A week ago, the 40th Anniversary edition of Exile On Main Street was released. I remember the first release well! I was in my first semester at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I started in the summer wanting to get a head start as well as away from my parents! The album was released May 12, 1972. I was already chops wise on my way but needed to learn how to read and write music. That summer in Boston was quite an experience for me. Writing music in the bleachers of Fenway, playing music, and checking out a new city.
A friend of mine Lynn, was a Rolling Stone junkie. She traveled all over the US and Canada to see them play live. I guess that was one of the reasons Exile on Main Street was not played constantly on my turntable. Another reason was Jazz Fusion! I was spending so much time practicing and getting better as a bassist, I was beginning to turn my nose up at basic R & R.
So, when I returned to NYC, started playing regularly, I got my R & R groove back on. It started from an economic point. You didn’t make much money playing jazz! However, a couple of months into it, I was back to playing loud and fast!
A week before the release of Exile, I started listening to my previous CD version so I would be able to compare the re-release of the 18 songs on the original.
I am listening to the new version and am not 100% sure there is much of a difference sonically with the original. I do hear a bit more high end but, that is about it. Don’t get me wring, this is a phenomenal record! The original 18 songs are true classics! I was talking to a couple of my friends and remarked that there would be no glam rock, Guns n Roses, Black Crowes, etc if this record had not been made.
The original 18 were composed over a four year period from 1968-1972. By the spring of 1971, the Rolling Stones, who owed more taxes than they could pay, left England before the government would seize their assets. Mick Jagger settled in Paris with his new bride Bianca, and guitarist Keith Richardsrented a luxurious villa, Nellcôte, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice. The other members settled in various places in the south of France. After unsuccessfully looking for a recording studio in France that would be suitable for the next Rolling Stones album, it was decided they would record at Nellcôte using the band’s remote recording truck brought in from England.
The basic band for the Nellcôte sessions consisted of Richards, Bobby Keys, Mick Taylor, Charlie Watts, Miller (a skilled drummer in his own right who covered for the absent Watts on the aforementioned “Happy” and “Shine a Light”), and Jagger when he was available. Wyman did not like the ambience of Richards’ villa and sat out many of the French sessions. As Wyman appeared on only eight songs of the released album, the other bass parts were played by Taylor, Richards and on four tracks, the upright bassist Bill Plummer. Wyman noted in his memoir Stone Alone that there was a dichotomy between the band members who freely indulged in drugs (Richards, Miller, Keys, Taylor, the engineer Andy Johns) and those who abstained to varying degrees (Wyman, Watts and Jagger).
So enough proselytizing, let’s get to the songs:
Rocks Off: No better way to jump start the record! This is so patently a Stones song! The song’s mix is notoriously haphazard, as many instruments, and even the lead vocals, fade in and out of prominence. The villa’s basement, where many of the songs were recorded, was extremely hot and many of the guitars could not stay in tune as a result. Jimmy Miller produced the track, and it features session men Nicky Hopkins on piano, Jim Price and Bobby Keys on brass, as well as regular band members Jagger (lead vocals), Richards (backing vocals, guitar), Charlie Watts (drums), Mick Taylor (guitar) and Bill Wyman (bass).
Shake Your Hips: is a song written and first performed in 1966 by Slim Harpo. These boys had a groove that was at times sloppy, but always in the pocket!
Ventilator Blues & I Just Want to See His Face: Ventilator marks the first and only time guitarist Mick Taylor would be given credit alongside regular Stones scribes Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. While his exact amount of input is unknown, Taylor’s contribution of the song’s opening slide riff is considered the main reason he was given the credit.
Tom Waits credits I Just Want to See His Face as one of his favorite recordings. “That song had a big impact on me, particularly learning how to sing in that high falsetto, the way Jagger does. When he sings like a girl, I go crazy,” Waits says. “This is just a tree of life. This record is the watering hole.” The gospel elements to some songs on Exile have been attributed to the presence of Billy Preston during the final recording sessions in LA.
All Down the Line & Tumbling Dice I don’t think there was a punk band that did not borrow from All Down the Line which was one of their mainstays on the concert circuit. ”Good Time Women”, an early version of “Tumbling Dice”, was recorded during the sessions for the album Sticky Fingers. Both are on the new release however, “Good Time Woman” lacked an opening riff, a background choir and the beat which propels “Tumbling Dice”‘s groove.
Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren) is my favorite “new track.” It seems to be in the vein of War’s Spill The Wine or even Santana’s Oye Como Va. THis song has been bootlegged fro years!
While it features some of Nicky Hopkins’ most intuitive playing – he jumps effortlessly from jazz to honky-tonk – the real revelation is a mid-song harmonica solo by Jagger, truly one of the world’s most underrated harp players. What he lacks in melody he makes up for in guts and a raw desire to connect.
Dancing in the Light is a gospel country kind of thing that the Stones do so well!
In 2003, Jagger said, “Exile is not one of my favourite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling. I’m not too sure how great the songs are, but put together it’s a nice piece. However, when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies. Of course I’m ultimately responsible for it, but it’s really not good and there’s no concerted effort or intention ”
So a week later, I am still listening and re-listening to these recordings and I am amazed at how many influences came from it. It certainly deserves all of its accolades.
On a somewhat somber note, it is about a week away from the 1st anniversary of my sister Denyse’s passing. My original intent of this blog was to create an homage to her importance in my life. She, in her own way, was instrumental in supporting my passion for music. I would not be where I am today without her inspiration.
At present, I am going to take a leave of absence. I have a number of projects that are going to keep me very busy over the next few months.
I want to thank all of you for reading and participating in this journey through my memories. I am grateful to all of you.