The Meaning Behind “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones and the Fan Incident that Inspired It

It’s hard to stand out on an album as colossally great as The Rolling StonesSticky Fingers, one of the band’s all-time best, which automatically qualifies it as one of the finest rock and roll albums of all time. “Dead Flowers” probably wasn’t even meant to stand out all that much, as the band seemed to intend it as a country lark to break up all the heavier songs around it.

Videos by American Songwriter

Yet “Dead Flowers” has gone on to be a beloved track from the Stones, and it’s also been the subject of many memorable cover versions. Let’s look back at how this song came to be and what it all means.

Keith and Mick, Meet Mick

What’s perhaps most amazing about The Rolling Stones’ incredible stretch of masterpiece albums that began with Beggars Banquet in 1968 and rolled all the way through Exile on Main St. in 1972 is how they were able to do it all in the midst of heavy turmoil and upheaval within the band. It seemed like the dicier it got for the Stones, the better the product.

They dealt with legal issues, personal problems, and tax burdens. The most pressing matter of all was the deterioration and eventual death of founding member Brian Jones. At the time he died in 1969, the Stones had already been moving away from some of the baroque pop moves they’d been making in return to a rootsier style.

To that end, their replacement for Jones didn’t have any of his multi-instrumental flair. What Mick Taylor did possess were chops as a guitarist well beyond his years (he was only 20 when he joined the band in ’69). After barely getting involved in the making of the Stones’ 1969 album Let It Bleed, Taylor was ready to make his presence felt on the band’s next album.

A Sticky Situation

Sticky Fingers featured songs written over a long period of time and recorded at different locations. The Stones even stopped to lay down a few tracks at Muscle Shoals in Alabama to pay homage to the many seminal artists who had recorded there.

The album turned out to be a kind of compendium of American-based music, from soul to blues, from folk to, of course, rock and roll. That meant that the Stones would have to hit country music as well, which they did with “Dead Flowers.”

Taylor’s contribution to the song is essential, as he delivers springy licks that deliver a melodic punch without getting unnecessarily showy. As he often did when tackling country material, Mick Jagger, who also wrote the bulk of “Dead Flowers,” sings the song with a bit of a wink and a nod, which stops the mood from ever getting too downcast.

What is the Meaning of “Dead Flowers”?

The title of the song comes from an incident where Jagger allegedly received dead flowers from a fan. He then used that to come up with a story of a down-on-his-luck narrator whose own situation contrasts wildly from the life of leisure being led by a former lover of his.

This narrator finds himself in ragged company due to his unwillingness to be alone in the absence of his ex. He also numbs his pain with drugs (I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon). Meanwhile, the girl alternately sits in a silk-upholstered chair and rides in a limo while making bets on Kentucky Derby day.

When the chorus rolls around and Keith Richards joins Jagger on harmonies, they call the girl to task for her poseur status: I know you think you’re the queen of the underground. And they suggest a rather morbid gift exchange to close the deal on their relationship: Say it with dead flowers at my wedding / And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave. “Dead Flowers” is Rolling Stones-style country: a little funny, a little tawdry, and 100% captivating.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

best high end acoustic guitars featured image

8 Best High-End Acoustic Guitars of 2024