Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Brown Sugar": A Lyrical Deconstruction.

I did this before with Foreigner's "Hot Blooded," and the crowd went wild. So, I present to you the second in a 3500-part series of Lyrical Deconstructions: the song "Brown Sugar" from the Rolling Stones, found in their excellent 1971 release, Sticky Fingers.

If you've listened to an hour's worth of any classic rock radio station, chances are you've heard this song at least three times. But after I bought the album and listened to it on my own, I really started to appreciate how bitchingly-awesome this song is. Keef's opening riff is a classic (and is stupidly easy to play if you switch to an open-G tuning, which he often uses), and the whole thing just swings like a badass track should.


A fine cut, indeed. Now to the lyrics. (Repetitious choruses were omitted.)

* * * * * * * *

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Off to a solid start, Mick: glamorizing the slave trade through song.

Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright
Hear him with the women just around midnight
Some old guy — who buys and sells humans for a living, and is horribly disfigured to boot — gets more quinny than Jim Carrey, Tom Brady and Charlie Sheen combined. And yet, I find meeting women exceptionally difficult. The plot thickens.

Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should
Much like Foreigner's Lou Gramm, the protagonist has an obsession with young women; specifically, probably, cunnilingus with said young women. The question is, if the slave girl is under 18, is it still stat rape if she's not technically a "person" under the law?

Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot
Lady of the house wonderin' when it's gonna stop
The phrase "English blood runs hot" might be the most ridiculous one ever used in song. When you think "English men," you think about Prince Charles, Richard Attenborough and Hugh Grant (when he's not getting beejers from hookers): stuffy and stodgy, not "hot blooded" like a certain American band we all know and love.

House boy knows that he's doing alright
You shoulda heard him just around midnight
The term "house boy" could go a couple of different ways here. Is it a young male slave who does work around the house and seduces white wives with his African libido in his spare time? Let's say yes.

I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen
The girl's mother may have been the feature performer at a "tent show," in a travelling circus.* Was she the Bearded Lady? Records from that era are spotty at best. Also, her mom may have been a fellow pedophile, like the protagonist. What kind of a circus are they running here?

I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like
You shoulda heard me just around midnight
The protagonist cops to being older. Finally, a moment of truth.

I said yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
How come you... how come you taste so good?
Because they spent an entire ocean voyage being penned-up like veal calves, that's why.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Just like a... just like a black girl should
So now he's saying black girls "should" be kept in the horrific conditions found on slave ships? Not only does he have a thing for (then-) taboo sexual trysts, he is a proponent of slavery. (As were most of the Founding Fathers of the USA, for the record.)

* * * * * * * *

In conclusion, the focal point of the story appears to be a mildly pedophilic pro-slavery slave-lover. I guess that's not too hard to wrap your brain around, except when you realize this story was woven into one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever made (it made Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 of all time).
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* Indiana post-alternative band Murder By Death started its own label in 2006, called Tent Show Records. It's a fact.

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