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Revisiting a Classic: Exile on Main Street

A reissue of the Rolling Stones 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main Street was released today, which has led to several declarations that this is the best Stones album.  These declarations are inaccurate.  Exile is not the best Stones album because Exile is not Sticky Fingers. However, Exile is without a doubt one of the greatest albums ever created and one that forever solidified the Stones as one of the greatest bands of all time.

Few albums in music history have been so beautifully executed in the midst of so much band turmoil.  By the spring of 1971, the Stones were forced into their own form of exile due to owing more taxes than they could pay to the British government.  The band moved to France and began recording in the basement of Nellcôte-a luxurious villa rented by guitarist Keith Richards.  Unfortunately, the band itself was coming apart at the seams.  Richards was in the early stages of heroin addiction that would eventually lead to his inability to attend many of the recording sessions.  Singer Mick Jagger was expressing his boredom with rock-and-roll while at the same time dealing with his new wife’s pregnancy.  Bill Wyman stayed away from many of the sessions due to his simple distaste for Nellcôte.  Despite all of this, the Stones were able to execute one of the greatest collections of musical genres ever assembled on one album (well, double album).

Mick and Keith at Nellcôte

While not known for its “hits” (“Tumbling Dice” was the only top ten single), Exile is known for its mash-up of several different musical genres.  Genres from country (“Sweet Virginia”) to the blues (“Casino Boogie”) to pure rock-and-roll (“Rocks Off”) are represented.  The six track sequence beginning with “Tumbling Dice” (followed by “Sweet Virginia,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Sweet Black Angel,” “Loving Cup,” and “Happy”) is simply one of the greatest stretches on any album ever.  With 18 tracks, there are some low points (“Turd on the Run” is garbage), but not nearly enough to lessen Exile’s greatness.

Looking at the caricatures of themselves that the Stones have become in recent years, it is easy to forget how great they really were during their peak.  Between 1967-1972, they released Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street in consecutive fashion.  Each a classic in their own right , this is simply one of the greatest stretch of albums any band has put together.  Exile was an appropriate end to this run and serves to remind anyone who appreciates music just how great the Stones really were.

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3 thoughts on “Revisiting a Classic: Exile on Main Street

  1. James S. on said:

    I agree with you that Sticky Fingers is the best Stones album, but Exile on Main Street is a close second, followed by Let It Bleed. In my opinion, those are three practically perfect rock album. Just awesome.

  2. I may even put Let It Bleed ahead of Exile. All three are extremely close, but Exile is a little bloated IMHO

  3. Pingback: Journey Through the Rolling Stones Discography: Part Three, Exile and Slow Decline « Thin Line Between Stupid and Clever

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