The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” Lyrics Meaning

It has been speculated that this song is actually about an illegal substance, since “brown sugar” is a recognized slang term for a particular type of illicit substance. However, it is pretty clear that the primary topic of this track is interracial intimate relations. And Mick Jagger, the song’s writer and vocalist, approaches this subject from both a historical perspective and as someone who enjoys being in romantic relationships with Black women. 

Brown Sugar lyrics

In fact upon its penning, the original title of this track was actually “Black [expletive]”. However, he does not focus exclusively on the subject of White men having relations with Black women, as he also recounts the tale of an enslaved “house boy” having an affair with a slave master’s wife. 

“Brown Sugar” is said to have been inspired by at least one of two Black women Jagger was romantically associated with at the time, one of whom is actually the mother of his first child. The Black women in question are: Marsha Hunt and Claudia Lennear.

Who is Marsha Hunt?

Marsha is an American singer and actress. Aside from her professional career as a singer and actress, Marsha gained national recognition for her secret romantic relationship with Mick Jagger between 1969 and 1970. The affair eventually led to Jagger fathering a child named Karis with Marsha.

Marsha Hunt
Marsha Hunt

In 1985, Marsha released her autobiography titled Real Life. In this book, Marsha claimed that the song “Brown Sugar” was actually written about her. She published another book in 2016 titled “Undefeated”. She stated categorically once again in “Undefeated” that she was the inspiration behind “Brown Sugar”.

Who is Claudia Lennear?

Claudia Lennear is an American singer noted the world over for working as a backing vocalist for a plethora of famous musicians, including Joe Cocker. In a 2014 interview with the Daily Express, Lennear revealed that she not only dated Mick Jagger for a while but that “Brown Sugar” was inspired by her.

Claudia Lennear
Claudia Lennear

Unlike in the case of Marsha Hunt, the relationship between Jagger and Claudia didn’t lead to the birth of any child.

Facts about “Brown Sugar”

Mick Jagger wrote this song along with his bandmate Keith Richards.

Jimmy Miller worked on the song’s production.

The recording of “Brown Sugar” took place in December 1969. However, because of legal issues between the band and their former record label, the song’s release was delayed until the 16th of April 1971.

This single is the first track on the Rolling Stone’s 11th studio album, which is called,Sticky Fingers.

The tune also appears on several of the group’s albums. Some of them include: 

  • Love You Live (of 1979)
  • Forty Licks (of 2002)
  • GRRR! (of 2012)
  • Honk (of 2019)

Another version of this track was recorded in December 1970. This version featured Eric Clapton and Al Kooper. Not until it was released in June 2015, this edition of the song was only available on bootleg recordings.

In 1981, the song featured in the movie, Nighthawks, starring Sylvester Stallone.

Rolling Stone magazine placed this song at the 495th position on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Chart Success of “Brown Sugar”

This classic performed remarkably well on the charts of a variety of countries. For example, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. It was also number 1 in these countries:

  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Canada

In the United Kingdom, it reached number 2.

Covers of “Brown Sugar”

Over the years, other musicians have a recorded a cover edition of this music. These singers include: Jah Love, Slash, Ryan Adams (Feat. Beth Orton), Little Richard, and Eagles of Death Metal.

The Controversy

As the world becomes more woke or politically-correct or however you may want to put it, musicians are also compelled to adjust accordingly. Gone are the days of popular acts such as The Rolling Stones dropping race-based, potentially off-putting songs like “Brown Sugar” with little to no repercussion. 

In fact even now, a good five decades after this track originally came out, Mick Jagger and co. have decided not to perform “Brown Sugar” live. However, they made this decision reluctantly, with Keith Richards noting that this piece is actually “about the horrors of slavery”. 

And Mick Jagger has inferred that their removing of this tune from the setlist doesn’t really have anything to do with political correctness. According to him, it’s rather because the band grew tired of playing this song “every night since 1970”. 

This is despite the fact that Jagger has publicly stated in the past that the lyrics of this piece aren’t anything he would write in his more mature adulthood. And both legendary Rolling Stones expressed a desire to add “Brown Sugar” back to their touring catalog in the future. 

But to note, even though this song may feature harrowing references to the Transatlantic Slave Trade as noted by Richards, as we have concluded in our earlier analysis the emphasis is definitely more on the vocalist’s taste for sex with Black women. In any event these days, the Western establishment’s recognition of the sensitivities of minorities may be at an all-time peak.

2 Responses

  1. AL says:

    You can’t pretend slavery never happened by erasing any mention of it. If it’s done tastefully then I have no problem with it.

  2. Eastern George says:

    Do you remember the upheval after the first inter-racial kiss on TV in Star Trek? They got away with it because “it’is just science FICTION”:-). But it was a wonderful gesture (read. middle finger) towards racism and segregation.
    I wonder when this kiss will be proclaimed racist too… and cut-out, withdrawn and forced to forget (just compare Google search on a sensitive topic with results from DuckDuckGo).
    Every time the history was rewritten, it’s lesson was forgotten. I grew up in a communist country where this Orwellian way of doing things was the second nature and I’m really surprised – and dismayed – that the same principle (eventhough the ideology behind is different) is more and more frequently applied in “The good old Western civilization” we longed to a part of.
    Are the people so weak that they:
    1) can’t stand the historical context of an art piece
    2) and are too lazy or stupid to learn of it
    so they have to be cushioned like new-born babies? If so, they don’n deserve Brown Sugar in lieral and metaphorical way;).

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