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Although hard to comprehend now, upon its release in May 1972, Exile On Main St, The Rolling Stones’ grand, sprawling double LP, confounded most critics and fans.
A staggering, encyclopedic examination of American roots music - gospel, folk, country, soul, R&B, boogie-woogie rock ’n’ roll, it's all there - Exile marked the end of the Stones’ four-album hot streak, one which included Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. (OK, we can call it five if you throw in the live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.)
The reason for all of the head-scratching was simple: During most of their early career, The Rolling Stones were known as the greatest ’singles’ band in the world. But as they came to equal The Beatles and embraced the album as a true art form, with Exile they reached their creative peak while pulling off the ultimate irony: They released a two-record set with nary a hit single to be found. (Tumbling Dice came the closest, peaking at number five in the UK and number seven in the US - this from a band that routinely racked up number ones.)
Produced by Jimmy Miller and recorded mostly in the basement of Keith Richards' rented French Riviera villa Nellcôte (the band were forced to flee England at the time to avoid paying enormous taxes, thus the ’Exile’ part of the title), with additional tracking and overdubs in Los Angeles, the album reflected, in sound and spirit, the ’elegantly wasted’ state of the group and the various friends, hangers-on and dope dealers that partied from dusk till dawn.
The decades have been kind to Exile On Main St. The voluminous, panoramic work that tested the patience of most listeners in 1972 is now regarded as one of rock’s unqualified masterpieces.
On 17 May 2010 (18 May in the US), Exile On Main St will be reissued in remastered form with a bonus CD featuring 10 previously unreleased tracks from that album’s sessions (some of which have been recently ’sweetened' by the Stones' current boardsman Don Was, with brand-new vocals, guitar overdubs and background singers).
MusicRadar gives you the track-by-track lowdown of this essential desert island disc(s). More importantly, we answer the question: Are 'polished' Stones better than their dirty and dusty originals? Read on...