Monday, May 31, 2010

Exiled on Main Street

The new, "deluxe" version of the Stones' classic album, "Exile On Main Street" was released to great fanfair about two weeks ago.
The reviews of the new mix and the ten "new" songs, culled from the band's vaults of unreleased material, have been pretty spectacular. Rolling Stones Magazine gave it a 5-star review endorsement. (How could they NOT, given the name of the mag and that fact it had this album listed at number 7 on its list of all time great rock albums just a few years ago?)
When I wandered into Chester County Bookstore last week and saw the sticker price of just $20, I thought to myself: "Why wait to nab this wonderful puppy? It's selling on line for more than this!"
I gotta say, it was a smart move.
I am always up for having a philosophical discussion on which band is better, the Stones or the Beatles. Which band you choose usually depends on whether you go to church or not. ("All the angels sing!" usually means you side with Lennon and McCartney; admitting you like "Goat's Head Soup" more than "The White Album" indicates you are prepped just fine for Dante's seventh circle of hell).
Ifyou are a fan of the Stones (or just of the music of that era), this is a CD you need to hear. More than 75 percent of the songs on the radio these days do not measure up to the tossed off songs from the second disc of the deluxe version of "Exile On Main Street". Some are earlier versions of songs that appear on the album, but others were never officially released by the band. When you hear them now, it's hard to understand why.
"Plundered My Soul" is a song that could have been as big as hit as "Tumbling Dice." It starts with the same kind of jagged guitar shuffle of that Stones' classic and carries in it the same loose, drunken DNA of most of the songs on "Exile", which was mostly recorded at Keith Richards' mansion in the South of France while the Stones were dodging the tax authorieties in England. The song just kills. The wail of the back-up singers sent chills down my spine.
Then there is an alternate take to the album's classic closer, "Soul Survivor." On this version, you get to hear Keith Richards taking the lead vocal from Jagger. The song stuns you at first, because the vocal difference between Jagger and Richards is so pronounced. But when you go back and listen to "Happy" (Richards' primary vocal on the album) you recognized that this moment is Richards' bid for "co-billing" as a front man in the Stones: his vocal is ascerting that he could have taken the "McCartney role" in the Stones. It stands on its own merits. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall when the boys debated which version should be the "official" one.
"Good Time Woman" is an early version of "Tumbling Dice" with different lyrics, well worth hearing for that reason alone. You can barely hear Jagger's vocals in the muddy mix, but the imprint of the song is always there, in the background, a song that just demands your attention.
The extra disc ends with a blistering instumental called "Title Five." It sounds like the Stones' riffing on a Dick Dale surfing classic. It's a thumping, balls to the wall rock classic that never made it into a "song". But when you listen to it, perhaps you will instantly recognize it for what it is: a moment in time when the best rock n' rollband in the world was working together in the studio, putting down a track that would stand the test of time.
It hardly matters that they never provided lyrics to make "sense" of the structure of the song. It's still a classic. The "song" rocks all on its own.

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