Thursday, 19 May 2022

The Rolling Stones Are Still Exiled On Main Street After 50 Years

Release Date: 26 May 1972

Is it their best?  Very probably
Is it my favourite? No
That particular honour falls as a Score Draw between 'Beggars Banquet' and 'Sticky Fingers'
But Exile is closely, and firmly in third spot.
(This sounds like I keep a Top 10 List of Albums by various bands, and update them periodically.  I don't - honest!)

So 50 years on, does this album still hold a lofty place in the pantheon of "Greatest Albums ... Ever", is it really all that, and is the world (or should it?) still listening to the Strolling Bones?
The answers are "Yes", "Yes", and "Yes, well I still am anyway".
And with half a century under it's belt, I'm expecting (if it hasn't started already) a deluge of re-listenings, re-appraisals and hagiographic texts.

'Exile On Main Street' is, to put it very simply, a sprawling double album, birthed in perhaps not the most artistically conducive environment where all band members were rarely in the same room (or sometimes not on the same continent).
There's no thematic vision, concept, or even focus at times - but it's stuffed full of sublime R&B riffage, Rock & Roll, Country, Gospel, Jazz, Swing, and anything else that took their fancy.

The nature of the recording meant that damn near everything that happened was recorded, with whoever was available at the time.  And then when it came time to distill to an album, it was just easier to put it all out.  And 'Exile On Main Street' is I think all the better for that.

Sessions arguably started during the recording of 'Sticky Fingers' - a couple of tracks were held back to prevent Allen Klein getting his mitts on them as he'd manged with "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses".  But it was the re-location to South Of France to avoid the taxman, setting up residence in a rented villa - Nellcote - near Nice where the bulk of 'Exile ...' took shape and form (I use the phrase "form" loosely)
Between the partying, the drugging and the constant visitors, most of the basic tracks for the album were laid down by the band in various configurations.
These tracks were taken to Los Angeles where vocals, overdubs, buffing, and general fairy dust added.

"Rocks Off" kicks things off with no little style (and a touch of sleaze), closely followed by "Rip This Joint".  "Shake Your Hips" and "Casino Boogie" keep things shuffling along.  And there's no let up on side 1 closing with "Tumbling Dice".
And Side 2 is no slouch either from the loose, ragged, almost falling apart "Sweet Virginia" to the piano swagger of "Loving Cup".
But ... whether this is double album malaise, Side 3 just feels a bit meandering, despite containing "Happy".  Almost like "where to do we put these extra tracks we've just found.  Oh, bung 'em on side 3".
Side 4 though - "All Down The Line, "Stop Breaking Down", "Shine A Light" and "Soul Survivor" finishes the album on a definite high - and for that is worthy of the plaudits.

As asked at the top: is it their best?  Yes I believe it is.  For all it's sprawliness, what came after in the catalogue has it's moments, but just doesn't feel as cohesive as 'Exile On Main Street'.

Consider the configuration of the band though - Mick Taylor added some special ingredient that was missing before and after.

That run of albums that Mick Taylor is on - 'Sticky Fingers', 'Exile On Main Street', 'Goats Head Soup', 'Its Only Rock & Roll' - is surely peak Stoneage.
What cam after is not without it's moments, sometimes patchy, sometimes very patchy, but not really in the same league as those four pinnacles.  Maybe Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood's guitar style (and lifestyle, and haircut) are just too close to cause tension or musical inspiration.  Both great players, but not fighting each other for riffs, solos and space.

Something, in truth everything, just aligned perfectly in 1971 / 72.  There must've been something in the water at Nellcote (and it wasn't just Keith's stash being flushed away).

Rocks Off

Sweet Virginia

All Down The Line

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