What’s behind the zipper on this Rolling Stones cover – “Sticky Fingers”? A good story, of course. The cover was created by pop art artist Andy Warhol. At a party in 1970, Warhol met Stones singer Mick Jagger and suggested to him the idea of a real zipper on an album cover. The idea appealed to Jagger, but the group had already hired photographer Peter Webb for the cover of their new LP, “Sticky Fingers”. At the time the Stones wanted to get rid of their label Decca. They wanted to be in total control and set up their own label, Rolling Stones Records. “Sticky Fingers” would be the first album on that label.
Jagger discussed the idea of the zipper with the other band members. They were also enthusiastic. Photographer Webb was sidelined without knowing it. Warhol set to work and snapped a close-up shot of a well-endowed crotch in a pair of jeans. Or better still, as a model he probably used one of his protégés from his studio The Factory, Jed Johnson. On the day of the photo shoot, there was some discussion about whether Johnson was sufficiently aroused (which, according to Warhol, was necessary to get the desired visual effect). Graphic designer Craig Braun took the idea further with a genuine zipper. Brilliant idea, a real zipper, but Braun ran into all kinds of problems and cursed Warhol. For starters, the zipper damaged the grooves of the vinyl. Not really beneficial if you’re a record fan. Braun decided that an extra cardboard sleeve should be added. This became an image of writer Glenn O’Brien’s underpants who also used to frequent the Factory.
It turned out that the record covers were dented by the zipper during distribution. Braun’s solution? The zipper had to be pulled down enabling the tab of the zipper to fall into the center hole of the vinyl. The album was eventually released as a limited edition with the real zipper and later replaced by a faded photo of the jeans without a real zipper. Between Warhol and Jagger things gradually got increasingly difficult. At first Warhol claimed that it was him who had made the famous logo with the tongue for the Rolling Stones, but this turned out to be untrue. It was actually the work of one of his ‘disciples’ from The Factory, John Pasch. And when he also claimed that he had had a sexual relationship with Mick Jagger, Jagger was done with him. “Warhol is a sick voyeur,” Jagger described him in the 1972 music film Cocksucker Blues.
The Stones also had their fair share of business conflicts themselves. Photographer Peter Webb was surprised to see that Warhol had made the cover for “Sticky Fingers” and that only one of his photos had been used as an insert. That wasn’t the deal, according to Webb, and he filed a claim against the Rolling Stones. It took him thirty years before he was proven right and still earned some money from the album. Well, the Rolling Stones. They caused quite a stir in the 1960s and 1970s. Also in the Vrielink house. You were either in favor of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. One of my brothers chose the Beatles, the other the Rolling Stones. That didn’t make for very happy family parties. My brothers, both older than me, almost got into a fight. As a James Last fan, my father didn’t want to hear any more discussions and went off to play with the grandchildren. My mother tried to keep the peace by passing around another piece of pie. Secretly I was a bit more of a Beatles’ fan. The album “Revolver”, with its experimental sound, really appealed to me (although I hated the song Yellow Submarine). I regularly played the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers”, due to the power it radiated with sing-alongs like Brown Sugar and Wild Horses.
Mick Jagger and his buddies. They are now pushing eighty. Sadly, drummer Charlie Watts sadly passed away last week (August 24, 2021). One more reason to listen to music from the Rolling Stones once again. A few years ago they still performed live in big stadiums. That tells you something about the quality of their music. I am not that old yet, but I am now at an age where I regularly forget to close the zipper of my pants after peeing. Then I’ll just say that it reminds me of “Sticky Fingers”.
By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink
Translation Alex Driessen