rolling stones

Mick Jagger, center, of the Rolling Stones performs with bandmates, from left, Ron Wood, Steve Jordan and Keith Richards, Thursday, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

There was this thing about rock music back in my coming of age days.

Half the time, no matter how good your stereo was or the cartridge that you had installed to cut the vinyl, so to speak, often with all of the drumming and screaming and yelling and guitar riffs, etc., you couldn’t always make out the lyrics.

Eventually record companies started printing the lyrics inside the album covers so it was easier to sing along, though I doubt that’s why they did it. For those among us would go on to have great stints as karaoke singers in local bars and bowling alleys, these proved handy. (We’re talking pre-internet, folks.)

So, how many times did you sing along with a record and you would hum and da-da-da-da-ta-da “Brown Sugar,” and maybe you would end up remembering a few other words, but not necessarily all of them, so you didn’t really know what the song was trying to say or if it had any meaning?

Ask me to try to sing a Rolling Stones song, start to finish, and I couldn’t do it. Maybe I could with “Satisfaction,” if I thought long and hard enough, but only because the Devo version was easier to make out the words than the Stones version. Mick Jagger is difficult to understand sometimes. Beatles, now that’s a different story. (Don’t get me started, singing, that is.)

I used to dance a lot to the Rolling Stones, particularly one album — the name escapes me, but I think it’s in the attic — that really had some songs that lent themselves well to gyration on the front porch of an old rented Craftsman home in West Des Moines, Iowa, in the late 1970s. Ah, the good old college days.

That particular album didn’t have “Brown Sugar” on it, but I think most people older than 30 have heard the song. And it made the news recently when the Rolling Stones decided on their own — no cancel culture involved here folks, so put your pens to rest — to cut “Brown Sugar” from their current set list now that they’re back on tour in the U.S., minus the iconic drummer Charlie Watts. (I always thought Keith Richards would go first, but with a band of septuagenarians and octogenarians you never know what will happen.)

I started doing some research on the song and found an article discussing it in 1995, when Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine “I would never write that song today.”

The complaint about the song is that its lyrics glorify slavery, rape, torture and pedophilia. It has also been described by some writers as racist.

The song starts out, “Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields.” It references beating enslaved people and sex with young enslaved women or girls. Some have written that “brown sugar” is a heroine reference.

Now that the tour has started and “Brown Sugar” has stopped, there’s all sorts of discussion about whether the Stones should have cut the song.

Perhaps the best writing I found on the matter came from The Conversation, an online publication produced by scholarly types.

“I would argue the ethical musician should defer to the sensibilities of the marginalized group. The cost here is the Rolling Stones won’t play Brown Sugar live. This isn’t censorship; the song is readily available. It isn’t even iconoclasm — music history is not damaged and no idols have been smashed,” wrote Beth Daly in The Conversation. “The Stones’ decision to pull the song isn’t a confession of racism. It is an ethical act and, in itself, an act of artistic freedom that preserves their social license and affirms their ongoing cultural significance.”

I wonder if you can even find the song on jukeboxes anymore. Perhaps you could find it on an old fashioned jukebox, but not the modern electronic song-playing devices they have these days.

Next time I’m at The Venue in downtown Angola, I’ll have to check. They have one of those electronic things, called a “digital music manager,” on the wall. It’s right across from the bar where they have a Mick Jagger-autographed guitar proudly displayed on the wall.

MIKE MARTURELLO is managing editor of The Herald Republican. He can be reached at

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