Exile On Main Street
The Rolling Stones left Britain for tax purposes in 1971 and Exile On Main Street was recorded at Keith Richards’ home on the French Riviera, where he charged each member of the group 250 pounds a week for rent while recording. The recording sessions were predictably chaotic, with Richards’ heroin addiction, but the double album that resulted is spectacular. While The Rolling Stones always integrated pre-rock influences into their sixties records, the tapestry here is richer than ever. As well as their blues fascination and dabbles in country, they also splash on huge dollops of gospel, as an expanded line up with Bobby Keys on saxophone, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and J. Price on horns blast their way through eighteen tracks. While Exile On Main Street has an air of decadence about it, even more it is a celebration of music.
Not everyone of these eighteen songs are brilliant by any stretch of the imagination; ‘Shake Your Hips’ is a bad re-run of Sticky Fingers‘ ‘You Gotta Move’, ‘I Just Want To See His Face’ is a turgid gospel piece, while there at least another half dozen throwaways scattered throughout the record. Even though some of the songs are not particularly strong, however, I wouldn’t want to change a note of this album. The vibe is just so compelling; the messy mix, with the vocals at low volume, is intoxicating, while even the ballads rock.
‘Rocks Off’ provides a suitable start; confused, sleazy and rousing. ‘Tumbling Dice’ is closest to a hit with a funky rhythm and a catchy harmonised chorus. ‘Torn And Frayed’ is a terrific piece of country-rock, while ‘Loving Cup’ and ‘Let It Loose’ are intense ballads. Robert Johnson’s ‘Stop Breaking Down’, the gospel of ‘Shine A Light’ and ‘Soul Survivor’ end things on a high note.
Exile On Main Street has so much swagger and mystique about it, encapsulating much of the appeal of rock and roll, where the vibe is effortless and intoxicating. Every time I listen to Exile On Main Street I feel like I’m having a classic rock experience.