“Brown Sugar” was released in April 1971 as the first single from the album Sticky Fingers. While the US single featured only “Bitch” as the B-side, the British single featured that track plus a live rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock”, recorded at the University of Leeds during the 1971 tour of the United Kingdom.
Originally, Mick Jagger wrote this as “Black Pussy.” He decided that was a little too direct and changed it to “Brown Sugar.”
The song is also the first single released on Rolling Stones Records (catalogue number RS-19100) and is one of the two Stones songs (along with “Wild Horses”) licensed to both the band and former manager Allen Klein (a result of various business disagreements) resulting in its inclusion on the compilation album Hot Rocks 1964–1971. “Brown Sugar” is also included on the most significant latter-day Rolling Stones compilations, Jump Back, Forty Licks and GRRR!.
To promote the song, the Rolling Stones performed on Top of the Pops with the performance taped sometime around late March 1971, and being shown on 15 April and 6 May.
In the United Kingdom, the single was originally issued in mono using a now-rarely heard bespoke mono mix. This mono mix has never been used on any compilation.
According to the book Up And Down With The Rolling Stones by Tony Sanchez, all the slavery and whipping is a double meaning for the perils of being “mastered” by Brown Heroin, or “Brown Sugar.” The drug cooks brown in a spoon.
The song was performed routinely during the Stones’ 1970 European Tour, occupying a prominent spot near the end of the set list even though audiences were unfamiliar with it. The band opened the shows of their infamous 1972 American Tour with “Brown Sugar”, and it has since become a Stones concert staple.