Stone me! Brown Sugar’s gone sour, the headlines screamed. Mick and Keef have caved in to the woke brigade by axing their seminal stonker from their tour setlist. Cue much frothing at the mouth from the usual right-wing suspects. The age of woke is beyond a joke, they howled, branding the Glimmer Twins cowards for pandering to minority extremists. Case closed.

The theatrical outrage over Jagger and Richards’ decision to retire (for the time being) the blistering opening track from their Sticky Fingers album was as predictable as it was lazy. After all, the reasoning goes, what is the world coming to when wealthy white pensioners are made to feel uncomfortable singing about black slavery, rape, heroin and torture?

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Joking aside, I see this less a victory for cancel culture more a dawning of realisation in an age of heightened consciousness. Critics argue the track contains “some of the most stunningly crude and offensive lyrics ever written”.

Indeed, it does throw up some eye-wateringly inappropriate lines when viewed through the optics of today’s more sensitive times. “Scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright/Hear him whip the women just around midnight” didn’t bat an eye in the Seventies.

But even for an era when ethnic appropriation and sexist attitudes were seldom if ever questioned, the song is pretty nasty stuff. They weren’t alone. Hendrix, Young and The Beatles all sung about shooting or beating their old lady/baby/woman, while even 10 years later The Police’s Every Breath You Take reads like a stalker’s charter.

The real problem lies in playing Brown Sugar live today, thereby perpetuating what should have been shown the red card years ago. It’s amazing it’s lasted so long.

The Stones themselves haven’t exactly been unequivocal in their decision to drop it, with Jagger hinting they may “put it back in”, while Richards insists the lyrics are a condemnation of slavery.

But whatever their motivation, the decision is an astute one, and bears all the hallmarks of why the brand has been so enduring – indeed it was 60 years ago on Sunday the dynamic duo first met, and, well, the rest is history.

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Jagger was even aware of Brown Sugar’s damaging potential in the 90s when he said he would “never write that song now”. To be seen as dangerous and edgy is one thing, but to be out of step with current cultural norms is bad business.

So rather than being hounded out of Dodge by woke zealots, as the permanently offended would have us believe, the rock veterans are doing what they do best – picking up on the zeitgeist.

For me, the song’s visceral appeal lies more in its pulsating guitar riff than in its words. I wouldn’t object to it being played live with altered lyrics. This isn’t censorship, more a nuanced response to changing attitudes.

If you want to listen to Brown Sugar, then play it at home. As a historic reference point to one of music’s greatest acts at the height of their powers, it stands out. But let’s show some sympathy for the old devils. They haven’t sold out. The Rolling Stones are the ultimate rock survivors. Pulling the plug on Brown Sugar proves that.


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