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on February 26, 1999
I came to terms with Exile when asked by a friend what I thought the five all-time greatest Stones songs were - songs that will still be alive 50 years from now. My response was fairly quick - Satisfaction, Gimme Shelter, You Can't Always Get What You Want, Wild Horses, and Sympathy for the Devil. Just my opinion. But I realized immediately none were from Exile, which I think is the Stones' all-time best album. Yes, Tumbling Dice and Happy are up there, and some cuts on Exile are, IMHO, absolutely awesome (viz their cover of Robert Johnson's Stop Breaking Down) - but clearly Exile is not not rich in standout hits. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Like few other albums, Exile is a world, a place I immerse myself in - a distillation of American blues and gospel and country and rock - a funky smokefilled bar or afternoon fishfry or steamy bordello, with beer and bourbon, pianos and slide guitars and hard-partying working people letting it loose, shining a light, shaking their hips, boogieing, scraping the sh*t off their shoes, rocking the joint all down the line. Exile critics cite no outstanding hit songs and too much "fill" and murky production/garage band sound. But that's the point, the genius of the album. The album IS the song - I love that murky sound - I listen more to my scratchy old vinyl than to the new cleaned up CD I just bought from Amazon - Exile is where the Stones perhaps peaked, where, catalyzed by Taylor's sinuous guitar playing off Richard's rythmn funk and Hopkin's/Stewart's honky tonk piano, they finally came home to the country blues where they began, when Brian Jones, God rest his soul, alias Elmo Lewis, played slide guitar in a London bar and 18 year-old Keith actually thought he was seeing Elmore James - smokey, funky, rockin, wailing, torn and frayed poor white trash and juke joint black, the soundtrack of Saturday night, til my late night friends leave me in the cold grey dawn. Hang out in Exile. Accept it on its own terms. It will be, I firmly believe, the Stones ALBUM (not song) that will stand the test of time. Pass me the bourbon - quick- the band's coming on for another set and the night's still young.
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on December 18, 2002
For decades, it has been a truism that Exile on Main Street is the greatest album the Stones ever made, and that after this album, their career has gone slowly but exorably downhill. Lately I've seen posts on this and other sites challenging "Exile," saying essentially that the album is wildly overrated, and doesn't have the songs that other Stones albums have--"Beggars Banquet," "Let it Bleed" "Sticky Fingers" "Some Girls" and even "Goats Head Soup" getting the nods from these revisionist thinkers.
They have half a point, these folks. There is nothing that hits the incredible highs of "Gimme Shelter," "Street Fighting Man," "Brown Sugar," "Angie," "Beast of Burden," "Wild Horse" or "Shattered" on this album. The two hits that this album generated, "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy" are much-loved, but didn't have the impact of the above singles. And against their earlier 60s hits like "Paint it Black" or "Satisfaction"--forget it.
All that's granted. If someone wanted to be very reductive, much of "Exiles..." just sounds like a boogie album typical of its era--in the early 70s there was sort of a roots revival going on, so lots of bands were doing a sort of combination of blues and gospel with lots of tambourines shaking, pianos rolling, and backup women singers. Stretches of "Exile..." certainly have that Delaney and Bonnie feel. Other songs sound like attempts to emulate early Little Feat, or Gram Parsons, who famously partied with Keith throughout the making of some of this album.
So what makes this album their greatest?
It's hard to describe, but here's my best shot: It's about "feel." Never before or since did the Stones manage to create such a consistent and compelling mood that lasts from the first song to the last. It is a very naked album, both musically and lyrically. I know it was worked and worked, but the result is an album that sounds like the Stones are playing not in some French basement, but in YOUR basement. And, on this album like no other, they are singing their lives. The songs are grooves over which Mick and Keith simply testify as to what's rattling around their heads--encounters with women, thoughts on life as a rock and roller, spiritual, moral and political questions, from the sublime to the obscene. In its own way, this is a "confessional" album like Joni Mitchell's "Blue" or Neil Young's "Harvest," except unlike those two artists who equate honesty with a quiet and stripped down musical approach, the Stones say what's in their hearts to a rocking beat. And, they don't glorify it. "I only get my rocks off when I'm sleeping." They are nostaglic, isolated, scared, bored, tired, loaded, wondering what will happen to them, recognizing that this life they are leading is artificial and perhaps even dangerous, but a mystery. So they lean on that backbeat and those fat chords, and seemingly just spill all of it, in an almost stream of consciousness way.
To me, "Exile on Main Street" is really just one long song that carries the album's title, a self-contradicting phrase (like "Hide in Plain Sight") that evokes a peculiar sense of paranoia that only a bunch of guys who became international superstars would feel, that sense that here you are in plain sight for everyone to see, but you're gone, you don't live in the same world as your fans anymore, the pleasures of ordinary life have been ripped away and replaced with something that may be much better in some ways, enviable, yes, but also frightening and hard to decipher.
Musically, when you compare "Exile..." with other Stones albums, the main difference I find is that most other Stones albums are highly eclectic. Take "Sticky Fingers." You get some great rock songs, but you also get a jazzy, Latin-tinged jam, some country songs, some orchestral numbers--the mood changes radically several times, and in the end, it's just a collection of great songs without any particular theme. Ditto with "Let it Bleed," "Beggars Banquet" or "Goats Head Soup"--Fantastic albums with lots of great songs, but somewhat randomly assembled musically. I go to those albums for songs that I want to hear, and don't always track them all the way through. But lovers of "Exile..." usually start at the beginning and just follow it all the way through, like a movie. And man, it delivers. And today, 30 years on, it still sounds very fresh.
In my personal little list of the greatest rock albums, this is one of the top 10, along with "Revolver," "John Wesley Harding," "London Calling," "St. Dominic's Preview," "Pet Sounds," "Songs in the Key of Life," "Blood on the Tracks," and the aforementioned "Blue." And like all of them, "Exiles..." comes from the heart, and that's what makes it great.
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Following an album like 1971's magnificent "Sticky Fingers" was always going to be a tall order, but The Stones did it with swagger and panache. "Exile On Main St" was released 12 May 1972 as a 2LP set on Rolling Stones Records COC 69100 in the UK and on COC 2-2900 in the USA. It reached the coveted number 1 spot on both sides of the pond - and like The Beatles "White Album" before it - is a flawed and sprawling thing, but considered by most to be a masterpiece nonetheless.

This 17 May 2010 reissue (18 May in the USA) is the 2CD expanded version of that double on Rolling Stones/Polydor 273 429-5. Disc 1 has the full compliment of 18 tracks at 67:18 minutes, while Disc 2 is a new 10-track mixture of previously unreleased outtakes and alternate versions at 41:12 minutes. All songs are by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards except "Ventilator Blues" which is co-written with Mick Taylor, while "Shake Your Hips" and "Stop Breaking Down" are Slim Harpo and Robert Johnson cover versions. As with "Sticky Fingers", the additional musicians and producer (Jimmy Miller) added hugely to the power of almost every song and should be noted for it - Bobby Keys on Saxophone, Jim Price on Trumpet, Nicky Hopkins, Ian Stewart and Billy Preston on Piano and Organ with lady-soul veterans Clydie King and Vanetta Fields on Backing Vocals. Dr. John also sang backup on "Let It Loose".

SOUND:
As with the 2009 reissues STEPHEN MARCUSSEN (over 1000 mastering credits to his name including the "Alfie" soundtrack with Mick Jagger) and STEWART WHITMORE of Marcussen Mastering have remastered the original tapes and the sound is glorious throughout. "Loving Cup" followed by "Happy" are beautifully clear and "Tumbling Dice" is at last full and in your face. Most every track is improved - the instrumentation in your speakers with a fabulous live and shambolic feel. The acoustic and harmonica opening of "Sweet Virginia" and the drums of "All Down The Line" are superb. To me it's a huge improvement, a balls-to-the-wall triumph. Downsides - the hiss level on "Shine A Light" that was there in the first place is now more accented as it is on the frantic "Rip This Joint". Some despised the 2009 remasters, so this will be more of the same for them, but most I suspect will absolutely love it. Wish I could say the same about the presentation...

PACKAGING:
Very poor I'm afraid. The front flap and rear of the original 2LP cover are produced on the outside of the digipak (as they should be) with the inner LP photo spread reproduced on the inside of the digipak, BUT the original vinyl double also had two fantastic inner sleeves and a set of fold-out postcards (only came with 1st pressings and they're now very rare). Only 1 of the 4 sides of the two inner sleeves is reproduced! That the idiots would not bother picturing the 'postcards' seems to be par for the course for Stones reissues these days, but that great shot of Mick & Keith at the mike with whiskey bottle in hand is missing - as is the "I Don't Want To Talk About Jesus I Just Want To See His face" quote on the other side - unbelievable! The supposedly exclusive 12-page booklet is different to all other issues, but turns out to be just black and white photos of the session and no liner notes whatsoever - none! The track-by-track details are now only bland black and white printed listings, which lose all of the inner sleeves magical artwork. It's an insult that this supposedly 'deluxe' reissue cavalierly misses out on crucial visual elements of the original release - it's hugely unimaginative and workmanlike at best.

BONUS DISC:
Although the 10 bonus tracks have the same original backing band - and despite what the track-by-track credits 'don't' tell you - it's obvious that the first 5 have had 'treatment' of some kind - vocal tracks added on/redone recently.

"Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)" is an ok opener, but the track that sounds most like a genuine outtake peach is "Plundered My Soul" which is fantastic (it was issued in April 2010 as a limited edition Record Shop Day 7" single in the USA and UK). Best approximation is that it sounds like the B-side "Tumbling Dice" should always have had (lyrics above). "I'm Not Signifying" is ok, but hardly great, but there then follows a genuinely lovely ballad "Following The River" complete with the new girls giving it some soulful backing vocals (Lisa Fischer and Cindy Mizelle). It's far better than you think. "Dancing In The Light" is a jaunty mid-tempo song similar to "Hide Your Love" off "Goat's Head Soup". The opening of "So Divine (Aladdin Story) is closer to Brian Jones Rolling Stones circa "Dandelion" and its really interesting - Jim Price on vibes and Bobby Keys on some kind-of treated saxophone sound. There follows two "Alternate Takes" of "Loving Cup" and "Soul Survivor". Now these are far closer to what we want - "Loving Cup" opens with a lovely Nicky Hopkins piano refrain and suddenly it's "there" - that shambolic feel to everything - especially the guitars of Richards and Taylor duelling to the end yet complimenting each other so perfectly. Now this I will love. And then another gem - Keith carrying the vocals and sloppy stuff on "Soul Survivor" instead of Mick - and it works - and when that riffing guitar kicks in, I'm balling my eyes out and there's chills on my arms. "Good Time Women" is a forerunner for "Tumbling Dice" and is fab - rough and tumble as well. "Title 5" opens with studio chatter of "Take 1" and is a strange little rocking instrumental which kind of peters out, interesting but that's all...

Ok - so there's no live stuff and there should be (legendarily good), the "All Down The Line" Alternate Take that's on the B-side of the "Plundering My Soul" 7" single isn't on here either, which is just stupid - and the 4-track Excerpts 7" Flexi single from the April 1972 NME in the UK with song edits and an exclusive "Exile On Main Street Blues" track is nowhere to be seen let alone pictured either. But overall - I'm kind of shocked at how good Disc 2 is. I'll ignore some of these newer makeovers for sure, but those Alternate Takes are thrilling.

In May 2012, "Exile" will be 40 years old and Mick and Keef will be more Zimmer Frames than Glimmer Twins. But that won't stop this coolest of double-albums from being the absolute business. I suspect the real truth about this 2CD reissue is far simpler - men around the world will see this digital temptress pouting on the shelf of their local megastore, feel a quickening of the pulse and a movement in their trouser area - and be unable to resist.

And you know, you can't help but feel that these two canny English lads already know this.

God bless The Rolling Stones and roll on "Some Girls...
(due later this year apparently)

PS:
HMV in the UK have issued "Exile" with the digipak inside an exclusive card slipcase (Polydor 274 102-3). I've pictured both sides of it for fans.

The Japanese, however, have not surprisingly got the most desirable version of them all; it's inside a 14-disc box set called "From The 70's To 00's" which contains all their albums from "Sticky Fingers" through to "A Bigger Bang". They are all on the SHM-CD format (Super High Materials) and each has the original album artwork repro'd on one of those 5" Mini LP sleeves we so love (UICY-91558). "Exile" is included - being the 2010 Remaster version - and is in a gatefold card sleeve complete with its original fold-out postcards and two inner sleeves.
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on May 23, 2010
With much respect to the album (among my favorites) and without causing any offense to those who like the sound of the reissued disc---the sound is not so much to my liking. Heavily compressed, just like the other 2009 Stones remasters. I have done back-to-back comparisons of the 1994 Virgin remaster and this one with good equipment. The dynamics have been squeezed out, and I found myself reaching for the volume knob to turn the 2010 disc *down*--which is a real travesty for such a good-time rock record. Perhaps due to the compression and EQ choices, there seems to be a tad more detail, with more emphasis on the mid-range (this does bring out Mick's vocals quite well, as others have said), but to my ears, the sound is harsh and fatiguing and a tad lifeless. I do wish this album would have been treated as lovingly as the 2002 ABKO re-issues, which are mind-blowingly good. I cannot comment on the bonus tracks just yet.
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on May 20, 2010
38 years ago, the Rolling Stones released Exile On Main Street, perhaps the finest pure rock 'n roll record ever recorded. Exile moves because of its sound. Because of Charlie's drums. Because of Bill's, Mick T.'s and Keith's bass parts. Because of Mick T's and Keith's guitars. Because of Bobby Keys's sax. Because of Jim Price's horns. And, of course, because of Mick's vocals. But the primary value of Mick's vocals are they are the vehicle for the melodies. So, while the meaning of the lyrics are pretty much beside the point, the sound of the lyrics are pretty much the whole point. For this reason, Mick's vocals are just another instrument to be mixed in with the other instruments. This is why they weren't "up front" when Exile was initially released on May 12, 1972; because what mattered was the sound of the melodies and the sound of Mick's voice mixed in with the other instruments.

The CD release of Exile changes this mixture by making use of audio compression (and by no means is it the most blatant, off-putting, use of compression I have heard), to bring Mick's vocals somewhat more to the forefront. However, this bringing of Mick's vocals more to the front comes at the expense to the overall sound of Exile we have become familiar with and was the original intent of Mick and Keith. So, if what is important to you is the sound of Exile, and trying to get a better version of Exile than the Virgin issue from, I believe 1993, I cannot recommend this CD.

On the other hand, the vinyl re-issue, on super quiet 180 gr. vinyl, is what you want if you want the best available version of Exile not from a secondary source. The vinyl keeps faith to the original because, while it has the advantage of the added clarity found on the CD remastering, it doesn't have the compression. The lack of compression keeps the balance of the sound unchanged. This added clarity, but lack of compression, means there is more muscle to Charlie's drums. There is more delicacy to his stick work. Mick T's slide on Stop Breaking Down is luscious. The horns are more defined as are the vocal harmonies.

However, following reading a review of Exile by Michael Fremer, I now have to agree with him to the extent that he writes that neither these new issues are as good as either Bob Ludwig's 1993 CD or the original vinyl. Where I disagree with him is I do not feel the new vinyl is quite as bad as he seems to think, and most certainly if one doesn't have the money to purchase Ludwig's '94 CD or the original vinyl, this vinyl remains the best least expensive option.

P.S. Anybody who wishes to actually see an example of the extent of the compression done to Exile, should go to RoboGoon's Amazon profile, [...], and click on images. He has compared the song Happy from a previous edition of Exile to the current edition. The compression is very obvious. Thanks, RG!
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HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon October 6, 2000
Exile On Main St. is a murky, muddy, brilliant album. It sounds like it was recorded at four a.m. after spending a night curled up with a bottle of Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. The band at the time was spiraling down into a pit of drug addiction and complete decadence and the album takes us into that world. The way the album was recorded and produced give us the feeling of despair and dirtiness. The vocals are all down in the mix and it sounds like Mick & Keith are singing underwater at times and other than the horns, the instruments are layered on top of one another with no distinction between them. This doesn't take away from the performances, it only enhances them. The Stones have always been fascinated by and included elements from the music of the American Deep South. Those influences show up all over the album. From the gospel sound of what very well may be their greatest single "Tumbling Dice", the Memphis horns on "Rocks Off" & "Happy", the Mississippi Delta blues of "Torn & Frayed", "Turd On The Run" & "Venilator Blues", the Alabama dirges of "Loving Cup", "Sweet Virginia", & "Shine A Light" to the electric boogie of "Rip This Joint" & "All Down The Line", the band takes us on a musical tour-de-force. This album is least commercial of any Stones release, but it may well be their best.
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on May 19, 2010
Enough already with the remastered, repackaged, rereleases of the Stones catalog. As a collector for many years it's getting hard and maybe a little pointless to keep up with all the repackaging of the same old stuff. Sure, the bonus tracks are nice but who wants to listen to a 40 year old instrumental track with vocals from just this year? It just doesn't work on the five or so tracks given this treatment. The true almost untouched demos like Loving Cup are good, however.

More about the repackaging - as far as I know this set is available in a multitude of different packages. Deluxe, Super Deluxe, Bonus Tracks Only, Vinyl, CD with T-shirt (Target exclusive), CD with bonus interview disc (Best Buy exclusive), and the little known McDonald's release that includes a #2 value meal (with or without cheese). Enough already! I thought Decca/Europe beat this to death in the 70's and 80's - the constant repackaging of the same old music. My head is spinning just trying to keep up with all the versions of this release. Of course, as an avid collector I'll eventually buy them all. Just good marketing by the Stones camp I guess.

In fairness, this Super Deluxe edition is really nice. Everything is first class and sounds good but not better than the original 70's vinyl in my opinion.
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on July 24, 2000
I am a 15-year-old girl and I think that this album is awesome. When I first listened to it, I skipped over some songs to get to the ones I knew (Sweet Virginia, Happy, etc.) and I thought that the album was too raw sounding and the vocals were too hard to hear at times. When I finally let it play all the way through, I realized that Exile is rock solid and though some of the songs don't stand very well on their own, it all works as a whole. Anyone who likes blues rock should definitely listen to Exile, but those who like the more highly charged rock songs like "Start Me Up" and "Jumpin Jack Flash" might not like this album as much.
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on June 5, 2010
I was frustrated to hear that the Stones had reissued (yet again) "Exile..." and this time put out bonus tracks. I wanted the previously unreleased material, but I already had a remastered "Exile" (second time purchased since CDs replaced Vinyl and Cassettes) and I DID NOT want to rebuy it again. No problem, this Bonus Tracks Only version was just what I needed. The 10 additional tracks are a remarkable "sequel" to one of the three (in my opinion) greatest all time Stones albums. Some of the songs even top a few of the album tracks that made it onto "Exile" (not that anything on "Exile" is substandard, it's just that these outtakes might even be better). The piano by the late Nicky Hopkins is nicely showcased on this collection and puts a footnote on the greatest session man of all time's contribution to the Stones' legacy. Fans of this funky Mussel Shoals period MUST have this CD. If you don't already have a remastered Exile, get the double CD edition, but if you do, this Bonus Tracks Only CD is what you want.
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on June 27, 2003
Released on vinyl as a double album in 1972 (now available on a single CD; thanks Virgin Records), EXILE ON MAIN STREET was the conclusion of the stunning winning streak of albums that began with BEGGARS BANQUET in '68. Sixteen of the eighteen tracks are Jagger/Richards originals -- the two covers being "Shake Your Hips" by Slim Harpo and "Stop Breakin' Down" by Robert Johnson. There are some forays into country ("Sweet Virginia" and "Torn and Frayed") and gospel ("Shine a Light"). But what defines almost all of the songs are some of the most inventive riffs that you will hear on any Rolling Stones CD.
People can't resist comparing this to the Beatles' WHITE ALBUM, but such comparisons are misleading. The White Album was purposely unfocused and eclectic. Exile, by contrast, might be the closest thing to a concept album that the Stones ever did. The paradox is that most of the songs, in isolation, are really nothing special. It's the overall mood and tone that makes it all click so brilliantly. Mick Jagger's vocals are down deep in the mix; the songs are basically an excuse for Keith Richards and Mick Taylor to display some amazing musical chops. This would explain why so many of my fellow Stones fanatics will swear to high heaven that this is the greatest thing that Mick & Keith & company have ever done, while casual observers, even the knowledgeable ones, probably couldn't identify more than one or two of the 18 songs ("Happy" and "Tumbling Dice").
Beware: Anyone expecting to hear radio-friendly anthems will be disappointed. For that reason, Exile is probably not the ideal place for novices to start listening to the Stones. Newcomers should start with the other Big Three (BEGGARS BANQUET, LET IT BLEED and STICKY FINGERS) or HOT ROCKS or even (ugh) FORTY LICKS. Nonetheless, while the Stones have made some great singles since 1972, they have never made another album as rich and rewarding as Exile On Main Street.
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