Exile On Main Street

Many if not most of the world’s most admired albums attained their fame slowly. In the case of Exile on Main Street which was released forty years ago on May 12, 1972, it took years for its ragged, bluesy charms to percolate into the collective psyche and eventually emerge as if not the best, then one of the contenders in the Stones catalog. The debate over an alternative champ has raged for years. Let It Bleed? Some Girls? Sticky Fingers? Beggar’s Banquet? Aftermath? Worthy choices all but when it comes to revelatory experiences, genuine five star records that changed the world, the apex of all the juice that Jagger and Richards could muster, Exile has gotta be the choice. The radio hits, “Happy” and “Tumbling Dice,” were solid. “Sweet Virginia” is the band’s most convincing foray into country rock. Tunes like “I Just Want to See His Face,” were downright scary. And the whole project still has a vaguely alien vibe to it, much of it due, for example, to touches like Jagger’s squeaking harp on “Stop Breaking Down,” or the odd background voice arrangements and guitar tones on “Let It Loose.” Exile is also the rare double album that justifies being four sides—no mean feat. It also has some of the most memorable art direction in the history of album cover art and features a much wished for appearance (but probably not), in the fade out of “Sweet Virginia” by the late Gram Parsons who was hanging around the chateaux Nellcôte, in Villefranche–sur–Mer, near Nice, France where the band was recording in the basement. Finished in Los Angeles in early 1972, the album is reputed to also be the sound of a band riven by addictive behavior (Parsons was eventually asked to leave), which is also part of that odd otherworldly feeling as it occasionally pops into full view as in the opening of the album’s classic closer, “Shine a Light,”: “Saw you stretched out in room ten o nine/With a smile on your face and the tears right in your eye/Could not seem to get a line on you, my sweet honey love.” Squashed by a regrettable remastering job in the 2010 reissues (in both LP and CD form), this album is probably best heard on the original American LP pressings, though the 1994 reissues on Virgin run a close second.

dalethorn's picture

Ah, the Stones - so many issues. Bought several from HDTracks. Nice efforts on the part of the mastering guys, in spite of tape dropouts and stuff. There always was a lot of denial in the recording industry about tape head wear and dropouts, and those I hear in HDTracks' tracks are testimony to that.

When I was little and my friends, scratch that - acquaintances, were grooving on the Beatles and Herman's Hermits, I tuned into the Stones, the Animals, Yardbirds et al, then from there to the old guys like Muddy and the Wolf.

And I have wondered for some time - how do you propose to name your album "Her Satanic Majesty Requests" and still get knighted, albeit years later? If I were the Queen, I'd have invited Mick into a closed door session and, er, you know. Or maybe that actually happened.

roscoeiii's picture

I can confirm that the early US pressings of these sound fabulous. Look for the Unipack version. For a damning review of the reissue on vinyl read Stereophile's own Fremer here:


dhk's picture

I have the early US LP and think the mix is too muddy sounding - the various instruments hide each other. The reissue in 2010 sounded awful in all formats. Cleared up some of the muddiness, but was highly Volume compressed and shrill sounding on the high end. Unlistenable to me. Today I listen to a rip of my original LP.

Still think Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Beggars Banquet are better albums.

But as a band, the Stones were at there best in this period. The live recordings from the late sixties - early seventies are amazing. A lot of it is due to having the underappreciated Mick Taylor in the band. I think he added a lot - both as lead and as improving the group as a playing band.

roscoeiii's picture

Yeah, I finally grabbed a good copy of Some Girls yesterday. But on the lookout for Sticky Fingers. A nice clean copy at a good price has eluded me so far.

dalethorn's picture

For those who were there at the beginning, hoping for a fresh injection of something black into what had become of rock-n-roll in the late 1960's - psychedelia and Hendrix notwithstanding, the Stones delivered. The first hint was Sympathy For The Devil, then Let It Bleed complete with heavy drug lyrics (not psychedelics this time boys), the 1969 tour, Hell's Angels and Altamont and "I'm gonna stick my knife right down your throat baby, and it hurts." And no coincidence all of this building up in conjuction with the escalating Vietnam War, capped off by Kent State a few months later. Between Let It Bleed, Live'r Than You'll Ever Be, Altamont and Kent State, you could feel the life go out of the 60's like air out of a tire - almost as quick as disco taking a nosedive nine years later. So in 1970 we were in the doldrums of rock-n-roll, dreading going to work and listening to Elton John or James Taylor for the rest of our lives. Ah, well. Those veins can only take so much before they start to collapse. Many or most of us hardcore Stones fans never did become big on Classic Rock or whatever they called it in the mid 70's - ELP and Lynyrd Skynyrd et al, with songs like Free Bird, Stairway to Heaven, Won't Get Fooled Again etc. Those were the times when the LP really hit its stride and rock music graduated to its highest art form, albeit once again almost entirely white, nearly devoid of the elements that Allan Freed introduced as rock-n-roll and groups like the Stones incorporated into their music early on.

downunderman's picture

Yup, the reproduction of greatness is a heck of a problem - these old and lo-fi (by todays standards) tapes are getting nothing but older and more degraded with the passage of time.

Still I must say that the SHM-SACD version from Japan aint too bad at all, just a tad expensive.

In fact there seems to be a strange paradox at work, in that advances in reproduction technology act to reveal the limitations of the source tapes and as a result you can end up with a worse listening experience.  Getting the best out of these old tapes still seems to be an evolving art - here's hoping the boffins move more firmly towards tweeking the tapes to get the best out of them, rather than just reproducing super accurate facsimiles of the old degraded tapes in all their degraded glory.

remlab's picture

Why doesn't anyone like Tatoo You? I think the whole album is amazing..

dalethorn's picture

Tattoo You was a big hit and well deserved too. MTV got a lot of mileage out of that one. Little T&A has to rank with a handful of the Stones' best "pure rock-n-roll" songs like Satisfaction and She's So Cold.

DetroitVinylRob's picture

Just another testament to seeking out the old pressings, if you haven't kept care of originals on your shelves from back in the day, mine with the postcards intact, still sounds brilliant. This Stones title with the audio engineering by fabulous Glyn Johns is still an over looked and somewhat dingy gem, and deserves whatever it could take to save it for future listeners. The domestic issues are often sad cousins to the Brit pressings of almost any title and with any regard, it is as though our music industry could not care less about the music reaching the masses. If the common Joe six-pack could hear much of these old titles well resolved, they would think that after all those years of listening, they had not heard these albums at all. Give us this music highly resolved, and the domestic music industry will thrive once again.

Happy Listening!

worldofsteveUK's picture

not always good news, as I recently discovered my original Sticky Fingers is ruined by having a REAL zipper on the cover that has left a nice radial groove in one side ,,, I too bought the reissue Exile On Main Street, it sounds terrible.