45 Years Ago: The Rolling Stones Launch Their Own Label With ‘Brown Sugar’
As the business end of the music business grew larger, some artists were not content sitting on the sidelines. Bands wanted more control over artistic content and to use their muscle to help other acts. The Rolling Stones became one of those on April 16, 1971 with the release of "Brown Sugar" b/w "Bitch" on their new label, Rolling Stones Records.
The idea of an artist-driven label dates back to at least 1960 with the formation of Reprise Records by Frank Sinatra. Eventually, the idea made its way into the rock world. The Beatles had Apple, Frank Zappa had Straight/Bizarre, the Beach Boys had Brother. Even the Turtles got in the game with their Blimp imprint.
By 1970, the Rolling Stones had become dissatisfied with Decca Records (their U.K. label) and London (U.S.) and were also looking to branch out. For their final contractually obligated recording, the band had come up with a kiss-off to Decca in the form of a single called "Schoolboy Blues," more commonly known as "C---sucker Blues," knowing that Decca would never release the track. It set the stage for the Stones to leave Decca for their new home.
With the now-iconic "tongue-and-lips" logo, the label was distributed in the United States by Atco Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, and eventually just straight through Atlantic. Unlike the grand concept the Beatles had for the Apple empire (that never fully came to be) or the wide reaching stable Zappa put in place for Straight/Bizarre, the Stones' sights were much simpler, concentrating primarily on themselves. It really wouldn't be until the '80s when they would more actively pursue other artists for the label.
"Brown Sugar" was a pure blast of rock and roll from the band and a taste of what would come with their next album, Sticky Fingers, which was released a week later. The single and album would top the U.S. and U.K. charts.The freedom the new label gave the Stones was minimal. They may not have had to answer to the big guns at Decca, but the watchful eye of Atlantic's Ahmet Ertegun was never too far away.
Listen to 'Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka'
Perhaps the most unique release on the label came in the fall of 1971 with Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka. The album featured recordings Jones made in the summer of 1968 by the Master Musicians of Joujouka in the Moroccan village of Jajouka. It is often referred to as the first "world music" release.
The Stones continued to release one hit LP after another on their label. Following the massive Sticky Fingers, the band made the legendary classic double album Exile on Main Street in 1972. Goats Head Soup (1973) and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974) would follow, closing a different chapter for the band with the exit of guitarist Mick Taylor.
Mick Jagger attempted to sign former Mamas and Papas leader John Phillips to the label in 1973, but after working with Phillips on the project for several years, things fell apart and it was never released. By the late '70s, the label turned its attention to the world of reggae, signing the legendary Peter Tosh in 1978 and releasing Bush Doctor, which featured guitarist Keith Richards on a couple tracks, and more notably, the single "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" had Jagger teaming up with Tosh on vocals. The single made a quick flash on the Billboard Top 100, checking in at No. 81 in the fall of 1978. Tosh would record two more albums for the label and tour with the Stones on their Some Girls '78 Tour.
Though the tongue the label as a fully functioning concept for acts besides the Stones never blossomed, they continued to use the imprint -- even moving it to CBS in 1986 -- for all of their albums through 1991's live Flashpoint. After that, they signed with Virgin, where their first effort, 1994's Voodoo Lounge, didn't bear the imprint's name.
Rolling Stones Albums, Ranked Worst to Best