Ignored Obscured Restored
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ classic double album, Exile on Main Street. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to verify the exact date of release. I recently read a review by Robert Greenfield that was in Rolling Stone magazine dated April 27, 1972. In the article, he says that the album will be out on May 7th. But it’s very plausible that the release was delayed after he wrote that.
An article in the WSJ claimed the release date was May 12, 1972. Wikipedia says it was May 22nd. I think part of the confusion may be related to the US versus UK releases. It could have been the 12th in the US and the 26th in the UK. I guess it doesn’t really matter!
The backstory of the making of Exile is well known so I won’t be pedantic in telling it. The short version is that the Stones were living in France in 1971-72 as tax exiles from England. Unable to find an acceptable recording facility in France, the band decided to record from the basement of Keith Richards southern France villa (Nellcôte) using their mobile studio.
Describing this arrangement, Keith said “It was nice for me making this album. At the end it got a little hectic in the house what with playin’ all night in the blazin’ heat… but with the 16 track truck always outside and ready, we’d go downstairs whenever we felt like it and work on a riff.”
My choices for SotW are the b-sides to the two singles released from Exile. “Sweet Black Angel” was the flip to “Tumbling Dice” and “All Down the Line” was on the other side of “Happy.”
“Sweet Black Angel” was written in support of Black activist Angel Davis. At the time, Davis was on trial for murder because she had purchased the gun used in the courtroom killing of a judge and the three black defendants (The Soledad Brothers) on trial for killing a prison guard.
But the gal in danger
Yeah, de gal in chains
But she keep on pushin’
Would ya take her place?
She countin’ up de minutes
She countin’ up de days
She’s a sweet black angel, woh
Not a sweet black slave
For a judge they murdered
And a judge they stole
Now de judge he gonna judge her
For all dat he’s worth
I skipped one verse that makes me cringe and probably makes the song unplayable in concert for the same reason “Brown Sugar” is avoided. It just ain’t politically correct.
Ten little niggers
Sittin’ on de wall
Her brothers been a fallin’
Fallin’ one by one
“All Down the Line” is an R&B influenced rocker.
It features some smokin’ horns and a bluesy, rockin’ slide guitar solo by Mick Taylor. It was originally recorded in an acoustic version during the Sticky Fingers sessions and is available on bootlegs. I’ll include it here because I can.
Clearly, the Stones made the right decision to table it until they could record a version worthy of release!
Exile has survived the test of time. Upon its 1972 release the messy, beautiful album was met with mixed reviews. Rock journalist Nick Kent summarized his review with this:
On Exile the Stones have picked up on the old idea of ‘when in doubt, get back to your roots’ – there is no spirit of adventure or any real variety and for a double album that’s bad. But by concentrating on what they’ve always been good at, they’ve proved once and for all their capabilities as rockers. For that alone, Exile on Main Street should not be ignored.
Exile is often in the top 10 of lists of the greatest albums of all time. In Rolling Stone’s most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (October 2020) Exile earned the #14 slot. Not bad!
Enjoy… until next week.