Featured Album – Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones

In my listing of Top Ten Rock Albums, the very first one is 1972’s Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones. I always loved this album but I don’t think I realized it was my favorite till one day maybe ten (twenty?) years ago. I hadn’t listened to it in a while and so, popped it into the car CD player. And was then immediately gratified to remember how great it was. It’s always in the car and I bet I listen to it at least once every six weeks or so.

What’s so great about it? Well, firstly there’s just a lot of really good songs. But there’s also such a variety of tunes which keeps it interesting over the course of a double album. So, straight-up rockers, swampy blues, more commercial-sounding Stones stuff (“Tumbling Dice”, “Happy”), country, gospel, ballads, more blues and just plain uncategorizable stuff. This is from the great Mick Taylor era of the band. Produced by Jimmy Miller (“Mr. Jimmy.”)

This song, “Rip This Joint,” is nothing less than a flat-out ’50’s style rock n’ roll rave-up:

I think it’s well-known that ‘Exile’ is so named because the Stones were tax exiles from England in the early ’70s, decamping to the French Riviera to record. The album was recorded at Keith Richard’s home, Nellecote, described as “a Belle Epoque 16-room mansion on a headland above the sea at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Cote d’Azur.

Adding infamy to its history, Nellcote served as the headquarters of the local Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of France in the early 1940s, with the floor vents in the basement (“Ventilator Blues”) reportedly being decorated with swastikas.”

So, in other words, the ideal place to record a Stones album. Here’s “Casino Boogie,” with the late, great Bobby Keys on sax:

I’m not really much of a country fan and so when asked who my favorite country band is I always say The Stones. Totally not kidding. Keef was very heavily influenced by the late Gram Parsons. (Parsons played with The Byrds but wasn’t really a member. He went on to co-found The Flying Burrito Brothers). Anyway, here’s “Sweet Virginia.” Bobby Keys again. (Parsons on backing vocal). Watch what you step in:

In my younger days, I backpacked around Europe with my fellow music nut/friend Steve and wound up (don’t ask) working in the grape fields of Bordeaux at harvest time. We used to walk down to the local village for a drink. While there, I met the local “farmer’s daughter.” We bonded (no shit) over this album, specifically “Lovin’ Cup.” I mean, she loved the Stones and loved this album. This one thing apparently set me apart from all the other lads who were interested in getting to know her better.

Now, her older brother didn’t trust me thinking my motives weren’t entirely chaste. He was right. They weren’t. Neither were hers. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I love this album. So in honor of, um, er, well, whatever her name was, here’s “Lovin’ Cup.” (I love how the horns come in on this one late in the song, with a vaguely New Orleans-ish sound):

Yes, I am nitty gritty and my shirt’s all torn,
But I would love to spill the beans with you till dawn.
Give me little drink from your loving cup.
Just one drink and I’ll fall down drunk

I will be doing a series on the Stones at some point. I figure this buys me some time to write it.


7 thoughts on “Featured Album – Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones

  1. I can’t think of any other album that defines rock ‘n’ roll as well as this one does. As you said, it covers everything; every single root of the rock spirit is contained in this double package. Love it.

    Lovin’ Cup might be my favourite, though Shine a Light and Let it Loose are nice, mellower moments. Too many to note (and now I’ve just reminded myself of All Down the Line…) Wow…


  2. Yeah, I actually posted ‘All Down the Line’ as a song when I did my Top Ten Rock Albums list. The Stones were very much themselves on this album but with a few exceptions, they didn’t seem to much give a damn about it being commercial or having a string of hits or whatever. It just seemed to be more like, “Here’s a blues I wrote” or “Here’s a funky gospel tune” and the others said, Sure, let’s do it. Very creative, very fervent despite less than stellar recording conditions. (Hot, nasty basement).

    I mentioned in the other post that Jagger liked it but didn’t necessarily think it was anything exceptional. Interestingly,album-wise, I think the Stones\ really peaked here. There were some great songs later – and ‘while Some Girls’ and ‘Tattoo You’ are good albums – i don’t believe they’ve ever had another great one. Certainly nothing even remotely like this.


  3. I haven’t listened to any albums past this point. I should check out Some Girls (I know many fans consider the period between Exile and Some Girls ((Goat’s Head Soup, Black and Blue, etc)) the lost years).


    1. Hmm. “Lost” might be kinda strong for that period. In this interim, they did the following songs: Heartbreaker, Angie, It’s Only Rock n Roll, Time Waits for No One, Memory Motel and Fool to Cry. So, some really good stuff in there. As an album, Some Girls was pretty strong. Tattoo You as well but that was slapped together from previous sessions.

      Alas, after that things get kinda shaky. Still some good songs but one could easily say their best songwriting years were behind them. Listen to any recent live album and the majority of songs played are from 1967 to 1981-2 or so. Last album they put out was 1995. So for me, if there’s any lost years, that prior ten years or so up to that album is it.


  4. Good album for all the reasons you stated plus more. This is the Stones album I always reach for. I dig this one and all their real early stuff. Being a sax nut I’m a Bobby Keys fan. Found out about the Gram Parsons thing years later. Bottom line is it’s a bunch of great music the way I like it. “Farmers daughter”? You’re getting into CB territory.


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