My Favorite Record, Exile On Main Street, Turn 50

My favorite record of all time is fifty years old today. Exile On Main Street, the tenth Rolling Stones album, was released on May 26, 1972.

Not that I was aware of its existence at the time. My fledgling album collection at the time consisted of a couple of NASA radio transmissions, the first Monkees album, the soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night, and a few releases by The Archies, Jackson 5, and The Partridge Family.

Honestly, my focus was still on singles. I collected the weekly KISD Top 40 lists, and primarily used my allowance to buy three 45’s for two bucks. There was nothing special about those singles I collected. They were as likely to be The DeFranco Family as they were to be something I’d admit to owning today.

It wasn’t until five years later that I obtained my first Stones album, and that was Love You Live. The late 70’s were a time where on one hand I was obsessed with the few punk acts that were actually available in South Dakota (Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones) and on the other I was teaching myself about rock and roll history.

This is when the discography of the Rolling Stones began filling my shelves. Some Girls was the true kickoff, but an actual job making tacos coincided with a local store’s 3 albums for $20 promotion led me to acquiring most of their 60’s output.

I’m not sure when I eventually first listened to Exile but I know it wasn’t around this time. In fact, even when I did finally hear the record it wasn’t my favorite Stones album for many more years. That award went to 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet, which is still (probably) my second favorite record by the band.

Why did it take so long for me to fully recognize the brilliance of this record? Well, it’s the ultimate example of a “grower”. Most Stones albums succeed due to their immediacy (much like their greatest singles). You know Aftermath is brilliant because it opens with “Mother’s Little Helper”. Beggar’s begins with “Sympathy For the Devil”. Let it Bleed kicks off with “Gimme Shelter”. The list goes on.

Not that Exile begins with a dud. No, “Rocks Off” is a great kickoff, but there’s something different here, and it certainly sets the stage for a record that just reeks of illicit substances. “Rocks Off” is a twisted version of psychedelia. It’s a speedball that wants to jump off to the races but is being forcibly held back by that other substance.

Of course the following track, “Rip This Joint”, is pure speed. 100% pure speed. Just a few years before punk, and here’s the old guard racing to the finish line at a pace that would even lap the Ramones. Nobody’s catching them here, or at least they won’t until those 100% pure white lines wear off.

It would be easy to carry on song by song but you get the picture. It should be said, though, that when I talk about this album being a grower it’s because it’s the slower, more country and soul-influenced tunes that truly create the record’s legendary status.

Sides two and three are where these songs are located, and so many of these songs are equally influenced by country and soul. Those Stax records they loved so much are greatly reflected here. Gram Parsons may have eventually been kicked out of the French mansion where they were recording, but his friendship with Keith Richards certainly paid dividends. Songs like “Sweet Virginia”, “Torn and Frayed”, “Loving Cup”, and “Let It Loose” are arguably the beginnings of the “roadworn and weary” form of songwriting. 

Sure, there’s a misstep here and there, but even those lesser songs work in the whole of the record. That’s the beauty of a double album. There is that extra space that allows for some glorified jam sessions to set you up for true revelatory moments. 

As everyone knows, though, it’s a miracle this record even exists. You’ve got a band forced to leave their home country due to tax issues, hamstrung with growing addictions, and hanger-ons ripping them off left and right. Plus the swampy conditions in Keith’s basement that were more likely to electrocute a musician than actually resulting in a usable track. But somehow it all worked, and fifty years later it’s lost none of its luster. 


Anonymous said…
Hey Scott, coming over to you here from the BBGossip universe. I did not realize you were such a Stones fan. All one seems to hear from you is about The Replacemnts. I know, short-sighted BB idiot fan does not listen regularly to Scott's program. Guilty.

I think Exile One Main St. is their best work. Mick Taylor, their second guitarist at the time is just so talented. A real musician and incredible blues guitarist. The album has a gospel feel. I don't know what you would attribute that to.

I also feel Get Yer Ya-Yas Out is their best live release.
Scott said…
Hey there, good to hear from you (even if you're anonymous). Yes, the Replacements are my favorite band ever, and my obsession led to a lot of ribbing from my BBGossip cohorts. But they're not my only band. My collection is pretty large, both physical and digital-wise. And the Stones are up there in my overall list. I've seen them 15 or so times over the years, and even went to a couple of Keith solo shows.

I would agree that Ya Yas is the best live album. But some of the boots (many now officially released) of the 72/73 tour are also fabulous, especially if you're a Taylor fan.
Hank said…
Scott, love this album and it's my favorite Stones album also. Love The Replacements and all the Ramones, Pistols, Clash stuff but this is the only Stones stuff we play on Hanks Alternative Radio. Thanks for a great show each week !

Hank from Texas

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