#1114: Sweet Black Angel by The Rolling Stones

Peak Month: May 1972
5 weeks on Vancouver’s CKVN chart
Peak Position #3
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart

“Sweet Black Angel” is a song by the Rolling Stones, featured on their 1972 album Exile on Main St. It was also released on a single as the B-side to “Tumbling Dice” prior to the album.
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “Sweet Black Angel” is one of the most political songs written by the Rolling Stones. For the most part the Rolling Stones shy away from overt political songs. Even on the their 1968 single “Street Fighting Man”, which deals with anti-war rioting of the late ’60s, Jagger sums the Stones ethos up by singing “what can a poor boy do, but sing for a rock n’ roll band.”

Sweet Black Angel” is a country-blues ballad written about civil rights activist Angela Davis, who was facing murder charges at the time.

Steve Kurutz says in an All Music review, “Having never heard of Angela Davis, a listener could easily overlook the political lyrics and get lost in the circular acoustic plucking or the washboard rhythm that propels the song so well. Yet, by knowing the case history one realizes how deft and clever Mick’s lyrics could be, even if he hides behind his best backwoods diction and garbled annunciation obscures the point. ”

Got a sweet black angel, got a pin up girl
Got a sweet black angel up upon my wall
Well, she ain’t no singer and she ain’t no star
But she sure talk good and she move so fast

But the gal in danger, yeah, de gal in chains
but she keep on pushin’, would ya take her place?
She countin’ up de minutes, she countin’ up de days
She’s a sweet black angel, whoa, not a sweet black slave

Ten little niggers sittin’ on de wall
Her brothers been a fallen’, fallin’ one by one
For a judge they murdered and a judge they stole
Now de judge he gonna judge her for all dat he’s a worth.

…She’s a sweet black angel not a gun toting teacher
Not a Red lovin’ school mom
Ain’t someone gonna free her, free de sweet black slave
free de sweet black slave (x3)

Rolling Stones - Sweet Black Angel 45 (Canada).jpg

Initial recording took place at Mick Jagger’s “Stargroves” home in England during the mid 1970 Sticky Fingers sessions with overdubs and final mixing being completed later at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles between December 1971 and March 1972. Jagger is on lead vocals and harmonica, Richards and Mick Taylor on guitars and backing vocals, Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums. Richard “Didymus” Washington plays marimba while producer Jimmy Miller lends support on percussion. The song climbed the record survey on CKVN to #3 but did not chart in the USA. The A-side, “Tumbling Dice” peaked in on the Billboard Hot 100 at #7 and #3 in Vancouver, a fairly similar chart performance and therefore not a candidate for review on this website.

Angela Davis is an author, activist and scholar. Since the 1970s she’s been one of the most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States. An icon of the ’70s black liberation movement, Angela Davis’s work has focused on issues of gender, race, class and prisons. She has influenced critical thought and social movements, especially in America, across several generations. She’s a leading advocate for prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a fugitive on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list more than 40 years ago in the early 1970s. In 1944, Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama. The city would become known as “Bombingham” as a result of so many Ku Klux Klan bombings. In 1963, the Klan blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four girls and injuring 22 others.

“Sweet Black Angel” was performed live by the Stones only once, in Fort Worth on 24 June 1972. Davis was prosecuted for conspiracy involving the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County, California, courtroom, in which four persons were killed. She was acquitted in a federal trial. Since the Rolling Stones recorded the song Angela Davis has gone from being a most wanted person by the FBI to a sought after commentator on current issues like the Black Lives Matter movement on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! show.

“Sweet Black Angel” has been covered by a number of recording artists including the Vermont folk-rock group Phish.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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