The Rewind Button # 7 – Rolling Stones, Exile On Main St.by LefebvreDave on Apr 26, 2012 • 6:48 am 1 Comment
(The Rewind Button is a group blogging project. Every Thursday, we review an album from Rolling Stone’s Greatest Albums list.) I promise I’ll try to make this review considerably shorter than last week’s epic, which will be hard for a variety of reasons.
Listening to this album takes me back to my trip to Memphis last fall (Toe Tappin’ in Tennessee) and reminds me that the roots of the Rolling Stones are in American Blues. Conveniently, I also happen to be reading Keith Richard’s autobiography Life, so I’ve been looking forward to listening to Exile on Main St. since we began this project.
This double album (18 tracks) was panned initially by many critics, and it took years for most to acknowledge its greatness, so it makes sense that it takes more than one listen to truly appreciate it. Luckily for me, it only took two, which really isn’t that many. Still, I feel like I probably have a better appreciation of it because time is on my side (to steal a phrase from this very band). I have the luxury of being able to see how it influenced so many artists that followed it. I also get to compare it to the Stones albums that followed.
Coming in at number seven on the magazine’s list of greatest albums, this is raw Stones. They are literally living in exile from the British government’s strict drug laws and a heavy tax burden that they simply couldn’t afford to pay. Exile was released in ’72, but it was written and recorded over the course of four years. At the risk of romanticizing the making of this album too much, it’s worth describing the process they followed.
Ensconced in a villa near Nice, France, Keith Richards turned his basement into a makeshift studio. They began recording the album in June ’71, but to call their recording method unorthodox is a huge understatement. At times only some of the band members showed up. They would record without the remaining crew. This is how one of the hits, Happy, was recorded and sung by Richards – an afternoon jam session turned into a hit on the charts.
It’s this laissez-faire attitude that I believe marks the psychological and creative shift from blues to rock ‘n roll for this band. Richards and the rest of the crew came together wanting to emulate their American blues heroes but, without meaning to, they created the foundation for rock ‘n roll’s evolution into an unstructured environment for creative geniuses unwilling to conform to pre-established norms. Even their dress marked a huge shift from what was occurring in the US, as most rock ‘n roll bands at the time still wore matching suite in the mid-60s. I’m rambling a little and I promised to be shorter than last week – damn, why did I do that.
Exile on Main St. is a mash of musical styles amid the backdrop of an evolving rock ‘n roll genre. I hate to highlight any one song, because I truly believe this album has to be enjoyed from beginning to end to truly appreciate its breadth.
Still, I’d like to point to a couple of particularly interesting parts:
- The riff that begins Shake Your Hips is probably the most ripped off riff of all time. Whether it’s ZZ Top near identical La Grange or even George Thoroughood who seemed to steal aspects for One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, this riff is very prevalent in music. But the Stones can’t lay claim to it. This song was originally performed by Slim Harpo in 1966, yet it’s Keith Richards’ take on this song that ZZ Top clearly stole. The riff could also draw its roots from John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen’, released in 1948.
- Tumbling Dice is one of only a couple of bona fide hits on this album yet, as I mentioned, the whole album is spectacular.
- I think my favorite part is listening to Sweet Virginia. You almost feel like you’re in the south of France with Mick and Keith et al., drinking and carrying on while they jam in the basement. The way their voices coalesce into an easy sing-a-long channels the true spirit of the blues, and the sax keeps the song moving along like an auditory maestro.
I’m geeking out a little on the blues, so here’s some video of John Lee Hooker performing with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.
I will be listening to this album again and again and again. Whether it contributed as much to music as some of the other previously reviewed albums on this list is neither here nor there. This, my friends, it what rock ‘n roll was supposed to be. It’s the blueprint all bands should follow if they want to capture the essence of this genre.
Oh, and one more thing to note. Exile on Main St. was recorded at the height of Richards’ addiction to heroin. That alone makes me marvel at the greatness of this album. Also, I would strongly recommend Richards’ Life. It’s an intimate look not only at the creation and rise of the Rolling Stones, but also at the evolution of rock music in general.
The following are some of the other bloggers who are participating in The Rewind Button. I’ll update as they post their reviews.