With the end of their Decca/London association at hand, The Rolling Stones would finally be free to release their albums (cover art and all) as they pleased. However, their leaving manager Allen Klein dealt the group a major blow when they discovered that they had inadvertently signed over their entire 1960s copyrights to Klein and his company ABKCO, which is how all of their material from 1963's "Come On" to Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert has since come to be released by ABKCO Records. The band would remain incensed with Klein for decades over the act.When Decca informed The Rolling Stones that they were owed one more single, they cheekily submitted a track called "Cocksucker Blues", which was guaranteed to be refused. Instead, Decca released the two-year-old Beggars Banquet track "Street Fighting Man" while Klein would have dual copyright ownership, with The Rolling Stones, of "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses".
The album's artwork emphasises the suggestive innuendo of the Sticky Fingers title, showing a close-up of a jeans-clad male crotch with the visible outline of a large penis; the cover of the original (vinyl) release featured a working zipper and mock belt buckle that opened to reveal cotton briefs. The vinyl release displayed the band's name and album title along the image of the belt; behind the zipper the white briefs were seemingly rubber stamped in gold with the name of American pop artist Andy Warhol, below which read "THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE—ETC." While the artwork was conceived by Warhol, photography was by Billy Name and design byCraig Braun.
The cover photo of a male model's crotch clad in tight blue jeans was assumed by many fans to be an image of Mick Jagger, but the people actually involved at the time of the photo shoot claim that Warhol had several different men photographed (Jagger was not among them) and never revealed which shots he used. Among the candidates, Jed Johnson, Warhol's lover at the time, denied it was his likeness, although his twin brother Jay is a possibility. Those closest to the shoot, and subsequent design, name Factory artist and designer Corey Tippin as the likeliest candidate. Warhol "superstar" Joe Dallesandro claims to have been the model.
After retailers complained that the zipper was causing damage to the vinyl (from stacked shipments of the record), the zipper was "unzipped" slightly to the middle of the record, where damage would be minimised.
The album features the first usage of the band's "tongue & lips" logo, which was originally designed by Ernie Cefalu. Although Ernie's version was used for much of the merchandising and was the design originally shown to the band by Craig Braun, the design used for the album was illustrated by John Pasche.In 2003, the TV network VH1 named Sticky Fingers the "No. 1 Greatest Album Cover" of all time.
Sticky Fingers hit the number one spot on the British charts in May 1971, remaining there for four weeks before returning at number one for a further week in mid June. In the US, the album hit number one within days of release, and stayed there for four weeks. In Germany it was one of only two non-German albums to reach number one in 1971.
In a contemporary review for the Los Angeles Times, music critic Robert Hilburn said that although Sticky Fingers is one of the best rock albums of the year, it is only "modest" by the Rolling Stones' standards and succeeds on the strength of songs such as "Bitch" and "Dead Flowers", which recall the band's previously uninhibited, furious style. Jon Landau, writing in Rolling Stone, felt that it lacks the spirit and spontaneity of the Rolling Stones' previous two albums and, apart from "Moonlight Mile", is full of "forced attempts at style and control" in which the band sounds disinterested, particularly on formally correct songs such as "Brown Sugar". In a positive review, Lynn Van Matre of the Chicago Tribune viewed the album as the band "at their raunchy best" and wrote that, although it is "hardly innovative", it is consistent enough to be one of the year's best albums.
Sticky Fingers was voted the second best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1971. Lester Bangs voted it number one in the poll and said that it was his most played album of the year. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked the album seventeenth on his own year-end list. In a 1975 article for The Village Voice, Christgau mused that the decadent album may ultimately be the Rolling Stones' best album, approached only by Exile on Main St. (1972). In his 1980 review of the album, he wrote that it reflected how unapologetic the band was after the Altamont Free Concert and that, despite the concession to sincerity with "Wild Horses", songs such as "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "I Got the Blues" are as "soulful" as "Good Times", and their cover of "You Gotta Move" is on-par with their previous covers of "Prodigal Son" and "Love in Vain".
In a retrospective review, Q magazine said that the album was "the Stones at their assured, showboating peak ... A magic formula of heavy soul, junkie blues and macho rock".NME wrote that it "captures the Stones bluesy swagger" in a "dark-land where few dare to tread". Record Collector magazine said that it showcases Jagger and Richards as they "delve even further back to the primitive blues that first inspired them and step up their investigations into another great American form, country." In his review for Goldminemagazine, Dave Thompson wrote that the album still is superior to "most of The Rolling Stones’ catalog". In 2003, Sticky Fingers was listed as No. 63 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.In 1994 Sticky Fingers was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, again in 2009 by Universal Music Enterprises, and once more in 2011 by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese-only SHM-SACD version.