Sticky Fingers

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Sticky Fingers Music Poster Image
Dark sex, drug, and death themes infuse classic tunes.

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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

The lack of positive messages on Sticky Fingers was probably regarded as a selling point by the Stones themselves back in the day -- it revels in bad-boy ways. While the bad behavior (mean sex, drugs, etc.) delivers only short-term fun, and often seems to lead to a torturous downward spiral, this effect seems to be more part of the nihilistic landscape than the result of any moral order.

Positive Role Models & Representations

You'll find a lot of people behaving badly here, from cruel lovers to strung-out drug addicts. You probably won't find anyone you'd want your kid to consider a role model portrayed in any of the songs.


"Dead Flowers" conveys that untimely death is an ongoing possibility in the partying lifestyle.


Besides the sexualized quality of Rolling Stones music in general, the lyrics often add to the message. Here, "Bitch" goes overboard: "Sometimes I'm sexy, move like a stud / Kicking the stall all night / Sometimes I'm so shy, got to be worked on / Don't have no bark or bite, alright / Yeah when you call my name / I salivate like a Pavlov dog / Yeah when you lay me out / My heart is bumpin' louder than a big bass drum ..." "Brown Sugar" begins with images of a slave master having sex with his female slaves and goes on to explore contemporary white men's attraction to dark-skinned women.


The issue here is less foul language --"Bitch," the song title and lyric, is about as bad as it gets -- as the relentlessly dark reality underlying all the songs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Most songs on Sticky Fingers explicitly mention drug use, and the rest imply it. The most explicit: "Sister Morphine," which traces an addict's final crawl in search of what he thinks will be his last shot.  On "Dead Flowers," Mick Jagger sings, "I'll be in my basement room / With a needle and a spoon."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sticky Fingers is awash in sex, drugs, death, and negativity -- and also great Rolling Stones music, including several tunes that have become classics ("Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," "Dead Flowers") and outstanding vocals by Mick Jagger. The Stones' wildly enthusiastic plunge into decadence and darkness on this album is often so over the top as to seem comical by today's standards. (Keep in mind that Johnny Depp modeled his role as Captain Jack Sparrow on Rolling Stones bad-boy guitarist Keith Richards and cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew.) By the standards of its own time (1971), Sticky Fingers was intended to sell millions by scaring the living daylights out of parents, who, if they didn't get the drift of the title, would probably figure it out from the cover, which featured a functioning zipper embedded in the fly of the cover model's jeans, beckoning invitingly.

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What's the story?

Gearing up for the excesses of the '70s, the Rolling Stones released this album of heavily drug-tinged, decadent tunes following the death of original Rolling Stones drummer Brian Jones and the debacle of the Altamont, the 1969 free music festival the Stones headlined where a fan was killed. Many of the songs have a country flavor, due to the fact that guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards was hanging out with Gram Parsons. The music ranges from blues-tinged hard rock to twangy ballads, but with rare exceptions there's an underlying cynicism and bleakness to even the upbeat songs, and a quality of decadence throughout its worldview.

Is it any good?

Musically, this is considered one of the best Stones albums; the playing is strong throughout, Jagger and Richards have plenty of fun with the vocals; and several of the tracks are enduring classics. Its dark, snarky, nasty, world-weary environment, in which drugs are everywhere, the women are loose, and partying and death seem to be two sides of the same coin, is not for the young and innocent.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the singer in "Brown Sugar" goes from talking about slave masters having sex with their female slaves to proclaiming the irresistible charms of dark-skinned women to white men in the present day. How do you feel about this angle on interracial relationships?

  • What do you think about this album's fascination with drug use, from matter-of-fact description of the lifestyle to fatalistic embrace of self-destruction? What do you think the artists thought about it at the time, and how do you think it looks to them in hindsight, 40 years later?

  • Why do you think the Rolling Stones have been so hugely popular, often called the greatest rock band in history, for so many decades now?

Music details

  • Artist: Rolling Stones
  • Release date: April 23, 1971
  • Label: UMe
  • Genre: Rock
  • Parental advisory: Yes
  • Edited version available: No
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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