Rolling Stone magazine recognizes Exile On Main Street as one of the ten best albums of all time. That would probably be a fair assessment.
There was a lot of tension present during the final recording sessions of Exile On Main Street. Keith Richards, producer Jimmy Miller, and sax player Bobby Keys kept the heroin flowing. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman would skip sessions due to the extensive drug use going on in the studio. Tension was building between Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. While this tension would inspire Keith Richards to new heights in his guitar work, the resentment and his insecurities would remain. Finally the group members were forced to leave England because of tax issues and settled in France.
The result of all these problems was a murky, disjointed, poorly mixed, yet brilliant album that produced some of the best rock ‘n’ roll ever created.
The brilliance of Exile On Main Street rests with the whole rather than the parts. While “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy” were released as singles, they were not big chart hits in the Rolling Stones tradition. It is no one song that drives the album but rather a listening experience that builds throughout. So put the disc in or on your machine and sit back and immerse yourself in some real rock and roll one song at a time.
“Rocks Off” and “Rip This Joint” are a high energy twin blast-off for the album. Play these songs very loud. “Happy” is probably the best known Keith Richards vocal and has been a part of the Stones' live act for decades. It is almost a philosophical statement by Richards, if not a lifestyle statement. It is Keith’s antagonist, Mick Taylor, whose subtle slide guitar binds the music together.
“Tumbling Dice” features beautiful lyrics and a subtle vocal by Mick Jagger. Interestingly Mick Jagger plays guitar on the song and Mick Taylor bass so I’m guessing there were not many other people in the studio at the time.
The center of the album features some slower ballads. “Torn and Framed,” “Sweet Black Angel,” and “Loving Cup” all feature Mick Jagger’s slow building vocals. It is a shame that these songs rarely see the light of day. “Ventilator Blues” features fierce slide guitar by Mick Taylor and a thumping bass line from Bill Wyman.
The Rolling Stones had begun billing themselves as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. Based on this album’s 18 tracks they were right. Exile On Main Street is essential to any rock 'n' roll collection.