Tag Archives: Exile on Main St.

Exile on Main St.

Exile on Main St’s legendary status surrounding its conception is probably only surpassed by The Basement Tapes. (Both also by the way, are about the only two rock and roll records that seem to have a deep understanding of American music.  Dylan with American folk music, and the Stones with blues, gospel and soul.)  The story is well kn0wn – that The Rolling Stones fled England to France to escape high taxes.  They wrote songs, drank and did a lot of drugs.  But what makes Exile so special?

For me, it’s the rock and roll album.  It embodies everything that is great about rock – it’s dirty and dangerous.  On Exile, The Stones take almost every single blues, country, soul and rewrite it as their own.   If Exile has one flaw, it would be that a lot of the songs make little sense on their own.  There’s no “Gimmie Shelter” or “Sympathy For the Devil” here.

If you’ve never listened to Exile on Main St, do yourself a favor and buy the remaster.  Turn up the stereo and get lost in one of the greatest albums ever put to record.  Here’s a few of my favorites from the album.

Rocks Off

Second to “Like a Rolling Stone” for greatest opening song on an album.   There’s a short opening riff by Richards a quick drum snap, followed by Mick’s jubliant, “Ooooh yeah.”   And then they’re off.  Whether the song is about masturbation, or doing heroin (or both) is up to debate.  You can barely hear Jagger’s vocals during the verses, but the screams of “I only get my rocks off while I’m sleeping!”  is pure rock and bliss.  To add to the insanity, none of the background vocals are in sync – there’s a lot of inaudible shouting.  The background horns don’t seem to fit in either – it’s a loud glorious ramshackle of sound that only ends when the song fades out.

Sweet Virginia

The ultimate camp-fire rock and roll singalong.  It starts off as a country song, with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica. When the drums comes in, the song sounds fairly standard for the Stones of this time.  The true virtue of this song is the chorus – “Come on. Come on down, Sweet Virginia.  Come on honey child – beg you.  Come on, come on down  – you got it in ya.  Got to scrape the shit right off your shoes”.  If it weren’t already catchy, the background singers (again not quite in sync with Jagger or each other) turn the song into a full fledged party.  If you listen in on your head-phones you can hear people talking, laughing, and just having a great time.  The saxophone solo provides a slight break, but on the second chorus, Jagger possibly realizing what is taking place, encourages the party.  On the third chorus, Jagger is barely heard at all, and it becomes the best drunken singalong you’ve never been a part of.

Shine a Light

The absolute masterpiece of Exile, and the saddest as well.  Again taking a genre that isn’t their own (in this case soul), The Stones breathe new life into a lament about a dead friend – Brian Jones.  While the Stones had previously explored gospel on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Shine a Light” truly embodies soul and gospel.  It feels less forced, and more natural – which is saying something considering that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was recorded a few years earlier.  The chorus of “May the good Lord shine a light on you/may every day your favorite tune” seems to come from a gospel song as well.  It’s kind of hard to believe that this is the same guy that wrote, “I can’t get no satisfaction”.  Mick Taylor provides a fantastic solo, bringing one of the Stone’s finest ballads to a shining close.

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Digging Through the Vaults

As you probably know I’m pretty excited about the remaster of Exile on Main St, along with the previously unreleased tracks that accompany it.  Usually I’m a bit wary of this type of thing, as most unreleased tracks by artists are unreleased for a reason.  If the recently released single “Plunder My Soul” to promote the remaster is any indication, the rest of the tracks will be high quality.  So here are few my other favorite “previously unreleased” tracks from the vaults.

Bob Dylan – “Blind Willie McTell” (The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3).  Arguably the greatest unreleased track ever, and one of Dylan’s finest songs.  Originally from the Infidels sessions,  the haunting “Blind Willie McTell” finds Dylan on piano backed by Mark Knofler on guitar.   Named after the great American blues singer Blind Willie McTell who developed a rag-time finger picking style which he played on a then unpopular 12 string guitar.  He is noted for never playing a song the same way twice.  (A feat which Dylan is sometimes known for on his “Never-Ending Tour”).  Dylan gives one of his best vocal performances, as he traces American history though references to slavery and music. At the end of each verse he tells us that “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”.  Well, no can write a rock song like Bob Dylan.  (I might actually try to really write about the song at some point.)

The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Demo Sequence) (The Anthology Vol 2.). This one might be cheating, since “Strawberry Fields” is an official track.  Much has already been discussed about “Strawberry Fields” and its influence on music, but I find that the demo sequence gives an added depth to the story.  The studio version of “Strawberry Fields” is usually noted for its psychedelic sound, but the lyrics reflect on John Lennon’s childhood, loneliness, and self-doubt.   The demo sequence with just Lennon  on acoustic guitar, peels away the wall of sound and reveals the sadness that is at the heart of “Strawberry Fields”.  (Thanks to Ned for bringing my attention to this one.)

Van Morrison – “Wonderful Remark” (The Philosopher’s Stone).  “Wonderful Remark” was a song that originally released on the soundtrack to The King of Comedy, and then released on 1990’s The Best of Van Morrison. This version while of high quality, like most of Morrison’s songs in the late 80s and early 90’s borders on adult contemporary.  The version on Philosopher’s Stone is the one to beat – and like the demo version of  “Strawberry Fields” strips away the excess – with just acoustic guitar, drums, and flute.  Ranks up with “Madame George” as one of Morrison’s best.

Elliot Smith – “A Fond Farewell” (From a Basement on a Hill).  Really any song from this posthumous album could be included since Smith was one of the finest songwriters of his generation.   “A Fond Farewell” would be remembered for its beauty if Smith were still alive, but his suicide has made the song even more memorable.  Looking back it’s hard to tell if Smith was talking about himself or an actual friend.

What are your favorite previously unreleased tracks?

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Various Random News – Stones, Max Weinberg, Ryan Adams

– Billboard has a nice article on The Exile on Main St.  re-issue.  “ It’s important for us to do really well with this,” [marketing director of the Universal Strategic Marketing division of Universal Music Group International] Andrew Daw says. “If this was to flop badly, then the incentive for the band to invest time into doing future ones isn’t as attractive.” For the love of God people, buy this reissue!

– Max Weinberg won’t be returning with Conan when his new show starts.  While I like the Max Weinberg 7, this can only be good for the E-street Band.

– Ryan Adams is possibly going to release a new album soon.   Via his Facebook page, Adams’ writes: “New songs in the morning at one studio and Finishing old tunes in another in the evening! Trying to get it all together. Fingers crossed. Who Knows, Maybe I’ll even have to dust off the bat signal this fall…” It’s been a year and a half since a studio release from Adams, which is an eternity for him.

That’s it for now.  Have a good weekend.  See you on Monday.


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Unreleased Tracks

 

I’ve stated before that I’m pretty excited about this re-issue.  Exile on Main St is one of my favorite album by the Rolling Stones.  While Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers might be better song-for-song, I find Exile to be an older and wiser version of Beggar’s Banquet.  Both albums incorporated blues and country into the frame-work, but while Beggar’s Banquet only sees these musical forms as inspiration, Exile exists as  soul, blues, and country all in one album.   It’s a fully realized piece of work where it’s not the Rolling Stones playing blues, country, or soul.  This blues, country and soul played by the Rolling Stones.  (And there is a huge difference, believe me.)

Rolling Stone has a lengthy interview with Mick and Keith about the re-issue.  I’m not going to decipher and analyze the interview here, because it might only interest me.  However, what did strike me about it was how reissues of albums differ from reissues of other forms of art-forms.   On albums like Exile unreleased tracks offer an inside view into the thought process that is taking place while recording an album.  It’s the same reason why the Beatles’ Anthologies and Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series remain endlessly fascinating for fans and critics.  With very few exceptions, the same can’t be said for authors of books and other artists.  Musicians don’t seem as guarded about their work as writers sometimes are.  Not many authors are willing to put their first draft or first story out for their audience to read.  

Of course this doesn’t mean that I want to spend time listening to every musician’s unreleased song.  There’s usually a reason why said songs are left off albums.  But in the case of geniuses like the Stones,  I’ll make exceptions.

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Exile on Main St. Re-Issue

This has me super excited.  Album that got really got me into the Stones (though I do prefer Let it Bleed song for song).  Interested to see the bonus tracks.  Not sure whether I’ll get the DVD though.

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