January 27, 2007

Off-Topic: Exile On Main Street ÷ 2

About a year ago, I had the great idea to start a time-wasting blog about the Rolling Stones' 1972 American tour. Thanks to the wonders of bit torrents, I have nearly every existing recording from that tour. The blog never got off the ground (more was not to come), though I did have a couple of draft posts ready to go. I've reworked them below.

Exile on Main Street -- released in May 1972 -- is as close to a perfect rock album as there is. There are a couple of songs that one might regard as filler, but within the context and atmosphere of the album, they fit quite well.

One thing about Exile that I wish I didn't know is that less than half of it was written at Keith Richard's villa in the south of France. Many songs were written and initially recorded as much as three years earlier (the band played Loving Cup at Hyde Park in July 1969 two days after Brian Jones's death). Wikipedia states that all lead and backing vocals (and much more) were recorded in Los Angeles in early 1972. Sigh -- so much for the romantic notion of the band banging out the album in Villefranche-sur-Mer during the summer of 1971.

Still, it's an amazing album. But what would it have looked like if it had been merely a single record? Exile's 18 songs are divided up 5-4-5-4 on the four sides of vinyl. My choice for a single LP is also 5-4, although one could cheat and include 5 songs per side.
A
Rocks Off
Torn and Frayed
Happy
Shine A Light
Tumbling Dice

B
All Down The Line
Loving Cup
Let It Loose
Soul Survivor
The time of that album is a mere 37:22, so let's slot Ventilator Blues after Let It Loose.

Back in June 1992 -- for Exile's 20th anniversary -- I published the following article in Request magazine (this summer, Exile turns 35!?!):
In the summer of 1971, the Rolling Stones squeezed into the cramped, humid cellar of Keith Richards' villa in the south of France. Legend has it they hot-wired electricity from the French railway system. When they emerged, the Stones had recorded the 18 songs that make up one of rock 'n' roll's greatest albums: Exile on Main Street. Released on May 12, 1972, Exile on Main Street celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The Stones were at the peak of their genius in the early '70s. Their last four albums -- Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, and Sticky Fingers -- and their well-publicized hedonism had made them the reigning bad boys of rock. Fleeing England as tax exiles, the Stones were the ultimate outlaws celebrities, and they had the coke spoons and press clippings to prove it.

Recording in a basement may have given producer Jimmy Miller fits, but it gave Exile on Main Street its unique sound, a chaotic mix of rough rhythms and defiance. The Stones' other albums, no matter how great, are mere collections of songs. Exile on Main Street charges forward as a whole: raw, decadent, violent. Mick Jagger, his vocals barely afloat within the murky wash of sound, explores themes of impotence, boredom, frustration, and death. In these often indecipherable lyrics, satisfaction isn't an issue.

This cornerstone of rock 'n' roll was widely panned when it was released; some writers bemoaned "the end of the Stones." Iconoclastic critic Lester Bangs referred to Exile on Main Street as "meaningless" and "emotionally sterile"; six months later, he apologized in print, apparently having seen the light.

These days, every rock band with an earthy, ramshackle sound owes a debt to Exile on Main Street. For years, lazy critics have leaned on the album as a reference point, comparing almost any band that retains a little grit in the mix -- U2, Tom Petty, the Replacements, Green on Red -- to Exile on Main Street. Of course, its unkempt raunch has also spawned one-trick ponies like the Georgia Satellites and the Black Crowes; Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses wouldn't exist without it. Back in 1986, New York's Pussy Galore, after hearing a rumor that Sonic Youth was covering the Beatles' "white album," banged out a cover version of Exile on Main Street in three days. The resulting incoherent, screeching mess can only be termed affectionate.

"When I was a junkie," Richards once said, "I learned to ski and I made Exile on Main Street." It's tough to imagine Richards on the slopes, especially when he was skeleton-thin and had black teeth. But his assorted addictions during the Stones' glory years is proof that drugs don't always hinder the creative process.

Three years ago, critics made a big fuss about the 20th anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Exile on Main Street most likely won't be getting the same treatment, which is a damn shame. It's a better album and a lot more fun to listen to. Twenty years down the road, Exile on Main Street has yet to be equaled.

35 comments:

ESAUN said...

wrong blog.

redsock said...

It's my blog and I wrote the post, so everything is correct and proper on that count.

Perhaps you meant you stumbled onto the wrong blog?

ESAUN said...

i voted for best sports blog in canada, not the best sports and anything else you want to talk about blog.

redsock said...

thanks for your vote. i needed every one of them!

as i'm sure you know, this blog is 98% baseball. but once in a great while, there is an off-topic post.

L-girl said...

i voted for best sports blog in canada, not the best sports and anything else you want to talk about blog.

Sheesh, what a grouch. Don't you know the owner of a blog can blog about whatever she/he wants? If you don't like a post or a topic, don't read it!

L-girl said...

Anyway, cool stuff.

Here's my favourite math equation.

The Rolling Stones = world's greatest rock band

Exile On Main Street = The Rolling Stones' best album

therefore

Exile On Main Street = the world's greatest rock album

* * * *

Sorry your other blog didn't work out. Maybe you need to go for the multi-topic approach like I do - everything in one blog. Now that Blogger has categories, readers could click on "all baseball", "baseball plus politics", "baseball, politics, Stones, Dylan..." and so forth.

Steve said...

Exile is an amazing album, but I'm going to have to pick U2 as the world's greatest rock band.

9casey said...

If there was one album I have to listen to from beggining to end.

It would have to Zeppelin 4...

My Neighbors played the crap out of it and they are 10 years older than me....
Was never really into the stones much. My sister who is 40 loves them.

I think like with the beatles and U2 for that matter. There seems to be no generation gap , kids in high school tend to still listen to both....

But the Stones seem to have there fans in 40-60 age group....

L-girl said...

It will be interesting to see if anyone has a favourite non-boomer band.

I personally don't like the Beatles. Although I recognize Lennon/McCartney's massive songwriting talent, I find most of the music stiff and over-produced. Very little rock in there to my ears.

I think the Stones are the greatest rock band, but my favourite music isn't necessarily rock. Blues (esp from the '40s and '50s), trad country, swing, trad jazz, zydeco, country rock, folk... and rock that comes from all that.

redsock said...

It will be interesting to see if anyone has a favourite non-boomer band.

For personal pleasure, REM (82-87) tops the Stones for me.

L-girl said...

I love REM too. But live music is the proving ground to me - and Stipe just plain sucks live. He hasn't got a clue how to perform onstage.

redsock said...

Stipe just plain sucks live. He hasn't got a clue how to perform onstage.

You're really a troublemaker around here, aren't you?

L-girl said...

You're really a troublemaker around here, aren't you?

I do what I can. :)

****

You're not denying that a Rolling Stones concert is more exciting than an REM show...?

redsock said...

You're not denying that a Rolling Stones concert is more exciting than an REM show...?

Depends what years we're talking about. 1983-84 REM beats the hell out of a few Stones years.

Thankfully, Jagger has never shaved his head.

So what's your single LP Exile?

Devine said...

I adore the Beatles (especially the Rubber Soul/Revolver era), and like casey, I'm a big Zep fan and would definitely put Zep 4 on a short list. I think in both band's cases, I own all but one album (neither the Beatles' first, nor Zeppelin's last...not counting any of the weird oddities or anthologies surrounding). Other favorites include AC/DC, Motorhead (metal had better have fun and melody, that's all), and recently that chick Maya Arulpragasm (sp?) better known as M.I.A.

For some reason, I have loved a few Stones' songs ("Mother's Little Helper", "Jumping Jack Flash"), but really never an album, even though I've tried, including Exile. (Sorry! Perhaps with more years and attempts...)

L-girl said...

1983-84 REM beats the hell out of a few Stones years.

Live? Piffle.

Thankfully, Jagger has never shaved his head.

!!!!!

So what's your single LP Exile?

I wouldn't dare. You don't edit a masterpiece.

(Will someone please tell that to Bob Dylan?)

***

Devine, I know lots of people who don't like Exile. It must just be one of those things...

L-girl said...

Devine mentioned "the short list". OK, everyone, your short list, rock only.

Let's limit it to 10, in no particular order.

Mine:
Exile on Main Street
Blood on the Tracks
Born To Run
Court And Spark (is that rock?)
Armed Forces
Reckoning
Allman Bros at Fillmore East
London Calling
The Band (brown album)

and 10 is a toss-up between about a dozen others. LZ4? Cosmos Factory? Copper Blue? Blonde On Blonde? I'm copping out.

redsock said...

This is for the desert island?

L-girl said...

This is for the desert island?

Yes. But it's only rock - no Muddy, no Wolf. No Benny Goodman for me.

I reeled off the first 9, then got really stumped on #10.

redsock said...

Here's 7 for the Island:

Exile on Main Street
Murmur
Double Nickles On The Dime
This Year's Model (or Get Happy)
Blonde On Blonde
London Calling
Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash

Subject to change ....

9casey said...

For the Island:Not all rock:

Zeppelin 4 for those times I need a little rock and reflection

GNR- appetite : when I need to hunt down my food

Garth Brooks - No Fences- when i need to think of great times (college was spent in Nebraska)

Neil Diamond - anything - to remind me of Dad

Barry White - Rhapsody in white- No one said I was going to be alone.......

San Francisco Red Sox Fan said...

Weirdly enough, I down loaded "Exile on Main Street" this morning off of i-tunes. I had been thinking about the album lately and how much I enjoyed listening to it-oh, so many years ago.

As we say in San Francisco - we are on the same psychic wavelength.

9casey said...

Newest Rumor:


Rockies, Sox talk Helton

YardSox said...

While I agree with so much of your Red Sox commentary, I know I disagree with much of you political view, and, now, with your choice of album. Just heard Exile for the first time a few weeks ago and I am unimpressed.

No point in comparison to the Beatles. Their total impact, musically and socially, is beyond any other band's reach. As for best Beatles' album, I suggest you substitute Revolver (the original British release) for Sgt. Pepper. Revolver is the greatest album of all time.

I do agree with REM, though! I would add The Cure, which, after the Beatles, is my favorite.

As for the Stones live, I saw them at JFK in Philly in 1982 with Journey and George Thorogood. GT blew them both off the stage. People booed Journey throughout and the Stones as well for the first part of their set.

redsock said...

As for the Stones live, I saw them at JFK in Philly in 1982 with Journey and George Thorogood. GT blew them both off the stage. People booed Journey throughout and the Stones as well for the first part of their set.

Uh oh. Comment from Laura -- who I believe was at this show -- in 5 ...4 ... 3 ...

L-girl said...

No point in comparison to the Beatles. Their total impact, musically and socially, is beyond any other band's reach.

No point indeed. When enjoying music, social impact is utterly irrelevant. I find Sgt Peppers boring beyond description. I liked it when I was 10 years old, but then I grew up.

As for the Stones live, I saw them at JFK in Philly in 1982 with Journey and George Thorogood. GT blew them both off the stage. People booed Journey throughout and the Stones as well for the first part of their set.

Having seen the Stones about 15 times, I can certainly attest that 1982 was not their finest hour as a live band. To judge their live performances by that concert is akin to judging Paul McCartney based on the worst of Wings.

However, I was also at that show. Although it was not a rip-roaring Stones concert, they were neither blown away by their opening act nor booed.

Hardly anyone was in the Stadium yet when Thoroughgood played. He's a local boy, and Philly folks will always enjoy him, but very few people saw his set.

Journey was at best a mediocre band and if they were booed, that was fitting. They are an unmemorable band and I'm sure it was an unmemorable set.

The Stones set was too brief, and somewhat canned - but the crowd enjoyed it. I didn't hear any boos.

redsock said...

Journey always gets a warm reception when they play in South Detroit.

L-girl said...

Their total impact, musically and socially, is beyond any other band's reach.

I always wonder why people say things like this when discussing favourite music. Not most important music or most influential music, mind you - favourite music, music we most like to listen to.

When I experience my favourite music, be it Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell or the Ramones, I don't think about the artist's impact, reach, or social importance - though all those artists had reach and impact to spare.

Favourite will always come down to personal taste, and to that, there's no right answer.

Zenslinger said...

For some reason I grew up with Yes as my Beatles and King Crimson as my Stones. Not that anything can replace those two bands, but they have never been that close to my heart.

Peter Gabriel - Security and Passion
U2 - Achtung Baby
Prince - Sign o' the Times
Yes - Close to the Edge
King Crimson - Discipline
Genesis - Seconds Out

would be among my island crew.

Devine said...

Ah ha, the All-Rock Desert Island Short List...

In no particular order:

Motorhead--Ace of Spades (album, no greatest hits records)
AC/DC--Back in Black
Beatles--Revolver
Led Zeppelin--IV (Zoso)
M.I.A.--Arular (does this count? It's sort of rock-rap-dance-protest music)
Judas Priest--Screaming for Vengeance
Young Heart Attack--Mouthful of Love
Garbage--Version 2.0
Green Day--Nimrod
Blondie--Parallel Lines

Other contenders would have been:

AC/DC--Flick of the Switch, Stiff Upper Lip
Beatles--Rubber Soul, The White Album
Green Day--Dookie, Insomniac, Kerplunk!
The Dandy Warhols--The Dandy Warhols Come Down, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia
Pink Floyd--Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, The Wall
Lynyrd Skynyrd--Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd
Fleetwood Mac--Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
Guns 'n' Roses--Appetite for Destruction
Radiohead--The Bends, OK Computer
Black Sabbath--Black Sabbath, Paranoid

And a bunch of other rather popular shit (with only the occasional curveball when rock-related).

redsock said...

AC/DC--Flick of the Switch, Stiff Upper Lip

Both of these over Highway To Hell?

I also give a thumbs up to Back in Black, Screaming for Vengeance, Appetite for Destruction -- though the Priest isn't Top 10 DI material for me. I'm not familiar with the Ace of Spades album, but the song is a classic.

Devine said...

Redsock--I'm kind of a Brian Johnson (as opposed to Bon Scott) fan where AC/DC is related...except for the songs "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "TNT" where I'm willing to admit Scott is effing brilliant and maybe better than anything Johnson has done with the exception of "Hells Bells" (I've tried about 3 albums of Scott's-vocals-AC/DC including Highway to Hell).

And Flick of the Switch is probably the most underrated AC/DC album as far as I'm concerned. The first half is wonderful ("This House is On Fire" and "Flick of the Switch" both belong on a top 20 AC/DC songs list), and the second has only one "must skip" song ("Guns for Hire" *shudder*) and also has another top 20-caliber song ("Deep in the Hole").

Give the Motorhead a try if you ever get the shot...one of those records that doesn't really have a bad song (I think "Shoot You in the Back" barely tops "Ace of Spades" for favorite song for me). I should have included their album Overkill on my contender list--but it's much more hit and miss for me.

Which non-Exile Stones release do you second-most recommend? Maybe I'll try again...

redsock said...

This House Is On Fire is a great song. Fly On The Wall is also underrated. The problem is all of their albums have at least one real clunker. Many albums have a few.

I have a few Motorhead albums, including No Remorse.

Exile is an album you can't take or leave on first listen. So stick with it for awhile.

Second-best album: Some Girls.

Devine said...

Yeah...there's usually clutter on AC/DC albums. There's almost always at least one great song and a few good ones, but yes, there's consistent filler. I'd argue that Fly on the Wall is (in the Johnson era anyway) the biggest early offender, though I'd guess you prefer it to Flick of the Switch. The only songs I consistently like off Fly on the Wall are the title song, "Shake your Foundations" and "Playing with Girls" (and occasionally "Sink the Pink").

Hey, I don't have No Remorse! (Only Overkill, Ace of Spades, Bastards, and Overnight Sensation) How is it?

L-girl said...

Devine, good stuff!

Second-best album: Some Girls.

That's it: my #10.