve actually understood the words. The tune is catchy, but yikes, the lyrics are awful. I hate to sound like an old fogey (which I am), but I never could hear / understand the lyrics other than the words Brown Sugar, and even those made me cringe.

    • Seraphina says:

      My sentiments exactly.

      I read the lyrics in full today and all I could think was, damn really????? I try to remind myself that I cannot judge a song that came out 30 or more years ago to today’s societal standards. But still all I can think of is: DAMN, REALLY???

      • Nina says:

        Me too! I’m an old, and I was the one who always objected to lyrics my friends didn’t get [Under My Thumb, really????] and I never could understand the beginning lines thanks to Jagger’s weird style. I knew it was sexual, because Rolling Stones, but holy mother of baby deity. No way should they have been singing this all these years.

  6. Lionel says:

    Yikes. I’ve also never looked at the lyrics! Even just now listening to the song I had trouble picking out the words. But assuming I’m not missing some kind of abstract message, my gut feeling is that a bunch of old white men asking why an enslaved girl is dancing “so good like a young girl should” after having been beaten isn’t exactly examining “the horrors of slavery.”

    • Lionel says:

      Proving my point I guess, I just looked at the lyrics, and now I wish I hadn’t. I always thought the line was “why do you dance so good?”

  7. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Things have been discarded and cancelled for far less than those nasty lyrics. That song is an abomination and they know it.

  8. iconoclast59 says:

    I’m old enough to remember when Brown Sugar first came out. Admittedly, I never paid much attention to the lyrics; it had a good beat, and I always got a kick out of the line “I said yeah – yeah – yeah – WHOOOOOO!” But at minimum, the song is about white men fetishizing black women and girls, so I’m okay if I never hear it again.

  9. Becks1 says:

    I have never even thought about the lyrics, I just know the “brown sugar” part and “just around midnight” but I never picked up on any of the other lyrics. I just looked them up and holy eff. I’m glad they’re retiring it, it sounds like Richards clearly didn’t want to but at least they did.

  10. Chaine says:

    It’s a terrible song. I live in the south and frankly the ways I have heard that chorus used by high school and college white guys back in the day are not repeatable.

  11. Lightpurple says:

    The lyrics also have double meanings for drug references, which is what people focused on. They have been performing it for 50 years; they’re probably bored with it. They have a large enough repertoire to switch it out without it being missed. Also, they’re supporting musicians are predominantly Black, Brown Sugar can go. Sir Mick doesn’t work for Piers Morgan.

  12. Joy says:

    I’ve heard the song but I’ve only ever been able to make out part of the chorus. Something about the song is just hard for my ears to process. I now see that as a mercy having read the lyrics.

    • Veronika says:

      I agree, Mick’s sloppy singing style has always made it hard to make out their song lyrics.
      Under My Thumb is very misogynistic song.

    • Betsy says:

      Yeah, I never was able to make out most of the lyrics in that song. I could make out “you should have heard [mystery word] just around midnight” and “brown sugar.” As a child I literally thought they were singing about brown sugar, the popular oatmeal ingredient and as an adult I just assumed it was about heroin. That’s on me. I’m glad they’re not going to play it anymore.

  13. Rapunzel says:

    It seems like a song about a white slaver raping his black slave girl.

    Gross af.

    Reason #1001 why Queen is the superior music choice.

  14. Boxy Lady says:

    The thing is, Mick’s vocals are so muddled so you can’t clearly hear or understand what he’s singing. That was probably on purpose, it’s really sneaky. I’ve been shunning this song for years. However, oddly enough, I do enjoy Little Richard’s version of it because his vocals are loud and clear and he makes sure you know *exactly* what the song is saying.

    • Jan90067 says:

      I remember when “Satisfaction” came out. I was about 8? 9? I remember my best friend’s mom wouldn’t let us play the record because there was “controversy” over whether Jagger was singing “…I’m all nude in the streets…” and DJs were arguing that the record co. made him *re*record it to be saying “…I’m OLD NEWS in the street…” BUT, the ACTUAL lyric is: “…Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak?”
      😄 😄 😄

      I always wondered WHY Jagger sounded “Southern” when he was British! WHERE DID THE ACCENT GO WHEN HE SANG?? lol.

  15. Courtney B says:

    Shame the lyrics actually ARE awful and the song deserves to be retired or rewritten (to keep the melody) because it’s awesome when piers Morgan gets dragged on Twitter for being a self owning asshole. I mean , his screed is probably hypocritical twaddle (I haven’t read it) but still. For laughs though, read the responses to his recent venting about Daniel Craig wearing a pink jacket as emasculating Bond.

  16. jferber says:

    Oh, how socially conscious of them. I think they should just retire themselves already. Septuagenarian rockers should really not be a thing. People get on Madonna for performing in her early 60’s. The lads are old men, for God’s sake.

    • Betsy says:

      Who gets on Madonna for performing in her 60s? I hate her plastic surgery, I don’t fault her for still recording and performing.

  17. Valerie says:

    “The sisters”

  18. Ann says:

    Wow, I just read the lyrics. I only knew the chorus.

  19. Rob says:

    You guys all know NOTHING about the Stones….this is an anti slavery song!!! The Stones have given so much credit to diversity over the years. Learn about their history before making accusations. Find out about their influences and where and how their music originated before you judge because “I never read all the lyrics”. Sad.

  20. Mia-Amour is ingenious. says:

    What Quincy Jones and Ray Charles said.
    Viva Robert Leroy Johnston at the Crossroads. History is fundamental.

  21. Laura says:

    I’m a Stones fan since I’m a kid and I don’t understand how people can defend this kind of lyrics. They should change it (Jagger already did it on stage), and keep the melody.