The Rolling Stones

Dead Flowers

Song Review by

Along with "Factory Girl," "Country Honk," and "Wild Horses," "Dead Flowers" is one of the Rolling Stones' first outright country songs, a song whose back-to-roots sound echoes the Bakersfield sound forged by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and also betrays the influence that country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons had on the band. Mick Jagger's lyrical subject matter positions him as a down-at-the-heels junky narrator who keeps "ragged company" and takes jabs at an ex who lives the high life, a "queen of the underground" who sits "back in (her) rose pink Cadillac/Making bets on Kentucky Derby day." In one of pop music's most memorable kiss-offs, the chorus declares, "And you can send me dead flowers every morning/By the U.S. mail/Say it with dead flowers at my wedding/And I won't forget to put roses on your grave." Jagger sings the verses of "Dead Flowers" at the bottom of his range in a fake-hick accent that borders on satire; he never seems quite comfortable singing straight-up country songs with a completely straight face. He said as much in a 1995 interview: "I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn't bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it's very English, really. Even though it's been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak." Though Jagger was a fan and seems to have written the bulk of the song, it was clearly Keith Richards who held a reverence for traditional country music. Richards sings his excellent raw harmony on the choruses and provides that Telecaster twang that would appear on almost all future Stones records. Mick Taylor tempers his usually bluesy flourishes with a bit more country-styled bending than he had exhibited in past recordings. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman sound authentic as a country rhythm section, and presiding over it all is some excellent Floyd Cramer-like country piano from Ian Stewart. The original Sticky Fingers version is an important factor in that record's status as a definitive album in the Stones' career, transitioning them from their blues-based sound of the '60s to their more omnibus approach to roots and contemporary music thenceforth. "Dead Flowers" has become something of a country-rock standard, beginning with the 1974 version by the New Riders of the Purple Sage on their Home, Home on the Road LP, featuring the buzzsaw pedal steel guitar work of Buddy Cage. Steve Earle added it to his live repertoire in the early '90s, stompy, slower versions with passionate vocals that appear on Shut up and Die Like an Aviator (1991) and Live in Concert (1992). Townes Van Zandt made the song sound like his own with his tender vocal over a fingerpicked folk guitar on Roadsongs 1994. The Stones themselves dragged out a rousing rendition of "Dead Flowers" on the 1995 live album Stripped.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sticky Fingers 1971 Virgin 4:05
LP Sleeve Box Set 2005 Toshiba EMI
The Rolling Stones Box Set 2009 Promotone 4:05
Dead Flowers Polydor 4:18
December's Children (And Everybody's)/Sticky Fingers CD Maximum