Exile on Main St

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Yeah, the union of John and Mary Winchester - very big deal upstairs, top priority arrangement. It wasn’t easy, either. Oh, they couldn’t stand each other at first. But when we were done with them - perfect couple. […] The orders were very clear. You and Sam needed to be born. Your parents were just, uh… meant to be. A match made in heaven, heaven♫

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                                             ↳ Exile On Main St.

                                             Released: May 12, 1972 ― Label: Rolling Stones Records ― UK Charts Position: 1 ― Producer: Jimmy Miller ― Recorded: Villa Nellcôte, France; Sunset Studio, LA; Olympic Studios, London, Stargroves, Hampshire.

                                             « The sunshine bores the daylights out of me/Chasing shadows moonlight mystery/Headed for the overload » ― ‘Rocks Off’

                      The environment forced out a new, montage-syle Stones. Tracks were pieced together by whoever was at the session at the time playing whatever instrument was necessary, and the more gambling-themed lyrics were written using Burroughs’ random cut-up method. Though Jagger ― largely absent from Nellcôte ― would claim that the studio of Sunset Sound in LA, it was the loose, narcotic roll of the Nellcôte cellar that would infect ‘Exile…’ and gives it its arcane, subterranean voodoo buzz.

                      From the opening bar-room boogie of ‘Rocks Off’ we’re clearly in rootsier territory than ‘Sticky Fingers’, Bobby Keys’ Texarkana brass blasts lifting the Stones into a new stratosphere of blues jubilance. The hallucinatory effect of Jagger’s warped vocals and the acid-vision lyrics of pirouetting lovers and sleeping for kicks swam with the afterglow of psychedelia, but the record had more traditional paths to repave. ‘Rip This Joint’, ‘Shake Your Hips’ and ‘Casino Boogie’ were junke-joint blues full of heat and hellfire, while the album’s early high-point ‘Tumbling Dice’ brought an energised gospel flavour to the track that best encapsulated the mood of ‘Exile…’: a band freefalling insouciantly into uncertainty like craps table dice, confident thair winning streak couldn’t end.

                      Jagger would later describe ‘Exile…’ as four separate albums, making Side One (in old money) the party record and Side Two the campfire whyskey sway-along. It boasted the harmonica’n’sax booziness of ‘Sweet Virginia’ stinking of the late-night Mississippi speakeasy, the emotionally tattered downhome lustre of ‘Torn and Frayed’ (the blueprint for The Charlatans ‘Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over’), the sweet, ramshackle ‘Sweet Black Angel’ and the rousing piano strains of ‘Loving Cup’ with its intoxicating sex-as-alcohol metaphor « I’m the plowman in the valle with the face full of mud…. Give me one little drink from your loving cup/Just one drink and I’ll fall down drunk ». A note from our Health And Safety dept at this point : tequila is not a lubricant.

                      As ‘Exile…’ kicked the pace again for the rootsy Side Three, Richards taking the lead for ‘Happy’ ― his trademark number written and recorded in a four-hour afternoon spurt when Jagger wasn’t around, such was the louche creativity underway at Nellcôte ― a varied and exploratory dissection of pre-rock classicism was emerging. The charmingly titled ‘Turd On The Run’ (a dig at Wings perchance?) sounded like a very modern skiffle, ‘Let It Loose’ a osychedelic gospel and the deviant ‘Ventilator Blues’ referenced Lennon’s ‘Come Together’ with its shattered smack drawl and mention of « When your spine is cracking ».

                      Stocking the engines with riff diesel, ‘Exile…’ throttled to a finish with a final quarter of stonk-on, epic blues and rock’n’roll ― ‘All Down The Line’, ‘Stop Breaking Down’, the glowering ‘Shine A Light’ ― that defined with rough-drawn borders, the summation of their golden era and set in aspic the roots and the ssence of the Stones. ‘Exile…’ is the epitome of the classic watermark album; the double-set splurge of an assured band of rock stars at their peak, shifting their methods to plaster over the widening cracks but still coasting on a creative high. Jagger would later dismiss the album as too roosty, and over the coming decade the Stones would experiment with dub, disco, pop and mawkish balladry. But it’s ‘Exile…’ that their future disciples would most want to emulate and which, when asked ‘what did rock’n’roll sound like Grandad ?’, you will dust off iCloud and wistfully click ‘play’.                              © Mark Beaumont.