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As NPR Celebrates 5 Decades, A Look Back On Rolling Stones' 'Sticky Fingers'

NOEL KING, HOST:

Fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones released what is considered to be one of their best albums, "Sticky Fingers."

(SOUNDBITE OF ROLLING STONES SONG, "B****")

KING: NPR is celebrating 50 years on the air, so every once in a while, we're looking back to some of the other things that were born in 1971.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The "Sticky Fingers" album cover - back in 1971, albums were released physically with these things called covers. Well, the album cover for "Sticky Fingers" featured a risque photograph from the mind of Andy Warhol of a male model in tight jeans seen only from the waist down. The first pressing of that album had an actual working zipper.

KING: The songs were often just as provocative - booze, drugs, sex all there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "B****")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Sometimes I'm sexy, move like a stud, like kicking the stall all night.

KING: "Sticky Fingers" was the first album the Stones released after a disastrous free concert at Altamont in Northern California. That was in late 1969. The Hells Angels motorcycle gang was there to provide crowd control, but their violent interactions with the audience resulted in a near riot and the stabbing death of one fan. The Stones took a lot of heat for their role in creating that atmosphere.

INSKEEP: That event was still in the news in 1971 when NPR went on the air and this new network played part of a BBC interview with Mick Jagger. Here, Margaret Howard asked him about the Rolling Stones' association with violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICK JAGGER: I'm not a symbol of physical violence. I don't particularly like physical violence. I don't really get involved in fights and punch-ups and all that.

MARGARET HOWARD: But nonetheless, you do end your performances - don't you? - by whipping the stage with your belt.

JAGGER: Well, yeah, but that's a sort of stage thing. You know, it's not a question of violence as much as theater, you know?

HOWARD: So for you, it's all kind of an elegant ballet and you dismiss the responsibility...

JAGGER: It's not particularly elegant.

INSKEEP: So that was their reputation in '71. And for the "Sticky Fingers" album, they tried to branch out a bit into acoustic country music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD HORSES")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away.

KING: And it was a hit. The legendary music critic Lester Bangs loved the band's new direction. He said "Sticky Fingers" was his favorite album of 1971. Not every critic, though, was on board. Jon Landau wrote for Rolling Stone back then. The mere thought of the Stones doing straight country music is simply appalling, he wrote.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAD FLOWERS")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) And you can send me dead flowers every morning, send me dead flowers by the mail.

INSKEEP: Critics today are a lot more forgiving as "Sticky Fingers" turns 50.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAD FLOWERS")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) And I won't forget to put roses on your grave. Well, when you're sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac making bets on Kentucky Derby Day... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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