The Rolling Stones seem to like April 23. They brought out two of their iconic albums on the date, five years apart. In 1971, it was Sticky Fingers, in 1976, Black and Blue. Both were hits, both were a bit controversial, although the first was more so in both categories.
Sticky Fingers was as noteworthy for the art associated with it as the music. And considering it contained a couple of their most beloved tunes, that’s saying something. It was the first one they were able to put out on their own, eponymous record label and also the first where their iconic “lips” logo appeared. However, the thing that got the attention (and in some cases wrath) of many was the album cover itself. It featured a B&W closeup picture of a man’s midsection, in tight jeans with a significant part of that man rather prominent under the fabric. To top it off, the original LP cover had a working zipper on the jeans, although the cost of that and complaints of the zip scratching the actual record made most subsequent copies boring old “2D” printed ones without a real zipper. The cover photo was based on a picture taken by Andy Warhol, and despite the rumors, they insist the subject wasn’t Mick Jagger.
It’s perhaps the imagery of the record drew so much attention, as it was a pretty solid album. As Pitchfork later said, “this album could reasonably be called their peak” and while “they were called the ‘world’s greatest rock and roll band’ for entirely too long, if that designation ever applied, it was here.” It had been recorded over the end of the ’60s and early 1970, just after Brian Jones had died, making it the first album where Mick Taylor was Keith Richards’ main sidekick on guitars. Also adding perhaps to the freshness of the record was that a good chunk of it was recorded in Alabama’s famous Muscle Shoals studio.
Many at the time considered it a return to basic rock & roll for the Stones, although the predecessor, Let It Bleed, really wasn’t so far out of the realm when one considers it. While Sticky Fingers offered some popular tracks in their historic catalog like “Bitch”and the lengthy “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, the two real standouts were the two singles –“Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.” The former was one of their bigger 45s, hitting #1 in the U.S. and Canada (their sixth American chart-topper at the time) and #2 in Britain. “Wild Horses” made the top 30 in North America, but was somewhat ignored in Europe.
That helped the album get to #1 in many lands including the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and even Sweden. At triple platinum in the U.S., only Some Girls and Tattoo You have sold more, among their studio albums.
Rolling Stone has listed it among the 100 greatest albums of all-time more than once, noting though that curiously the two real highlights weren’t rockers but “two country songs, one forlorn (“Wild Horses”) and one funny (“Dead Flowers.”) “
Five years later, along came Black and Blue, about their 14th studio album (getting an exact count depends on the country since the labels involved released slightly different versions of their material with differing titles early on). It was the second album the “Glimmer Twins” – Mick and Keith – produced themselves and the first after Mick Taylor had left the band, paving the way for ex-Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood to join. Wood was prominent in the album which allmusic noted was “longer on grooves and jams” than memorable songs.
Like Sticky Fingers (and some of their other works), the album used star session keyboardists Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins. Preston really shone with his organ on the lead single, the slowish and touching “Fool to Cry” as well as on “Melody” which they credit him for “inspiring” if not writing.
Creem was not unusual in their assessment at the time that “it’s over… the first meaningless Rolling Stones album.” Allmusic would more or less agree, it would seem, years later, giving it only 3-stars, lowest of theirs to that point, although they did like “Fool to Cry” and “Memory Motel”, “the two ballads.” The public perhaps agreed too. Although it did get to #1 in the U.S. – their fifth straight, in a streak dating back to , yes, Sticky Fingers – and #2 in Canada and the UK, and went platinum in the U.S., sales were down from their previous few and “Fool to Cry”, the only hit off it, made just #10 in the States.
But the Glimmer Twins would have been fools to cry. The album was followed up by the massively successful Some Girls two years later, although not before undergoing some tense days while recording live material in Toronto which led to Keith getting arrested for heroin possession.