Legendary rock band The Rolling Stones are back on tour, and they're singing and playing in front of fans despite the recent death of founding drummer Charlie Watts, who was 80.
And something else noticeably different on this tour — so far, at least — is the absence of their anthemic song, "Brown Sugar," which the Los Angeles Times referred to as a "gleefully problematic early-'70s smash that opens on a 'Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields.'"
'They're trying to bury it'
"You picked up on that, huh?" guitarist Keith Richards replied when the Times asked him why he, Mick Jagger, and the rest of the Stones aren't playing the song. "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 s**t."
The paper added that Richards "laughed in his signature raspy fashion" and then said he's "hoping that we'll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track."
The publication that bears the band's name — Rolling Stone — reported Tuesday that there's been no sign of "Brown Sugar" four shows into the group's 2021 No Filter Tour. The fourth show was Saturday in Nashville; the band's next gig is Thursday in Los Angeles.
For context, the magazine said "Brown Sugar" has been a cornerstone of the Rolling Stones' concerts since it was released 50 years ago, and it's the second-most played song in their catalog with 1,136 known performances. (The magazine added that "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is on top of the list.)
But those lyrics...
Rolling Stone magazine said given the current social climate, it's not difficult to see how playing "Brown Sugar" night after night might eventually spell trouble.
After the first line ("Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields"), things get specific and ugly: "Sold in the market down in New Orleans/Scarred old slaver knows he's doin' alright/Hear him whip the women just around midnight."
More from the magazine:
This is indeed an historically accurate description of the horrors of the slave trade. And while nobody is seriously suggesting the Stones released a pro-slavery song, it continues on with lines about the unimaginable sexual abuse many slaves faced once they reached southern plantations.
"Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot," Jagger sings. "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."
"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,'" Jagger told the Times. "We might put it back in."
The magazine concluded by hypothesizing why Jagger may not be into performing "Brown Sugar" at the moment: "It just doesn't taste so good in 2021."