To enjoy “Brown Sugar” as sound-glorious-sound was always easy. Thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime riff composed by Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones’ first #1 of the seventies is all loping, thrusting rhythm.
Jagger, rehearsing the approach and outcome enshrined in the follow-up Exile on Main Street (1972), treats vowels like a mediocre Beaujolais he sloshes between his teeth. But the chorus is plenty legible. I won’t quote the lyrics. You’ve sung them in your car. I’ve sung them in my car. I have no need to sing it in my car again. Not when Sticky Fingers, the excellent if not quite epochal album on which it occupies prime real estate, boasts a similarly relentless (and Jagger-written) riff rocker called “Sway” and another one in the middle called “Bitch,” which, well, uh, has problems too. “The song traffics in repugnant stereotypes of black female sexuality, and it mines the historical atrocity of slavery for white male fantasy, while its rollicking and ebullient backing track implies a galling flippancy toward its own subject matter,” Jack Hamilton wrote in Just Around Midnight, his study of authenticity and white/Black musical cross-pollination. And he also thinks “Brown Sugar” has an irresistible chug. I don’t need to “cancel” “Brown Sugar” — “cancel culture” can’t exist in a capitalist society — because I stopped listening to it years ago.
ANYWAY. This year is about Rod Stewart inventing George Michael’s “One More Try”: the younger man enchanted by yet shirking the older lover who taught him a few things. I can respect but not understand how listeners never cared for Rod Stewart again. Listeners after a subtler and less fraught nexus between Black art and white exploitation should listen to, yeah, the Stones’ cover of The Temptations’ magisterial “Just My Imagination,” in which Jagger regards his own wistfulness as a grand joke.
Carole King’s genius was for songwriting but her gift — what made Tapestry briefly the biggest album in American history — was sounding like a normal person doing her job well. Like Jeff Bridges, her contemporary. Like Vanessa Williams later.
And, yeah, the Osmonds. Sorry. No puedo, as we say down here. A chilling cheerlessness. Listening to them sing is like watching an American Girl doll fry plantains. And “Go Away Little Girl” is repugnant garbage — who is this cross-eyed replicant to tell a friend to stay away? Really?
Paul & Linda McCartney – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Donny Osmond – Go Away Little Girl
The Osmonds – One Bad Apple
Three Dog Night – Joy to the World
Melanie – Brand New Key
Dawn – Knock Three Times
Honey Cone – Want Ads
Paul Revere & The Raiders – Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)
James Taylor – You’ve Got a Friend
Good to Great
Rod Stewart – Maggie May/Reason to Believe
The Temptations – Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft
Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGhee
Sly and the Family Stone – Family Affair
The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar
Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Carole King – It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move
Cher – Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves