For the record, I am not a diehard Rolling Stones fan. I was only 8 years old in 1972 when they released Exile on Main St. I knew nothing about rock and roll—I grew up going to hear chamber music and seeing live ballet, singing choral music and learning piano. Maybe I caught the Partridge Family once in awhile…
I ended up seeing the Stones in Philly in 1981 (shortly after playing a set of Rolling Stones songs for the Rolling Stones, but that’s a story for another day) as they toured in support of the Tattoo You LP. My sage advice to anyone who only knows or recollects the Stones of the 1980’s and forward, the huge colorful shows that they put on in places like Fenway Park, would be to buy a fresh copy of Exile on Main St and give it a spin. In 1972, the Stones were being chased for taxes and drug offenses, and this record feels like a battle cry.
“Exile” is a blues-based compilation of songs that highlight the authentic rebellious spirit that made the Rolling Stones iconic. Keith Richards called it “the first grunge record” and although the sound may not be for everyone, this record spits at you, snarls at you, throws imperfections at you, and does it all in a sort of happy accident that was the The Rolling Stones. Jagger’s vocals have an impeccable “F— you” sneer from start to finish—it’s almost as if he is sculpting sounds with his prodigious lips half the time rather than trying to form bits and pieces of language.
The guitar interplay between Keith Richards and Mick Taylor works—sometimes—and other times they trample each other like two drunken idiots in a bar band, but it’s the colossal, magical mess that everyone fell in love with. You can hear the guitar riffs burning through the blues, the songwriting starting to evolve, the personalities within the band lighting up these recordings.
The entire (and quite long) outro of Tumbling Dice is improvisation over two chords—Jagger dances in and out, the harmony vocalists provide some consistency with “You gotta roll me” while the guitars find their space (or take it by force) right until the end of the track. Two chords, yes—but entertaining as hell!
And then Richards sings lead on the track Happy—now for me, Keith’s singing is a highlight…who could ever copy that voice? Makes me think I should cover that song one day…(I actually first heard Happy played as an encore by Cheap Trick at the Orpheum Theater in Boston with Tyler and Perry from Aerosmith making a cameo)…
Now, I took this momentous journey via a 2-LP 180-gram reissue of Exile on Main St. that was dead quiet and sounded unbelievable. Grab all your friends who claim they can’t hear why all the fervor about vinyl and play them Loving Cup (disc one, side two). No CD sounds like this, not even close. You can hear every old analog detail—hey; I remember when guitar amps sounded like that!! And the drums—just go through Loving Cup once with a focus on the drums—the tone, the dynamics, it smells as much like 1972 as my dad’s green Impala (4dr. 350, bench seats, no A/C).
Exile on Main St. is like examining the cross section of an era—and no one can fully appreciate the Rolling Stones without having gone for the ride. If there was ever a Rolling Stones record to be heard end-to-end on LP with a tall cocktail, this is the one. I feel blessed to have seen the band live in 1981, but this record from a decade earlier represents the real spirit of the Rolling Stones and the true sound of rock and roll in 1972—and I love that!!