KCRW DJ Michael Barnes shares his take on the rerelease of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.” (out today) and more!
Though I am an avowedly analog kind of guy, living in this digital age does have its perks. One of them is the fact that many classic records are revived and reissued, often with unreleased tracks or new mixes that uncover something new. The past year has been particularly fruitful for fans of early 1970s rock ’n’ roll with the release of several legendary albums, culminating in the release of a deluxe version of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St. (1972).
As a number of rock critics felt upon the release of the album, I wasn’t really that impressed when I first heard Exile On Main St. (which was in the early 1990s.) I’m pretty sure it was on CD and at the time I was utterly bored with it. I only returned to the record after becoming a major fan of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who channel a lot of the Stones’ spirit from this period (“Stop Breaking Down” being the best example). Tracking the record down on vinyl, and being able to appreciate each of the 4 separate sides of the double album, significantly raised my appreciation of the band and the record.
Exile On Main St. is one of the few double albums that contains no weak songs, even though it makes constant shifts in genre, tempo and mood. If you consider how each side plays out, even on the reissued CD, the disparate elements don’t seem so disconnected. Things start off flat out rockin’ with “Rocks Off” and “Rip This Joint,” but before you know it, locations shift to the back porch for the country-tinged “Sweet Virginia,” and “Torn & Frayed,” and after a couple of side trips back to Rockville (the best being the Keith Richards’ sung “Happy”), Mick and the boys literally take us to church with “I Just Want To See His Face,” “Let It Loose” and the spiritual centers of the album (even though they come at the end) “Shine A Light” and, maybe my favorite song ever from the Rolling Stones, “Soul Survivor.”
It’s a record that absolutely deserves all the accolades, and though it does really contain a single hit, it remains the highest artistic point the Stones’ ever reached and one that hasn’t been surpassed by many others.
However, in addition to Exile, there are a couple of no less legendary records that have been reissued recently that warrant attention, The Flamin’ Groovies Teenage Head (1971) and The Stooges Raw Power (1973). Of the two, Raw Power has the most storied history. It’s raw, stark and minimal sound (originally produced by David Bowie, later “re-mastered” by Iggy Pop, and now again on the most recent reissue returned to the original Bowie mix) inspired a whole generation of musicians from Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain to KCRW’s own Henry Rollins. A 1997 remaster by Iggy pushed everything up and in the red, but aside from the mix for “Gimme Danger,” this original mix remains the better one to my ears, especially in the build up of all the parts on “Penetration” and on what is quite possibly the greatest rock ’n’ roll song ever written — “Search & Destroy.” The recent deluxe version includes one of the rare live appearances by this version of the Stooges, including a truly vulgar version of “Head On,” but unfortunately not many outtakes from the original session (though apparently there is an even more deluxe version with more outtakes available in the UK).
The Flamin’ Groovies on the other hand aren’t very well known to a lot of people but they’re well respected in many underground circles. They were from San Francisco but eschewed the psychedelic sounds associated with the Hippie movement for a focus on rawer rootsy rock ’n’ roll. In many respects Teenage Head (recently reissued by Norton along with 1970’s Flamingo, and on Vinyl!) is the record that falls in between these two, as a succinct survey of the links between Rock, the Blues and Country. From the slide drenched “High Flyin’ Baby,” to higher octane rockers like “Have You Seen My Baby,” and Roy Loney’s simultaneously menacing and silly “Teenage Head,” to the classic rockabilly of “Evil Hearted Ada” to a clearly Stones’ inspired “Yesterday’s Numbers,” it’s by far the most consistently enjoyable listen of these classic records.
In fact, for me, having heard all three, it’s hard for me to believe that this record wasn’t an influence on the other two, a point bolstered by the fact that Mick Jagger supposedly said (though I can never find the source) that Teenage Head did a better job than his own band’s Sticky Fingers (1971) — though I wonder how Roy, Cyril and the rest of the Groovies thought of Exile On Main St.
Regardless of their true legacy, I’m just happy to have heard all three of these records and simply overjoyed that all three are now once again readily available for old and new ears alike. Enjoy them…and make sure to listen at maximum volume!