The Rolling Stones were not exactly known for their restraint or good taste. Building a reputation for being the unkempt and dangerous alternative to the more clean-cut mop-top era Beatles, the Stones courted controversy everywhere they went. It wasn’t just for their offstage antics, which included drug busts, girlfriend swaps, and general debauchery, but also for the contents of their lyrics.
Songs like ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Dead Flowers’ openly incorporated drug use into their lyrics, while ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Sweet Black Angel’ notoriously found the group taking on race in a dubious manner. ‘Dancing with Mr. D’ and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ lead to accusations of satanism, while ‘Stray Cat Blues’ salaciously dealt with the advances of a 15-year-old groupie. When it came to subject matter, The Rolling Stones were never afraid of going well over the line.
Even for a band playing as fast and loose with morals as the Stones, ‘Star Star’ was something else. Incorporating some of their signature sexual imagery, the Goats Head Soup album closer covered a young starlet who sleeps her way to the top of Hollywood. Notoriously, the lyrics mention performing sexual acts on the likes of Steve McQueen and trying to get John Wayne in bed before he dies. Combined with a revved-up Check Berry riff, ‘Star Star’ was one of the Stones’ sleaziest songs in their entire catalogue.
But the band never called the song ‘Star Star’. Just like its heavily repeated chorus line, the song was always known within the Stones camp as ‘Starfucker’. That was the song’s original title, and it was always meant to be the one and only title. There was a problem with an expletive-filled title like that, however: the band’s distributors baulked at the idea of having a song called ‘Starfucker’ featured on the album
By 1973, the Stones had been releasing albums on their own record label, Rolling Stones Records. After the band’s contract with Decca Records ended in 1970, they formed their own label under the leadership of Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. The band began courting interest in labels that would agree to distribute their records, and Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun got the band to partner with the label to put their albums in American record stores.
Even though the main purpose of forming Rolling Stones Records was for the band to call their own shots when it came to the contents of their records, Ertegun still insisted on changing the Goats Head Soup tracklisting so that ‘Starfucker’ became ‘Star Star’. Ertegun even tried to obscure the song’s central expletive, to little success.
The Stones eventually agreed to change the title, but the song’s refrain of “You’re a starfucker” remained unchanged.