The Rolling Stones have dropped the song Brown Sugar from the setlist of their current US tour in a decision that has been hailed as a victory, with previous performances of the hit labelled insensitive and a “prime example of entitlement”.
The 1971 hit is widely considered to have one of the greatest guitar riffs in history, but its success is thought to have overshadowed the song’s references to slavery, sex and drugs.
Critics have said the track – the band’s second most played song on tour after Jumpin’ Jack Flash – contains “some of the most stunningly crude and offensive lyrics that have ever been written” and that it is “gross, sexist, and stunningly offensive towards black women”.
'I don't want to get into conflict with all of this s**t,' Keith Richards said, 'but I'm hoping that we'll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track'
The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards confirmed the decision not to perform the song to the Los Angeles Times but said he was confused by the backlash the track had received over time. "I'm trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is," he said. "Didn't they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they're trying to bury it."
Mick Jagger, the band's lead singer, told the paper the group wasn't playing the song any more because it was "tough" to compile a setlist for stadium shows. He added: "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.' We might put it back in."
In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, the music producer Ian Brennan criticised the band’s decision to continue to “play and profit” from the song, which he said glorified slavery, rape, torture and paedophilia.
Speaking to the Guardian after Richards’s comments, Brennan urged the Rolling Stones to “seize this moment” to educate their “gigantic platform” on racial equality. “That they now retire the song is a victory. But that the band continue to play coy as to the reasons for their decision rather than just making a frank admission of the inappropriateness of the lyrics as the reason why they have chosen to no longer play the song live is an opportunity for healing and leadership missed.”
He added: “The Rolling Stones’s insistence on continuing to perform the song was not only insensitive but a prime example of entitlement.”
The band have been called cowards by some fans for opposing reasons. The journalist and broadcaster Piers Morgan accused them of surrendering to “the woke brigade”. “You no longer have the stomach to stand up for yourself and fight for what’s right?” Morgan wrote in his latest column in the Daily Mail. “How deeply depressing.”
Jagger said as far back as 1995 that he’d never “write that song now ... I’d probably censor myself.” Rumoured to be about one of Jagger’s girlfriends, the song, which has been streamed almost 170 million times on Spotify, was last performed live by the band in Florida in 2019.
Richards added: “I don’t want to get into conflict with all of this s**t ... but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.”
The Rolling Stones's current US tour is the band's first for two years, and follows the death of their drummer, Charlie Watts, in August. – Guardian