Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Remastered "Exile On Main Street"
When Exile on Main Street was first released nearly 40 years ago, few expected it to gain recognition as a masterpiece.
Though the album was a commercial success, a number of critics thought it was too ragged.
Some panned it completely. But it's since become one of the most influential and adored rock albums of all time, thanks to its raw sound and free-spirited exploration of different styles, from country and blues to soul and gospel.
This week, Universal Records is releasing a remastered version of Exile on Main Street that includes a bonus disc of alternate versions of select songs, as well as previously unreleased tracks. The Rolling Stones brought on producer Don Was to scour the old Exile master recordings for lost gems. Some of the rediscovered songs needed mixing, while others needed entirely new lyrics and vocal tracks. On this edition of All Songs Considered, Was talks about how he picked the songs, how they were produced and the lasting impact of the now-legendary album.
Link to music tracks is below:
In the summer of 1971, guitarist Keith Richards worked up a riff to a song that we'll probably dance to forever.
"I loved the riff," Richards says. " 'Tumbling Dice' is very much like 'rolling stone.' It has the same connotations."
"Tumbling Dice" was one of the few hits on The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. Released in 1972, the album was a fat collection of rock 'n' roll at its roughest and bluesiest. It was a little too raw for many critics and fans. Nearly four decades later, Exile is now a classic. On Tuesday, the album will be re-released with bonus tracks found in the band's archive.
But part of the story of Exile on Main Street was the band's actual exile in order to avoid tax problems in Britain. The band landed in the south of France and was soon in the midst of a veritable circus of traveling musicians, girlfriends, poets, drug dealers and miscellaneous hangers-on.
At the center of it all was Richards' villa and the basement where it began to make the music.
"Basically because we could not find a studio in the south of France that we felt that we could record in, so we kind of got there by default," Richards says. "We thought, 'Well, we'll just rehearse in my basement while we find a place to record.' After a couple of weeks, we just looked at each other and sort of gave up looking anywhere else. We got it here, you know?"
It was summertime when the band decided to stick it out in the basement, but the house was full of people.
"Really, all that was happening in the house was peripheral to us," Richards says. "I was writing songs in the afternoon and then recording them at night. We were trying to keep up with the pace of the band. Mick [Jagger] and I were frantically writing songs, so there wasn't much time for partying."
There was definitely some partying going on, but Richards and Jagger didn't have much to do with it.
"We'd be down there all night," Richards says. "We used to have a little [surface] to play cards on when we weren't recording. You start to become a troglodyte or something."
The basement itself was hot and dusty. Richards says he can still smell it.
"It's sort of indescribable," he says. "I'll leave it to your imagination."
But Exile on Main Street wasn't all grime and grit. Out of that basement also came "Happy."
"It was afternoon and I was trying to put some songs together for the evening. And suddenly I hit those opening chords," Richards says. "Jimmy Miller, the producer, was there, and Jimmy said, 'Let's just put that down on tape to remember it for later.' I did it in two takes with Bobby Keys playing baritone sax and Jimmy Miller played drums. It's the way you like them — songs that just crop up out of nowhere, and before the song goes down, it's in the can."
"Well, I never kept a dollar past sunset
It always burned a hole in my pants
Never made a school mama happy
Never blew a second chance."
"You can start off with one line, and you've got maybe two seconds to come up with another one. You're bypassing the thought process and you're just seeing what comes out," Richards says. "If it doesn't work, then you just rewrite. Other times, you wanna do these things on the knife edge — you really don't know what you're going to say next. It saves a lot of paper."
The "exile" began in 1971, when The Rolling Stones' members owed more taxes than they could pay in England, so they picked up and left the country. Of course, it was The Rolling Stones, so that meant quite a luxurious lifestyle. In the basement of a sprawling mansion in the south of France, the band recorded Exile on Main Street.
Upstairs, as legend has it, was a constant party.
"Decadent, degenerate behavior all around," Mick Jagger says. "The south of France is pretty much known for that. Still goes on."
But as Keith Richards said Monday, they didn't do too much partying themselves.
"People didn't come down to the basement much. I don't think people found the basement very interesting," Jagger says. "It was rather damp and unpleasant. It wasn't a peanut gallery kind of studio — there was nowhere to see from. There wasn't a control room with nice glass and lots of soft drinks. If people came down, they'd stay a couple minutes and go, 'Euh.' "
Jagger has been looking and listening back to the songs recorded during that chaotic summer. For the new re-release of Exile, The Rolling Stones went to the archive and searched through a trove of old tracks and outtakes. Some of the songs didn't even have lyrics, which allowed Jagger to fashion new songs out of 40-year-old tunes.
"When I started looking at this unreleased material, like 'Plundered My Soul,' I was quite impressed by how together the band was on something that was actually an outtake. An outtake is quite often about the stuff you haven't used," Jagger says. "It's very unfinished; it's a bit slovenly. Though it was a relatively undisciplined bunch of sessions, when we actually got into the sessions, I think the playing was quite disciplined."
In reworking this old material, Jagger had to write completely new lyrics for "Following the River." The words are quite reflexive and even a bit elegiac.
"It's what they call in the business a 'kiss-off song,' " Jagger says. "It's a regretful goodbye. It's not a nasty goodbye. It's saying goodbye and knowing you're going to miss her."
But Morning Edition host Renee Montagne wonders if these lyrics are four decades' worth of emotions, or if Jagger would have written them in 1971.
"I can only write from today," Jagger says. "Having said that, it's not that much different in tone from 'Angie' in a way, which is another kiss-off song. And until we started talking about this just now, I never thought of comparing them."
The Rolling Stones' members were avoiding tax problems in Britain, which is why they "exiled" to the south of France. But did they really feel like they were in exile?
"I think so, yeah. It was a bit of a wrench to give up our home lives in England," Jagger says. "At the time, it was a bit of a laugh for the first few months. After a while, you realize that from a comfortable English life, you've moved into a different kind of life. I mean, musicians of every stripe, they tend to be cosmopolitan kind of people. Perhaps musicians were the first cosmopolitan people. In the 18th century, they would move where the patronage was. In that way, it wasn't a satch of wrenches it might be for some other people."
But The Rolling Stones adjusted to life in France anyway. In the new liner notes to Exile on Main Street, guitarist Mick Taylor writes, "I'm not having any problem with the language here, because I don't speak French." Jagger then mentions what Bill Wyman says in the documentary — that the band was in the part of France where people went specifically for its food, yet he can't find his favorite tea bag.
In working on the reissue, Jagger spent half a year digging through that creative period of his life. Jagger writes in the liner notes that this album includes songs "you probably have second thoughts about," but was glad he did.
"Would I have changed Exile on Main Street if I could? I easily could have. This is a good opportunity," Jagger says, laughing. "No, I just wanted to add to it. I was asked by the record company if there was anything else of interest. I was trying to find things that stood up, and I think we managed to find things that did hold up, things that gave it extra depth. I was quite pleased with them.
thanks Steve !
Posted by Bob at 10:16 AM