The Rolling Stones have retired one of their biggest hits. As the band continues their long-delayed No Filter tour across the U.S., they have pulled their 1971 hit "Brown Sugar" from the set list for the foreseeable future due to its references of slavery, bandmates Keith Richards and Mick Jagger confirmed to Los Angeles Times.
Asked why the Stones had cut the track from the setlist, Richards told the outlet that he was still "trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is." He questioned, "don't they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they're trying to bury it." The 77-year-old musician said that he doesn't "want to get into conflicts with all of this s-" and he is hoping they will "be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track." Jagger, meanwhile, noted the Stones have played the song "every night since 1970, so sometimes you think, we'll take that one out for now and see how it goes." He also suggested that "Brown Sugar" may one day return to the setlist.
Originally recorded in 1969, "Brown Sugar" makes several references to slavery in the first verse as the band sings, "Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields/Sold in the market down in New Orleans /Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright/Hear him whip the women just around midnight/Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?"
When the song was first released in 1971, it reached No. 1 in the U.S., and as Jagger noted, "Brown Sugar" has been a staple of the band's shows and is the band's second most-played song live after "Jumpin' Jack Flash," according to Setlist.fm. The band last performed the song during their performance at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida in August 2019.
Despite its popularity, "Brown Sugar" has found itself swept up in some controversy due to its lyrics. Jagger himself previously admitted that he "never would write that song now" when speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 1995, adding that he "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.'" In a 2019 piece for The Chicago Tribune, producer Ian Brennan criticized the band's decision — as well as radio stations' decision— to continue playing the song as he blasted the themes of "slavery, rape, torture and pedophilia."
Confirmation of the song's absence from future setlists comes amid the Stones' No Filter tour, which kicked off in late September and will conclude at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 20. The tour marks their first without original band member Charlie Watts, who passed away at the age of 80 on Tuesday, Aug. 24.