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The Cover Uncovered: The artistic masterpiece that is The Rolling Stones album 'Sticky Fingers'

Sticky Fingers is the 1971 masterpiece by the Rolling Stones. It was their ninth British studio album, and the second to feature guitarist Mick Taylor after the 1970 live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!. Often considered one of the band’s best LP’s, Sticky Fingers spawned the two classic singles, ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Wild Horses’. It is also noted for the fact that as a record, it is more downbeat than other Stones works and has jazz and country elements to it, stemming from Taylor being an experimental guitarist.

However, the album is possibly more famous for its cover than its sonic content. The idea for the artwork was the brainchild of none other than Andy Warhol, and it was photographed and designed by members of his pioneering art collective, The Factory.

The cover expertly emphasises the sexual innuendo of the album’s title. In what is now one of the most iconic album artwork’s of all time, it depicts a male clad in jeans and is a close up of the crotch visibly displaying the outline of his penis. In a move trademark of Warhol and The Factory, the cover of the original release included a working zipper and holes around the belt buckle that opened to reveal an image of white briefs underneath.

It also displayed the band’s name and the album title on the left-hand side of the artwork. Furthermore, the briefs were designed to look as if Warhol’s name had been rubber-stamped in gold on them. It featured his stylised name and read, “THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE—ETC.” 

Although the idea for the idea was Warhol’s, Billy Name and Craig Braun did a lot of the actual work. The former undertook the photography, and the design was left to the latter. Given the nature of the art collective and the era, Braun came up with a whole host of zany ideas. One was to wrap the album in rolling paper. However, this did not come to fruition until a year later when Braun designed the artwork for Cheech & Chong’s second album Big Bambu.

Typically, Jagger was entirely behind the idea to use a genuine zipper on the cover. That was that, and Warhol sent Brain Polaroid pictures of the model in tight jeans. To this day, the owner of the crotch remains a mystery.

Upon release, many fans assumed that the cover was Mick Jagger. However, Warhol’s inner circle from the time revealed that Jagger was never photographed for the LP. In fact, it is claimed by numerous contemporaries that Warhol shot a variety of models and never revealed who made the final cut. There exist the usual suspectsbut no definitive answer has ever been found. 

In the lineup are Jed Johnson, Warhol’s lover at the time, who even denied it was him, and his twin brother Jay. Others from the scene at time name Factory makeup artist and designer Corey Tippin as the likeliest candidate. He is also convinced it’s him. Other’s include the so-called Warhol “superstars” like Joe Dallesandro and Jackie Curtis.

Before too long, the use of an actual zipper would be abandoned. The zipper was damaging the vinyl underneath as orders were stacked before shipping and the weight of the albums caused the zipper to dig into the vinyl. This left many customers unhappy that the opening on ‘Brown Sugar‘ had been ruined.

Suggestive rock and roll aside, the album cover of Sticky Fingers was a momentous moment in the band’s career for another reason. It was the first Stones album cover to feature the now-iconic tongue and lips logo. The inclusion of the band’s now trademark logo on the back of the sleeve was to start the Rolling Stones as a brand.

Originally designed by British designer John Pasche in 1970, the logo we know today went through a couple of changes before being released into popular culture. The idea for the logo originated with Mick Jagger. He suggested to Pasche that he copy the stuck-out tongue of the Hindu goddess Kali. Initially, Pasche felt that the design was dated and was too reminiscent of the cultural appropriation inherent to hippiedom in the ’60s. However, after seeing an image of Kali, he changed his mind.

By the end of 1970, Pasche’s basic version of the image was faxed to Craig Braun by the Stones’ record label, Marshall Chess. Initially black and white, Braun and his team revised and modified the design, resulting in the iconic red version we know today. It is one of the most influential band logo’s of all time, and it perfectly captures the sexy, hedonistic essence of the Rolling Stones.

The pain surrounding the design of the album artwork did end there. The Franco regime in Spain censored the original cover, and the original artwork was replaced with the “can of fingers” cover designed by John Pasche and Phil Jude. The revised design displayed human fingers in an open can of treacle, relating to the album title, just not in the way the band intended. For the Iberian release, ‘Sister Morphine’ was replaced by a live cover of Chuck Berry‘s ‘Let it Rock’.

In 1992 the band had to revise the cover again—this time for Russian audiences. The Russian release included the band’s name and album title in Cyrillic lettering. The photograph was colourised, including a Soviet Army belt buckle detailed with a hammer and sickle inscribed in a star. Furthermore, the model appears to be female.

There can be no wonder that Sticky Fingers is one of the most iconic albums of all time. Not only is the music iconic, but the artwork made a global splash, and it marked the start of the global megabrand we know as the Rolling Stones.