Exile Stuff I Cut
I had to go back to find my original doc for the Exile book for something or other, and came across the stuff I edited out to bring the book down to a manageable size. Here is some of it, just for the hell of it. If you really liked the book, then you might get something out of it. Think of it like bonus tracks/outtakes.
Stuff I Cut
Listening to the record now, I see myself at around 14 or 15, late on a snowy Saturday night, trying to hitch a ride home on a winding snowy road after sitting around a bonfire and drinking frozen swill beer bought by someone’s older brother and freezing my toes off in the woods with buddies. My brown corduroy jacket smells like a house fire. I am carrying a small silver boom box with one speaker, a cassette recording of Exile on Main St. turns in the player. I’m walking by darkened suburban homes, volume low enough not to cause trouble. Colored Christmas lights glowing under snow-covered suburban bushes seen through bloodshot eyes with melancholy tears brimming while echoes of Exile played on the tape and replayed in my head on later long walks. Trying to discern the actual lyrics and decipher their inscrutable meanings, which Jagger yowls out over the drone of instruments — guitars and piano, drums and bass. Even though I am tipsy, perhaps even because of my buzz, I know this music means everything to me. This is what I want to do, who I want to be. These same vague and fleeting feelings and ghostly emotions are what I want to convey: Soul-level predispositions; Zen-like truisms within the chord changes. And I probably have not yet written and original word or chord sequence. But I know. It is like the Buddhist koan: What was your face before you were born?
No one picks me up. Barely anyone passes. But I don’t mind the long walk as I pause in the street, hushed from the undisturbed late-night snow, take out the beige and black Maxell 90 minute cassette, flip it over and return it to the saddle, pushing play.
From my interview with Paul Kolderie:
But Kolderie was a little older and stranded out in the Midwest, in danger of living forever as a “metalhead.” Lester Bangs and Creem magazine exposed him to a wider selection of music than mainstream AM radio. I asked him if he was conscious of rock & roll getting back to its roots. “No, I had no idea what was going on,” he answered. “I was discovering all kinds of things at once. I was reading Creem magazine a lot. And they made a real big effort to turn you on to things. If Creem told you you’ve gotta go out and buy Raw Power right now, so I thought okay and I went out and bought Raw Power and, yeah, it was pretty good. It sounded like shit but who cares? I didn’t know anything about a good sounding and a bad sounding record back then. It’s only in hindsight.”
From the chapter on the photos of Robert Franks:
Included in this highly subjective sampling is a generous portion of shots of workmen: factory workers; cowboys; field laborers; an elevator operator; a shoe shine. But amongst all the surface Americana – flags, cars, jukeboxes, trains, gleaming chrome diners — the facial expressions and the body language of the rich and poor, the powerful and the disenfranchised alike, all seems to indicate the same malaise, weariness, and cynicism. In short, almost every person in the book seems to be living what Henry David Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation.” Indeed, in his introduction to the 1854 masterwork Walden, Thoreau goes on as if he is describing Franks’ pictures:
What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
Frank juxtaposes his subjects next to the cheap surface flash and in doing so allows their humanity to prevail in relief. A sign over some boxes of flowers in a memorial shop that reads “Remember your loved ones 69 cents” may seem like cheap sarcasm on its own. But sandwiched between a photo of factory worker taking a break on a curb and a faceless rodeo cowboy taking a cigarette break on a New York street, the sign serves as an ironic test of our values. The subjects captured in The Americans, of course, might have been captured in all sorts of moods. It is Frank’s own editorial selections and decisions – from the snap of the shutter on his Leica, to the printing and publishing of he photographs — and the cumulative weight of the whole which leaves one with melancholy if not an outright general, morose depression about Thoreau’s “mass of men.” The photographs, as with the individual songs on Exile on Main St., collected together have an effect that is more significant than, and even alters the understanding of the single shots. While such figures as Thoreau might have railed against such resignation as depicted or exaggerated in the pictures, I tend to find in the specific loneliness of the pictures the same universal melancholic sad-beauty that Kerouac found. Indeed, it is this simple fact of life, this assumed melancholia, which is usually most inspiring. Other viewers, though, particularly at the time of the books publication, found Franks’ work to be subversive. (Wasn’t everything in the mid 1950s? what good was it if it wasn’t being labeled “subversive?”) Critics apparently read his photographs as a sweeping political statement or indictment in the same way that the photographs by Evans were taken during the Great Depression. In a retrospective collection of his career, Franks recalls “1958… Reviews are bad. This book is sinister, perverse, Anti-American. I am not hurt, rather disappointed but glad my work was used.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson is another clear influence – perhaps the most direct — on Frank. Philip Brookman, curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, has written that Cartier-Bresson “skillfully zeros in on gestures and glances and movements through time, absorbing the touch of his subjects from environments charged with aesthetic tension. He lays bare the hidden details that symbolize the basic nature of our lives.” This certainly applies to The Americans as well. The photographs connote more than a disenchantment limited to the American Dream; unfulfilled promise of the frontier and all that. Rather, the pictures speak to a wider human condition, a deeper universal emotion — melancholy, sadness, despair even – that has always existed, intrinsic to being human. And this is apparent especially in the context of Frank’s previous work in Europe. Such is the stuff of “the basic nature of our lives.” It is the Zen. Frank’s pictures are visual koans. Or, if they are the “sad poems” Kerouac describes, then they are haikus, capturing in the specifics a more universal condition. Perhaps it is the Buddhist acceptance that all life is suffering. And I think Frank had this all in mind before setting out on the Guggenheim trip. In other words, he did not set out with romantic notions of the American Dream only to become disillusioned. Nor did he have some political point to make about the results of a capitalist society; I think he set out to find the human loneliness, alienation and sadness that he ultimately captured. As Warren Zanes pointed out in his book in this same 33 1/3 series, Dusty in Memphis (Continuum, 2003), in the quest for “authenticity,” in the American South and elsewhere, we are often subject to “willful seeing.” John Van Hamersveld – who, along with Norman Seeff, was responsible for the layout of Exile on Main St. – reckons that the plan extended back even to Frank’s patron, Peggy Guggenheim. In my correspondence with Van Hamersveld, he pointed out:
Peggy gives the Ford and some budget, and she and Max Ernest have been to California in the forties before, and she knows what will happen to him, and the product from his point of view.
That is what images do in art photography. Here in the fifties, Frank has the opportunity for him to find the images as a part of the Beats, Kline, DeKooning, Ginsberg, Kerouac’s On the Road is being written.
The post-war forties is laid out with disillusionment, the discontent, the racial difference, jazz, the strange psychology of the fifties mind, and behavior, the industrialist of science and the poet of the human.
These photos just happen to have America as the backdrop. Many of them could have been from anywhere. All one has to do is look at Frank’s earlier work in Paris, London, etc. And in this his mutual admiration and kinship with Kerouac and the Beats, and back to the Transcendentalist-identified writers like Thoreau and Whitman. In an article for Exposure magazine, Jno Cook surmises that one quote from Frank is helpful in understanding these photographs:
(Speaking about his transition from photography into filmmaking) Frank wrote, “I will have to express without fear my feelings about the world of which I am a part.” In photography the ability to express his feelings had already been achieved, although perhaps not with the precision of his later films and photographs. What is more significant about this statement, however, and indicative of a general background attitude for all of Frank’s work, is his identity with the world — the assumption that the world includes him, at least for the moment, an assumption which many Americans do not come to realize in a lifetime. It is an attitude generated from a Calvinistic determinism: pragmatic in the confidence that what is observed of the public world is exactly what it appears to be, ultimately unaffected by the desires and wishes of the self. There are no alternatives to seeing the world as it is; there is no better world lurking behind this one waiting to break in at some future moment. The genuine belief in this is fully expressed in The Americans. No unwarranted wishes for a better world-order get in the way of these pictures.
But this is not to say he was never noticed. Looking back on his career, the photographer recalled:
1955: I cross the States. For a year. 500 rolls of film. I go into post offices, Woolworth’s, 10 cent shops, bus stations, I sleep in cheap hotels. Around 7 in the morning I go to a nearby bar.
I work all the time. I don’t speak much. I try not to be seen. One day in Arkansas, the police stop me.
— “what are you doing here?”
— “I have a Guggenheim scholarship.”
— who’s Guggenheim?”
I spent three days in prison. Anguish.
In another instance during a pass through the South, a sheriff informed Frank that he had an hour to leave town.
Here, it all comes together: the packaging and design of the album sleeve; the mood and ideas expressed on the record; and the collective viewpoints of two generations of exiles – the Stones, young artists in their prime, and Robert Frank, their Beat-identified artistic predecessor. Frank had captured the life of the American street and the eternally deep, in-between purgatory moments of life: the bitter and the sweet.
On the film Cocksucker Blues:
These are the photos that must have captivated the band he was now documenting in their own cross-country trip, yet another tour. Coolly detached stylistically, Cocksucker Blues has as its backdrop the 1972 presidential election, which, positioned as a yin to the yang of the Stones tour, serves as another reminder of the disconnection between the incongruous realities of Stones’ orbit and that of mainstream America circa 1972. Frank involves himself as a subject just a little bit more than in his famous older photographs.
Against the hotel-television drone of presidential conventions and news coverage, there is more of the infamous drug use, camera-conscious groupie exploitation, and the like. As the Stones float through hotel rooms — to stages, planes, limos, and occasional jaunts outside of the tight tour cocoon — their perspective remains one of ironic disconnection. Even as the band tries to slum it down and play pool amongst rural and/or poor locals – trying, perhaps, to soak up more of the local flavor and grist for the mill — they are impossibly conspicuous and cannot share Frank’s advantage as quiet flies-on-the-wall outsiders. Their fame will not allow them to discover any guileless form of truth. Outside the security of the tour bubble, real life continues on. And when the worlds collide, it is more jarring than any of the gratuitous sex, drugs, and rock & roll, as a scene in a hotel lobby, when band members sidle up to the check-in desk and are met with confused stares and nervous chaos of employees and other guests.
Their world had become claustrophobically insular, so their material became increasingly self-referential, even as they, remarkably, managed to capture universal truths of and for their generation and their fans. Such a cocoon existed back at Nellcôte as well, of course, even more so. At first, the musicians and ancillary folks on the scene recall the gates being pretty much wide open to whichever locals had discovered the scene and wandered in. But increasing heat from authorities, as well as thefts and fights by outsiders, led to a tightening of security, the front gates finally closing. This disconnection from the “real world,” contributed to by the Stones’ wealth, their fame, the drugs, the hours, their understandable paranoia resulting from all of the above, can be heard all over Exile and as a statement of purpose on the lead-off track “Rocks Off.”
I can’t think of any photographs that can do justice to the valleys, and maybe only a handful of documentaries, including Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues of the Stones tour that supported Exile on Main St. That one showed the extreme highs and lows that hit the most successful band in the world. A friend once asked me if I was going to go see a documentary on some band that I felt were, on some level, contemporaries of mine. I told him no, explaining that I had to turn off another one, Radiohead’sMeeting People is Easy (1999). It felt like this: Say you work in an office. Why would you want to go see a movie of infinitely more successful people working in a far nicer office, making way more money than you are, and having an even worse time than you? You mean, it doesn’t get better?
On soul music and nostalgia:
An astute reader of the Boston Globe newspaper wrote a letter to the editor attempting to partially explain the unusually profuse public outpouring of grief over the passing of Reagan and the predictable and saccharine media overkill that accompanied the former controversial president’s passing. In the writer’s estimation, the reaction was not so much one of mourning for Reagan, per se, but for the passing of some mythological bygone era of American glory that many believed Reagan somehow restored. Many Americans were nostalgic for this personal mythology that the former actor Reagan sold so well: the all-American story consisting of, amongst other ingredients, Norman Rockwell scenes; westerns and college football movies; and a stark good vs. evil worldview. It is, in essence, the same mythological and nostalgic backstory, and a hopeful promise of restoration thereof, that got the “Great Communicator” elected to two consecutive terms – even as much of the nation’s citizenry lamented the Reagan administration’s callous policies in the face of record homelessness, a ballooning deficit, a seemingly willful ignorance in response to an AIDS epidemic, and further erosion of trust in an arrogant government mired in the felonious Iran-Contra scandal. Yet it is an unyielding trait of Americans to hold faith in the big-picture values epitomized by the founders of our nation, through the “Greatest Generation” of World War II: self-reliance; democracy; liberty. And most of us can have our hearts tugged by some Rockwell Saturday Evening Post illustration or a John Huston war movie. Our patriotism is the first thing the bastards will try to exploit.
Soul music’s lyrics are often astoundingly simple, for one reason, because the music – all music – is meant to capture something that can not be put into words.
Ray Davies pulled off a similar feat with the Kinks’ 1968 Village Green Preservation Society LP, in which he created “a series of stories, sketches and characters about a picturesque England that never really was,” according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine of the All Music Guides. The sort of stories mined by Reagan and his supporters.
On the production quality:
I remember reading an interview in with Bob Dylan once early in the digital revolution and he was commenting on compact discs, stating that he did not believe in the separation of sound in general. This argument of analog versus digital raged for years amongst musicians and engineers until finally starting to quiet down in recent years, with digital recording techniques and quality improving so much that analog recording has almost become archaic, unfortunately. But what Dylan was talking about, I believe, was the whole concept of separating sound — into digitally isolated tracks – and then trying to mix them together later. If one wants to be extreme, digital was not the first aberration, but multi-track recording, and before that, the move to stereo from mono. Dylan is another guy known for utilizing low-fuss recording methods, with the band one room and often with vocals taken live (as opposed to overdubbed later).
It is the Southern, Stax, Memphis-Muscle Shoals-Macon brand of soul – so elegantly examined in Peter Guralnick’s essential book Sweet Soul Music (Harper Perennial, 1986) – which deeply influenced rock & roll bands in the 1960s/early-1970s. Tom Dowd, who engineered many of those classic sessions for Atlantic Records, went on to become an in-demand producer/engineer for rock sessions in the 1970s, from Derek and the Dominos, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to — God help us – Meatloaf (this, after starting his illustrious career recording jazz legends like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus). His early work with Mose Allison would have been an attraction for English R&B-influenced rockers as well. As such, Dowd is another huge link in the chain. Oddly, the Stones never worked with Tom Dowd, even though they were distributed by Atlantic and label head Ahmet Ertegun became a frequent visitor to Nellcôte and on tours.
For a fan like me and for the most part, the best records are either recorded, or at least sound like they were recorded, as live as possible, like Tonight’s the Night andSome Girls. Even big-sounding pop orchestrations sound better to be when everyone is recording mostly at the same time, think: Pet Sounds, where most of the instruments are recorded live. Sure, there are myriad exceptions, like Songs in the Key of Life. Many great projects were done with building from drums up, some with just one person playing everything. But those kinds of projects are rare. I love highly sequenced records like the classic Talking Heads Remain in Light and a bunch of hip hop records. But for a basic rock & roll band, I never understood the idea of spending days trying to get a drum sound and then days more recording just drums. At the very least, rock music should feel like there is a band. It is an off-shoot of jazz, for crying out loud; would a jazz combo ever record drums separately?
While producing a Buffalo Tom record, David Bianco shared with me his experience as the head engineer on Mick Jagger’s solo record Wandering Spirit. He recalled Jagger singing take after take with the band he had assembled while they recorded basic tracks. He was really bringing it, singing hard, putting his heart into it, not just adding a few lines here and there to guide the arrangement. Bianco told Mick that the band probably knew where they were in the song and the singer could probably lay back a little. Jagger replied that he felt they needed him in there, the song needed him to push the energy and spirit of the songs, to achieve the optimal basic tracks, the right groove and feel for the song. Longtime engineer for the Stones (and big brother of Andy Johns) Glyn Johns, has also talked about Jagger’s role at the early stages of recording, noting that when he was not singing melodies and lyrics in progress to help guide the song, he was in the control room, helping in the production of the track.
The band, under Miller’s tutelage, seemed to find a certain groove that they regarded as a sort of holy grail. On a CD which compiled a few key influences on the Rolling Stones, Jagger talked about seeing James Brown for the first time on a trip to New York in 1964. While Brown’s vocal hooks were significant, “the whole meat of it is in the actual groove and the horn line hits, and the moves that he would do with them. That style is still revered very much now and used for the basis of a lot of grooves in rap music, and every kind of music, really. When you listen to it, there’s a lot of African overtones in the guitar player’s sound. He was very influenced by some of those African grooves, the highlife grooves at the time, but it’s all its own thing.”
On the returning back to roots music, via The Band et. al.:
Dylan continued on this track himself, later in 1967 with John Wesley Harding, as did The Band, with Music From Big Pink, from 1968, only a year after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Dead switched gears into their peak years with the largely acoustic American Beauty.
In 1968, the new lineup of the Byrds, including a young Gram Parsons, released the seminal country-rock record, arguably the first well-known one, Sweetheart of the Rodeo– though Bakersfield’s Buck Owens was an earlier key source, but he added rock & roll swing to the twang while the younger guys approached it the other way. The Byrds, perpetually under the spell of Dylan, was clearly influenced by the Basement Tapes, and start off the record with a cover from that set, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” This record led to Chris Hillman and Parsons forming the Flying Burrito Brothers, who melded southern soul, country, and rock into what Parsons described as “cosmic American music.” The Burritos eventually covered one of the earliest versions of the Stones’ “Wild Horses.” Other groups, like the Grateful Dead, were “returning to roots,” writing in more traditional song forms. Creedence Clearwater Revival were consistently topping the charts with their pseudo-swamp, blues-rock-rockabilly-soul-country gumbo. Van Morrison was making great recordings of his soul-folk-rock tunes. The Beatles further explored folk, R&B, and country idioms on their White Album and Let it Be. George Harrison’s 1970 solo masterpiece All Things Must Pass came out in 1970. As the leader of Derek & the Dominoes, Clapton recorded his finest, most soulful record, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in 1970, with the help of some Americans like Jim Gordon and Bobby Whitlock (both of whom also helped on Harrison’s album and might be on Exile on Main St.) from Delaney and Bonnie, as well as Duane Allman, of the legendary Allman Brothers Band.
More on Gram Parsons: (I believe this is a Stanley Booth quote)
“Gram came back to Mick’s Chester Square flat with Roger McGuinn. Their next gig was to be in South Africa, and we told Gram English bands never even went there. So he threw in his lot with the Stones and hung around London.”
On Nellcote in general:
Taplin was a collector of photography, had managed and/or organized tours for Bob Dylan and The Band in the 1960s, and went on to produce films, including Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. At the time, he was dating Chris O’Dell, a personal assistant to Jagger. According to Robert Greenfield of Rolling Stone magazine, Taplin had actually come to Villa Nellcôte to offer his services in organizing the next Stones tour of America, only to be rejected by Keith Richards.
“Downstairs was the enormous basement and we started to rehearse down there,” Richards recalled in Mojo. “Rooms are strange things. Some are just right…Some studios, you go in and you know the room is fighting you, but other rooms embrace you and the space you’re enclosed in becomes your own instrument and you start to play different. Really, we were blessed with that.”
But even then he held up work, albeit not deliberately. Shortly after the mobile arrived, he went Go-Karting, fell off, and tore all his skin from his back. It looked bad and hurt worse.”
Most of these pictures had not been seen before the publication of the book. They were left for years in a “big box in the cellar. I had completely forgotten about them,” Tarlé told Mojo.
Once it was decided to set up camp at Nellcôte, Mr. Reliable, Ian Stewart, the anti-Keith, who aside from his role as occasional pianist with the band, mostly acted as Stones equipment and road manager, made multiple missions to area towns to obtain supplies to aid in fashioning the basement into a serviceable recording studio. They needed to carpet much of the area, including walls, as all the square, hard surfaces tended to result in uncontrollable live echo.
Ad-hoc seemed to be the order of the day, which led to experimentation and creativity. At one point, after suffering through one too many power outages, the crew tapped into the main electrical service at the street (which was also not metered and thus saved on the bottom line – they were “broke,” remember). The legend of the group tapping into the railway lines appears to have been largely a myth. One of Tarlé’s photographs show the truck negotiating through the exotic trees as it winds its way up the driveway, men sitting and standing on top, with Keith down on the path below, pushing aside palm fronds and warning back a dog.
On Nicky Hopkins and sidemen:
Nicky contributed untold amounts to not just the sound of the Stones during their heyday, but to classics by the Who, Joe Cocker, the Beatles, the Kinks, and too many more to list. If there was a counterpart to the Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002) documentary – in which unheralded, uncredited players from classic Motown hits are finally afforded their due – perhaps it would be called Standing in the Shadows of the Rolling Stones, or, depending on who you ask, Standing in the Shadows of Mick and Keith. In any case, Hopkins would have to have a prominent part. Session men were certainly taken for granted on such formula-driven, label-driven hits such as those from Motown, a label that prided itself on a stable of stars run through an assembly-line production process. This was Detroit, after all. At least the session players were given credit on records by rock & roll bands — usually.
Graham Parker noted that Nicky had a great sense of humor. “Nicky and I got on great and had a lot of Monty Python repartee going between us. He was a hell of a mimic and had some of those characters down cold.” And Hopkins — usually depicted as quiet and mild-mannered amongst the debauchery of the Stones circus — told Graham about some high-flying adventures with noted wildman Joe Cocker: “…like the time they stormed the cockpit of a plane, out of their heads, and the crew brought the plane down in the nearest airport to chuck them off.”
In the studio and on the tour we did, Graham and I spent some time talking about the Stones. He told me about how they influenced him, as a singer-songwriter in the pub-rock scene in London, coming up between the 1960s hippie deal and the punk rock era. So I thought it would be natural to ask how he, coming from the generation at which the record was probably most directly and immediately marketed (not to age him, but Graham would have been 22 at the time of the release) felt about Exile, as a fan and musician…
As John Perry points out in Classic Rock Albums: Exile on Main St (Schirmer Books, 1999), his informative book about the record, the horn section had “become regular members of the touring band in 1970…
Speaking to Greenfield about a year later, during the mixing of the record, Keith mentioned some acts the Stones wanted to consider as opening acts for their impending tour, “we’ve got a short list pf people we’d like to take with us, the Staple Singers, Joe Tex… an old blues-man would be nice but they’re pretty fragile.” The Stones were obviously influenced by the classic Stax sides, with Otis Redding as a particular idol. Charlie Watts explains “given that damn Al Jackson, Jr. in the rhythm section, Otis Redding can’t keep still, can he? Fantastically slick. What did we think of his version of “’Satisfaction’? It was great; I wish we’d done it like that. I always try to emulate them on stage. I’m sure Mick does.”
Raw and minimalist, (Hasil) Adkins was one of the most direct influences on 1980s rockabilly (or the updated 1980s term “psychobilly”) revival bands like The Cramps and Flat Duo Jets, and his essence can even be heard on the White Stripes.
Reviewing the Adkins compilation Out to Hunch (1986) for Allmusic.com, Mark Deming wrote “if you’re the sort of person who thinks Eric Clapton improves on Buddy Guy’s guitar style, this probably won’t be your bag. But if you believe that rock & roll is about passion and enthusiasm first and foremost, then Hasil Adkins has got to be one of the greatest rockers who ever walked the Earth.”
At best, my generation knew some of Little Richard from 1950s retrospectives and rock & roll history on TV shows, books, etc. But usually, people my age knew of Little Richard as a flamboyant cartoon-ish, Liberace-type of character that we would see heavily made up like a Michael Jackson prototype on game shows and tribute performances. It was rarely about his musical contributions anymore. Which is a shame because, as we know, he was perhaps one of the top five originators of the genre, and his original source material is exciting and raw — in a way, more “heavy” than any suburban angst bands we still hear on the radio circa 2004. And as Charlie implies, generations of hair bands, neo-glam bands, and others dazzled by the look – like those many skinny-assed poseurs who copped the Keith Richards template — miss the point of Little Richards: the makeup without the music behind it is just, well, Garry Glitter, i.e. kind of sad, really.
Harry Belafonte popularized the Caribbean folk tradition for American audiences in the 1950s. One of his precursors was Trinidadian Edric Connor, who sang “mento” (a link between Jamaican folk, jazz, ska, and reggae) songs like “Sammy Dead,” a traditional folk song which later became a ska standard (“’Twas a grudge, when them branch broke on Sammy/Sammy dead, Sammy dead, Sammy dead-o”) and “Judy Drowned.” These are essentially death ballads with the same sort of narratives used in American folk and blues traditions, but employing sunny Caribbean melodies and rhythms. Contemporary listeners more familiar with “Daylight come and me want to go home” might find the combination somewhat jarring. Mento, and Caribbean music in general, was a mix of mostly West African and Spanish influences that — as music is wont to do – continued to morph into other strains. The Stones pick up on it, again making something of their own.
Jagger was smart to surround himself with bona fide gospel singers, but even on their own, the Stones sound uninhibited here and again authoritatively reach some measure of authenticity. One of my partners in Buffalo Tom, Chris Colbourn studied jazz history with legendary composer/saxophonist Archie Shepp (with whom I also took a class). “I think I remember hearing Shepp say Jagger’s singing ‘You Gotta Move’ (from Sticky Fingers) was as valid as any black man’s version,” he recalled. I also recall one or more of the jazz heroes at UMass Amherst – it might have been Max Roach – as being particularly into Charlie Watts’ drumming. Stanley Booth recalls the group laboring over the latter song at Muscle Shoals. When he left and came back to the studio, he was impressed to find how legitimate their version song eventually sounded. It takes a lot of practice to sound casual.
King Curtis, an Atlantic Records regular, a Texas-born sax legend and producer, was a direct influence on Bobby Keys. Curtis’ horn arrangements on those seminal Aretha Franklin records I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Arrived, and, Lady Soul have become prototypes for bands trying to add a little Southern soul to their sound. As Kim Cooke explains in the liner notes of the great Rhino Records compilation Aretha Franklin 30 Greatest Hits, “King Curtis might have been the key to the early records. He was usually the session leader as well as fronting the brass section, soling on key tracks, and most importantly, cajoling a sometimes reluctant Aretha into the studio when she wasn’t in the mood to record.”
Sounds a bit like the role Bobby Keys’ played with Keith.
“I Got the Blues” (which is really more of an Otis Redding kind of soul torch ballad), and then again, solidly on…
….as described by Robert C. Toll in Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth Century America. Toll explains that such shows were “the first example of the way American popular culture would exploit and manipulate Afro-Americans and their culture to please and benefit white Americans.”
Which, then, is the myth, he seems to ask? Two myths: the false reality created and lived by those who “die still believing it.” Or the other myth, the one which Parsons subscribed to, in which the 1969 “Miracle Mets” baseball team can become the unlikely heroes of the World Series, as if turning the fabric of that other, false idea of civilization inside out.
….casting off the self-conscious musical accoutrements of psychedelia and ignoring the bloated excess of progressive and glam rock that was saw rock & roll flirting with bloated self-importance, self-parody, and even increasing irrelevance. On Exile on Main St., the Stones seek nothing less than to save the music by re-establishing and exercising its most essential components. So, instead we see the group cast its lot with the same “ragtaggy people” of their half-kidding “Salt of the Earth.” They take the simple pleasures, running away from streetwise urbanity and irony. Richard Taruskin, in a New York Times essay on composer Charles Ives, noted that for Ives such “substance” as “manliness, humility, and a deep spiritual, possibly religious feeling” were virtues “indispensable” to music. Such elements are in strong supply onExile. We can see the Stones – their anti-hippy leanings notwithstanding — as taking up, that “back to the country” hippy ideal, even if their version, in reality, manifested itself in the opulent luxury of the French country and seaside. We see a line run through Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Ives (who wrote an homage to Emerson in his “Concord” Sonata), to Ginsberg, Dylan, The Band, and here, all of a sudden, the Stones.
That 1971 album is one greasy record, all murky, slinky, and, yeah, swampy. The folk stories handed down in songs like “John, the Conqueror” that pop up continuously in folk and blues songs also find their way into the mythology of Exile. A similar dense atmosphere to the Stones record can definitely be found in this predecessor. Dr. John had been conjuring up bluesy voodoo spells and atmospheric gumbo swells since the mid-1960s. And this horn-driven large-ensemble, soul/gospel-rock sound the Stone struck on Exile on Main St. can be heard on other such projects by Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, etc., with many of the same players appearing on the same records. It was in the air.
….and exploring folk, blues, and country lyrical ideas, the “old, weird America” identified by Greil Marcus in his book Invisible Republic, which looks back at the traditions explored on and legacy of the Basement Tapes
On the contextualization of the record:
Dealing with Exile means not only examining the album as an everlasting classic, but also trying to square that within the context of the years in which it was released. 1972 was a year that saw such an eclectic U.S. Top 40 list to encompass not only schlocky ear candy like… well, Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Candy Man,” and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” sitting comfortably on the charts next to classics like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers. Classic albums released that year included T. Rex’s Electric Warrior and Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book.
I believe that if this record came from some unknown band right now, the strength of the material, the force and authority of the performances, and enigmatic production via which it is presented, would shoot it to the top ten lists of critics everywhere. In fact, it was the perception of the band as aging hit-makers past their prime that might have left the record — with only a couple of real singles buried in there — off many such lists at the time of its release. After all, no one was used to the idea of rock & rollers getting older; it was still a very young form of music.
On the critical reception:
Not to make further assumptions about Lenny Kaye’s impression of the absence of obvious guitar hooks, but “Rocks Off” turns the idea of typical 1970 blues-rock solo on its head. In many cases, especially with the Bluesbreakers and John Mayall outfits with whom Taylor played as a rising star, the solo would be central to the song, a focal point featured in the center of the arrangement, and would most likely go on for eight bars or so. Linda Rondstadt said the reason she abandoned the classic rock & roll of the 1970s in favor of singing standards, is that she was tired of waiting around for the inevitable guitar solo.
As Village Voice pop music reviewer Robert Christgau wrote of Exile on Main St. in 1973, “I can always get pleasure out of any of its four sides, but it took me perhaps twenty-five listenings before I began to understand what the Stones were up to, and I still haven’t finished the job. Just say they’re Advancing Artistically, in the manner of self-conscious public creators careering down the corridors of destiny.” The Stones knew very well what they were doing, or, perhaps more importantly, not doing when they decided not to break up the material that constitutes Exile on Main St. Songs like “Shake Your Hips” are integral to the pacing of the record, setting up other songs, getting the listener from here to there without relying on filler. These interpretations of classic and obscure blues numbers revive their role as reverse ambassadors of the music and the covers on Exile are virtuoso takes on the music on which they cut their teeth.
It did not matter that the record met with mixed at-best reviews upon its release, as legend has it. I was too young to care or even read record reviews. In fact, such knowledge only adds to the mythic and legendary stature of the record. Word of mouth on junior high school buses and blue ball point scribble on Mead loose leaf notebooks were much more reliable measures of musical merit than the radio was, certainly, never mind some geeky reviewer behind a typewriter writing paragraphs buried in music magazines for other geeks to read. I didn’t “want to walk or talk about” Exile, I just wanted to see its face. My buddies and I did not want our music force fed to us even back then. If I had been a product of the radio, I would have been a Bob Seeger or Steely Dan fan (shiver). We were already making our own music in our basements.
On miscellaneous lyrics:
“Million dollar sad.” What a great lyric! If nothing else, it just sounds great. Never mind “Kissing cunt in Cannes.” That could be a whole book in and of itself. Probably not one I could write with the required/desired authority. But “Million dollar sad” could mean so much. For one, Jagger could be saying, look, we give up the pretense of any protest music. For us to pretend to speak for the disenfranchised would be sound like sad millionaires. Or, it might be more earnest than ironic: the depression than can still afflict someone once they’ve reached the pantheon. Or, even more, we are supposed to be millionaires, but in fact, we are virtually broke and had to exile ourselves on the Riviera. I know, boating off to Italy for breakfast or to Monte Carlo for a bit of gambling, and having trouble getting “work” done because of the “party atmosphere” at Nellcôte: sad, sad, million dollar sad.
The Stones honed that particular song type which both reflected and exaggerated their rock & roll lifestyle with “Stray Cat Blues,” “Live With Me,” “Sway,” and even let the weariness with the life show through on “Moonlight Mile.”
Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes
Gonna warm my bones
On Mick’s country-guy and other schtick:
It’s good when he does it straight ’cause it’s funny enough without doing a pantomime. It’s the sound version of what he was doing wrong visually. When he sings it as a caricature it sounds like it would be great for a show. You expect Mick to walk out in his cowboy duds on an 18-wheeler set (laughs). Or sing it into his CB as part of his skit.”
The more Mick mimics, the hokier it sounds. Just because he’s letting us know he is in on the joke doesn’t make it any less of a joke. In fact, it becomes, as Keith notes, a caricature. It does not need to be thus…
He may still be playing a character, but he lets down the mask on his vocal and harp performance. As Keith has noted at various times, it is in his harmonica playing that one hears the true “unadulterated” Mick Jagger. The Stones remind us here that, as Led Zeppelin and their disciples like Black Sabbath were churning out heavy metal guitar opuses, that this early strain of rock & roll could still be the most potent, especially at its most raw.
Exile on Main St. is barreling along in full gear at this point, with yet another dazzling transition into “Happy.” Though the 20-minute blasts of each side are perfectly balanced by design, with attention paid to the arc of each side, the pacing also works well on the more continuous sequencing of CDs and other digital mediums. In fact, relieved of the task of getting up a couple of times to flip the records, one is struck by the continuity and relentless quality of the songs. Sure, “Loving Cup” was an extremely effective way of ending a side, and “Happy” an undeniable side opener, but the uninterrupted flow of one into the other is also delightful.
There is no track quite akin to these on Sticky Fingers. Though a few of them have what would be considered vamps, there is no full-tilt gospel number. “I Got the Blues,” though the most “church” in feel, is more of a late-night torch ballad along the lines of Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes the Place of You,” or Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” And though one would not consider “Rocks Off” a gospel-influenced song at first glance, there really is a lot more that it has in common with the gospel feel of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” than initially meets the eye (or ear). Charlie — who seemed uncomfortable enough with the shuffle beat and offbeat fills that Jimmy Miller demonstrated to him on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” that he just told Jimmy to play it himself — dives in full bore on “Rocks Off,” with a number of staggering fills. Listen to the four bar-long fill around 3:33-3:40 for an example. Charlie sounds like he is answering the horn stabs and right hand piano of Hopkins.
…after getting back from the touring in support of Sticky Fingers, and counting all the money that had come in as profits from concerts and the album sales, the band decided it was time to decamp for France, specifically the south.
Anyone who has traveled understands what a change of scenery can do to our way of seeing. For artists, it can jog the creative process.
The bass-less intro is a lesson in rock dynamics that the men of AC/DC learned well (“Highway to Hell,” for example).
Tom Waits on “Just Want to See His Face”:
(I don’t think Jagger sings in falsetto on this one; the high parts sound like the women backing singers, though Jagger has certainly perfected a soulful falsetto on other songs.) “When he sings like a girl, I go crazy. I said, ‘I’ve got to learn how to do that’ ….Nobody does it like Mick Jagger; nobody does it like Prince.
Some orphaned quote from one of the Stones:
And I didn’t actually realize until after we’d written it because we’d been listening to this Staple Singers album for 10 months or so
Miscellaneous notes on the artwork/packaging:
Seeff had actually left a career as a doctor in South Africa before coming to NY. Together they collaborated on legendary organist Jimmy McGriff’s LP Black Pearl, the cover image a variation on the theme started with Johnny Deco.
I am standing on a Persian rug I am looking into the eyes of Jagger. He extends his pale, soft hand–limp from a lifestyle of wealth, decadence, and privilege–giving me a pleasant gesture of importance.
The rest are together talking at the large dining table. We greet each other and sit down in seating orchestrated by Jagger. I am directed to sit on a bench next to Mick, Marshall (Chess) stands on my left, Norman is at his right side, Keith is off to the right standing. He is looking at me in his mirrored sunglasses while smoking a joint.
Jagger had long been an arbiter of hip. Charlie Watts had a background as a graphic artist. Keith, in the fashion of the typical London rock & roller, had done his time at art school. They were a relatively erudite group from the start. In fact, while the band was still recording Exile in France, Mick wanted Man Ray to come up with an idea for the cover of the then-untitled album. Charlie was put in charge of approaching the old Dadaist/Surrealist. Along with Dominic Lamblin, the Stones’ record man in France, he eventually met the artist at Man Ray’s home in Paris. The resulting idea was apparently a bit disappointing: one die from a pair of dice, with the faces of the band where the black dots should go. As Lamblin recalled, “The situation was: ‘Artwork? We’ll ask Charlie. Guitars? ‘We’ll ask Keith.’ Instruments? ‘We’ll ask Brian.’ The band’s history? ‘Bill,’ and money matters? ‘We’ll check with Mick.’
(Incidentally, in a display of the influence of the surface and content on punk rock that John Lydon described to John Van Hamersveld, the cover of Gun Club’s Fire of Love  is a rough hewn collage of voodoo priests and cut-and-paste lettering. And like Exile, the cover points toward the mélange of blues and hard rock songs and subject matter within.)