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Rolling Stones cut ‘Brown Sugar’ from live set due to slavery references

The Rolling Stones have confirmed that their infamous song Brown Sugar will no longer be included in their live sets due to controversy surrounding the lyrics.

The move has attracted mixed reactions from fans, with some labelling it as long overdue, while others are upset over the scrutiny towards the track.

According to setlist.fm, Brown Sugar (1971) had played the song live 1336 times, making it the most played song second to Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Image: NME

Guitarist Keith Richards confirmed the move, speaking to LA times when he was questioned over the obvious absence of the track at live events.

“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.”

Richards seems detached from the controversy surrounding the lyrics, but The Stones have not played Brown Sugar live since 2019.

The first verse makes explicit references to slavers abusing and raping black slaves in Louisiana, and the famous chorus is a lecherous example of black fetishisation.

“Brown sugar, how come you taste so good/Brown sugar, just like a young girl should.”

The term ‘Brown Sugar’ can refer to heroin or black women, as vocalist Mick Jagger acknowledges in the liner notes of the 1993 compilation album Jump Back.

“The lyric was all to do with the dual combination of drugs and girls. This song was a very instant thing, a definite high point.”

The lyrics reflect this understanding of the term, as Jagger croons “Got me craving the Brown Sugar/Just like a black girl should.”

Two years later in 1995, Jagger said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “I would never write that song now. I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘oh god, I can’t, I’ve gotta stop’.”

In more recent recordings and performances, the lyrics have been slightly altered to avoid directly referencing a “black girl”, and instead repeats “young girl”.

The song is still available to stream and purchase.