Monday, January 19, 2015

7 Exile on Main Street (1972) The Rolling Stones

1. Rocks Off
2. Rip This Joint
3. Shake Your Hips
4. Casino Boogie
5. Tumbling Dice
6. Sweet Virginia
7. Torn and Frayed
8. Sweet Black Angel
9. Loving Cup
10. Happy
11. Turd on the Run
12. Ventilator Blues
13. I Just Want to See His Face
14. Let It Loose
15. All Down the Line
16. Stop Breaking Down
17. Shine a Light
18. Soul Survivor

If I had a time machine I'd keep ducking back in time and bankrupting the Rolling Stones on a regular basis, because they're a hell of a lot better when they're strapped for cash.

Mick Jagger does rich very well. He uses his money to live well and goes to Lords to watch cricket and has elaborate parties and for a hobby he produces movies. He's earned his considerable fortune and I don't begrudge him it for a second, but he writes better music when he's skint. Jagger with money is comfortable and well off and lacks the drive and push that he had in his youth.

There are lots of artists who you could argue have gone drastically downhill since they got rich, Guns and Roses were young, lean and hungry and wrote Appetite for Destruction, then they became fat, wealthy and bloated and haven't done anything good since. Rock history is full of bands who released a great debut but fell apart when the money started pouring in.

Part of the reason for the Rolling Stones huge success might be that unlike a lot of their contemporaries who stayed rich once they got there, The Stones had a return to near poverty a decade after their career started and were suddenly hungry again.

Bad management decisions and dodgy UK tax laws meant the Rolling Stones started 1972 in an absurd position in which they owed the taxman more money than they actually had. The only way to get out of their position was to get the hell out of the UK and take up residence somewhere else as tax exiles. Consequently the entire band, along with sax player Bobby Keys, decamped to France where they all lived together in a big house playing music and coming up with two albums worth of material in the process.

At least that's the legend. The truth is that the entire band didn't live together because Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bobby Keys and the production team were so strung out on heroin and other drugs at the time that Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts found it hard to be around them and all found other places to be. They showed up for sessions at times but sometimes didn't bother, which meant drums and bass are often played by other people. It's a nice image to think of the whole band together in a basement in France playing music but the truth is more often than- not Bill Wyman was off someone having a nice time and Charlie Watts had gone home to bed while a ramshackle group of musicians staggered around trying not to remember where they'd left their plectrums and tripping over the cables.

The tracks completed in France often required some overdubbing and sometimes rerecording which Jagger supervised in LA later in the year turning the whole "recorded by a band in a French basement" myth a bit of a farce. But it's a good story and what's true is that the band needed some money and couldn't live at home while they earned it.

Part of the charm of Exile is the dual nature of the material. There are tracks which are some of the sleaziest, dirtiest blues ever recorded by English people. Hip Shake and Rocks Off and Turd on the Run and Ventilator Blues sound like a bunch of drug-addled deviants hiding from the taxman in a basement in France. They sound like the sort of songs you need to wash after listening to and you can understand why people would want to let their daughters marry their creators.

But the flipside of that material are the gospel influenced tracks like Soul Survivor, Shine a Light and I just want to See his Face, which Jagger wrote after he and keyboard player (and regular churchgoer) Billy Preston went to a gospel church in LA and felt the need to inject some old time religion in the Stones catalogue. It's almost as if Jagger walked down into the basement of that French house and saw the scene before him (his band passed out with needles in their arm and the only sound coming from a rhythmic atonal toot as Bobby Keys exhaled into the saxophone that was still in his mouth when the heroin kicked in) and thought: we need some redemption.

Exile shouldn't really work. The sleaze of the Richards led sessions in France and the gospel nature of the Jagger led LA sessions should create two sets of tracks that just don't work together. The thing is the really do. They not only complement each other they sound like a perfect, harmonious union. It sounds like a band who have really found themselves and work together as a single unit even though they're actually fragmented and rarely in the same room together.

The end result is one of Rock's most perfect albums. Along with Blonde on Blonde, it's the only Double album on this countdown that doesn't have any bloat or filler. There's no need to resort to sound experiments and there's only one cover on the entire track listing. It's all just fantastic rock and roll with just enough blues, gospel and country infusion to keep everything interesting. It doesn't have as many indisputable hits as the three Stones classics that went before it (after they were released I don't think the Stones played a concert in which they didn't play a track from Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers but they could go entire tours without playing anything from Exile) but there's not a bad track on it and every song gets better with time and doesn't wear out its welcome.

Exile on Mainstreet is the last great Stones album. They would have moments from here on in and every album they released had at least something to get excited about but they would never hit these heights again, but then nobody else would either so it's hard to blame them.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "What? They aren't the best rock band in the world. The only rock songs that rock are Start Me Up and Shattered."

-This is why Amazon is pointless as a review system. That exact phrase appears in three separate reviews which are all pretty much identical on Exile. They also appear multiple times in every single Stones album I've encountered and others I've looked up as well. It's clear that some silly person has used copy and paste to put the same review up on every single stones album multiple times with three separate amazon accounts. And yet his one star reviews have the same weighting as someone who has actually heard the album and given it their full consideration.

So do you embrace this album or are you happy to keep it in exile? Let me know below

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