After 50 years, the Rolling Stones have dropped one of their biggest—and most controversial—songs from their set list. With its references to slavery, mentions of whipping, and lyrics like "How come you taste so good, just like a Black girl should," 1971 hit "Brown Sugar" has been strongly criticized in recent years, with music producer Ian Brennan accusing the band of "glorifying slavery, rape, torture, and pedophilia" in 2019, USA Today reports. Keith Richards told the Los Angeles Times that the song has been retired for now but the band hasn't ruled out bringing it back. "I'm trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is," the guitarist said. "Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery?"
"I don’t want to get into conflict with all of this s--- … but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track," Richards said. Mick Jagger also said it might return, adding: "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.'" CNN notes that in a 1995 interview, Jagger said, "I never would write that song now. I would probably censor myself." The last time the band played the song live was in Miami in 2019, during their final concert with drummer Charlie Watts, who died in August. The Stones resumed their "No Filter" tour in the US last month.
Brennan tells the Guardian that it was insensitive and a "prime example of entitlement" for the band to have played the song for so long. "That they now retire the song is a victory," he says. "But that the band continue to play coy as to the reasons for their decision rather than just making a frank admission of the inappropriateness of the lyrics as the reason why they have chosen to no longer play the song live is an opportunity for healing and leadership missed." (The Rolling Stones' St. Louis show in September was their first without Watts since 1963.)