The Rolling Stones have announced that one of their biggest hits has been removed from setlists due to criticism over its lyrics regarding slavery. Sky News reports, at the band’s upcoming shows, fans will no longer be able to hear Brown Sugar, the group’s number one song from 1971, which is widely regarded as having one of the finest guitar riffs in history.
In the song, the band explores “the horrors of slavery” and drug use and sexual violence. The opening lines describe slaves being sold and abused in Louisiana, with a “slaver” whipping “women just around midnight.” The lyrics are seen as depicting a non-consensual sexual encounter between slave masters and slaves. Brown Sugar can also be a euphemism for heroin.
When asked why the song had been pulled from the setlist, Guitarist Keith Richards told the LA Times, “You picked up on that, huh?” He also stated, “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.”
In discussing the controversy surrounding the song, Richards said, “At the moment, I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this s***… but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.”
Lead singer of the band, Mick Jagger, said, “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 the 1990s, Jagger said to Rolling Stone Magazine about the song, written in 1969, “I never would write that song now… I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘oh God, I can’t. I’ve got to stop. I can’t just write raw like that.'”
Detractors have claimed that the song consists of “some of the most stunningly crude and offensive lyrics that have ever been written” and that it is “gross, sexist, and stunningly offensive toward black women.”
According to setlist.fm, Brown Sugar is the band’s second most performed song on tour, after Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The band’s upcoming tour is their first in two years, as live performances pick back up in the United States following the pandemic. It’s also the band’s first live performance since drummer Charlie Watts died in August.