The Rolling Stones Have Dropped "Brown Sugar" from Their Setlist

The band have also hinted at new music with late drummer Charlie Watts
The Rolling Stones Have Dropped 'Brown Sugar' from Their Setlist
Photo: Lindsay Duncan
The Rolling Stones are in the midst of a fall tour of the U.S., and while they've quite literally gone unnoticed in some American cities on the run, the omission of "Brown Sugar" from the band's setlist is now drawing attention.

A new profile of the rock vets published by The Los Angeles Times points to "Brown Sugar" — which author Mikael Wood calls a "gleefully problematic early-'70s smash" — falling out of favour in a current setlist rotation of other hits like "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Satisfaction," and more recent fare like "Living In a Ghost Town."

Of course, the lyrics of "Brown Sugar" have long been scrutinized for their depictions of slavery, rape, torture and pedophilia. The song from 1971's Sticky Fingers opens as follows: "Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields / Sold in a market down in New Orleans / Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright / Hear him whip the women just around midnight / Brown sugar how come you taste so good? / Brown sugar just like a young girl should."

"You picked up on that, huh?" guitarist Keith Richards replied to The Times when asked about the absence of "Brown Sugar." "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 shit. But I'm hoping that we'll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track."

Frontman Mick Jagger 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.'" He continued, "We might put it back in," noting that "the setlist in a stadium show, it's kind of a tough one."

Publicly available setlist data [via setlist.fm] shows that "Brown Sugar" was most recently played live by the Stones in August 2019 at a performance in Florida. Earlier that year, music producer Ian Brennan wrote an op-ed published by The Chicago Tribune in which he condemned "the violence and stereotypes depicted" in its lyrics.

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger offered of "Brown Sugar," "God knows what I'm on about on that song. It's such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go."

"I never would write that song now," he shared, adding, "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.'"

Elsewhere in the interview with The Los Angeles Times, Jagger and Richards confirmed that the Rolling Stones had recently been at work on their first album of original material since 2005's A Bigger Bang, with the former revealing, "We have a lot of tracks done, so when the tour's finished we'll assess where we are with that and continue."

While further details on that material are scarce, the two confirmed that late drummer Charlie Watts had tracked parts for a number of songs before his death. "Let me put it this way," Richards shared with The Times. "You haven't heard the last of Charlie Watts."

Later this month, the Rolling Stones will treat 1981's Tattoo You to a 40th anniversary reissue. The band's most recent album remains 2016's Blue and Lonesome.