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.