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‘Rollover Stones’? Rolling Stones draw flak for dropping controversial ‘Brown Sugar’ track from US concert setlists

The Rolling Stones have been accused of ‘virtue signaling’ after announcing that they will no longer play hit 1971 track ‘Brown Sugar’ amid criticism over its apparent references to the “horrors of slavery” and sexual violence.

After it emerged that the band had not performed one of their most recognizable songs during their ongoing US tour, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger confirmed that the 50-year-old classic had been dropped from their concert setlists for the road trip.

The song has been a staple of their live shows since its release, with Rolling Stone magazine counting some 1,136 known performances – reportedly making it the second most played song in the band’s catalog after ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.

Earlier this week, Jagger and Richards told the LA Times that the band had decided to “take [the song] out for now” after concerns about lyrical references to the slave trade, rape and black women.

“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,’” Jagger told the paper, adding that the group “might put it back in” at some point.

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Meanwhile, Richards – who co-wrote the song with Jagger during a 1969 recording session in Alabama – said he was hoping to “resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.” The 77-year-old guitarist expressed surprise at reports criticizing the lyrics.

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. At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this s***.

The last live performance of the track was on August 30, 2019, at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida, according to Rolling Stone magazine. Earlier that year, music producer Ian Brennan criticized the song in the Chicago Tribune for “glorifying slavery, rape, torture and pedophilia” and wondered if the band was being “given a pass” in the “#MeToo and #TimesUp era.”

Jagger himself expressed discomfort with the lyrics in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, calling it a “mishmash” with “all the nasty subjects in one go.” The song was reportedly written in 45 minutes – with Jagger describing it as “a very instant thing.”

“I never would write that song now. I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘Oh God, I can’t. I’ve got to stop. I can’t just write raw like that,’” the 78-year-old frontman said at the time.

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But the majority of social media users called the Stones out for their “wokeness and virtue signaling” with several people noting that most of their songs “aren’t woke” and urging the band to “take a stand and open [and] close with ‘Brown Sugar.’”

Singing about it does not equal endorsing it. People have written songs about what they love, despise, want, feel etc since the dawn of lyrics. Imagine if a death metal band did this. “Oh, sorry, we can’t write songs anymore because we don’t actually want to kill people”.

— HeManHunter (@HuntForHeMan) October 13, 2021

Some users took to renaming the band “Rollover Stones” for their “farcical and pathetic” decision and for conforming to current norms. One person reminisced about how rock stars once “spoke out against the mainstream narrative” whereas “now they are often mouthpieces for the establishment.”

Others like TV personality Piers Morgan tweeted that the song had an “anti-slavery message,” but this viewpoint was challenged by users who noted that the song “seems to revel in it” instead.

Not sure how the lyrics in any way promoting an anti-slavery message. In fact, just the opposite. Seems to revel in it.

— eball0911 (@eball0911) October 13, 2021

A number of people described the lyrics as “gross and disgusting” and commended the band for their sensible decision to not “foist [the song] on their black audience at gigs.”

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