The Rolling Stones just continue to hit high marks in their run of albums from the late 1960s, heading into the early 1970s. The era of Mick Taylor replacing Brian Jones continues to fuel some of their best guitar rock work, with today’s album possibly their most consistently strong album, “Exile on Main Street”. Despite a limited number of legendary Stones classic hits, this album is their highest regarded album by many, and is the highest rated album they have on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, coming in at #14.
This double album is rocking from the get-go, opening with “Rocks Off” and “Rip This Joint”, two in-your-face guitar rockers that are just the beginning of the signature sound of this album. Next comes the old blues track “Shake Your Hips”, credited to Slim Harpo but dating even further back to John Lee Hooker, and the similarity of the riff on this song to “LaGrange” by ZZ Top, which would not come out for another year, is striking. Clearly, tracing the origins of almost any blues song is a complicated journey. Two songs later we have “Tumbling Dice”, probably the most successful, and surely, one of the best Stones songs on this or any album. The mix of vocals and guitars is just perfect on this track.
Other standout songs include the country-based “Sweet Virginia”, “Torn and Frayed”, “Loving Cup”, and the Keith Richards lead-vocal “Happy” which just extends the excellence of this album into side 3. Even a song named “Turd On the Run” works here, and the Stones go way, way back in the blues machine with Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”. If I had to pick one song from the entire album I don’t love as much, it might be “I Just Want to See His Face”, an unusual blues jam that reminds me a bit of “Hats Off to Roy Harper” from Led Zeppelin III. I also don’t love the next track, “Let It Loose”, but out of 18 overall songs, that is a great ratio.
“Exile on Main Street” is a true example of the Stones at their best. As always, the lineup is rich with session musicians, with a fantastic deployment of horns and additional vocals on many tracks. While the band starts with Mick & Keith and their rhythm section, it takes a village to make a great Stones album, and this one is no exception. This is a phenomenal album.