As anyone who is watching any form of media is aware, The Rolling Stones are reissuing Exile On Main Street, the double album from 1972 that once opened to mixed reviews and is now considered one of their all-time classics. Bonus material, in the form of ten tracks overseen by Don Was (?), and an extra special edition with a DVD doc and a handsome book (books, like editors, are always handsome!) that costs somewhere around a month's rent will also be made available. I have yet to hear the entire thing, so, in a rare moment of restraint, I will not comment.
Compiling different lists about the Rolling Stones is both fun and frustrating. There's too much that always gets left out. If I were making a list of favorite tracks, it would need to include so many obvious tracks there wouldn't be enough room for my favorite obscurities. But then try figuring out what's an actual obscurity. Talk to most Stones fans and they know the band's catalog. If a Stones fan doesn't know a track, it's probably because it isn't worth knowing.
So, let us first acknowledge that the pure lovable-ness of "Gimme Shelter," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Street Fightin' Man," "Tumblin' Dice," "Honky Tonk Women" and "Satisfaction" are absent from this list along with many other well-known favorites. I'm not claiming the tracks below are obscure, though some are. Just that they're not the songs that radio DJ and "Greatest Hits" compilers necessarily put up front on a collection.
After all this, I'm STILL leaving a good 50 tracks off this list. Whew.
And now I have to rank them? This is like trying to rank your children! Or at least that's what I imagine. I don't have kids. I have records!
(The only reason "Stupid Girl" didn't make this list is because I don't feel like sleeping out in the yard for a month.)
You Got The Silver": "Happy" has always been Keith Richards' solo spot at the mic. But "You Got The Silver" was Keith's first classic lead vocal. The rare outtake of Mick singing it is just as good. Where did English guys learn the blues? And why is Keith half-awake better than most people fully functional?
24) "Everything Is Turning To Gold": This B-side to "Shattered" from Some Girls appeared on Sucking In The Seventies and gave people the false hope that Ron Wood wouldn't eventually ruin the band. The band were on a roll. A short one, but a roll, nonetheless.
Indian Girl": Years ago, I was shocked to learn that "Indian Girl" was ranked on some fan website as the worst song they ever recorded. Impossible. The song includes the rhyme of "harder and harder" and "no food in the larder." For some reason, Jagger decides to narrate "Hey, gringo, my father he ain't no Che Guevara," as if this is some kind of selling point. Well, Mick, my dad was no Hugo Chavez if it makes you feel better.
22) "Flight 505": Aftermath was a great Stones album and so many of the tracks could be added here. "Flight 505" sounds much like what the band would turn into once they rid themselves of the pop music of the 1960s and went for the harder density of the 1970s. ("Lady Jane" is still a cooler song, but it was a single and performed on Ed Sullivan, so can't be officially included on this list. Damn rules!)
Torn And Frayed": By Exile On Main Street, the Stones no longer needed to always parody country music. Here's where they play it straight. Unfortunately, this has led to many lesser bands thinking they're country because they were influenced by this track.
20) "No Expectations": When I first met my girlfriend Lora, she made the mistake of telling me she didn't care for the Rolling Stones. From there, she endured hours of "Do you like this one?" Her main complaint was that Jagger sounded insincere. When I explained to her that that was what I liked about him, it didn't help. Take this song where he sings "Once I was a rich man, now I am so poor." I guess you could argue he was for awhile, since he did have Allen Klein managing his money.
Citadel": From the often maligned Their Satanic Majesties Request album where the Stones annoyed some folks for leaving their blues roots behind and mimicking Sgt. Pepper's. The fact that this album sounds incredibly cool and unlike much of the rest of their catalog is a good thing. Unless you're one of those people who never eats anything but hamburgers your whole life.
18) "She Said Yeah": Funny that the most manic piece of Stones music should be written in part by Sonny Bono.
Take It Or Leave It": Ah, before Keith Richards turned the band into his riff machine, The Rolling Stones experimented with all kinds of sounds and songs. This was when they would write pop songs and then find new ways to be mean to women. Try putting on "Under My Thumb," "Backstreet Girl," "Stupid Girl" and this track and see if you still have a date at the end of the night.
16) "Dear Doctor": Were they mocking country music? Or was Jagger just being a rodeo clown? No matter, this is one of those great acoustic country-blues tunes from Beggars Banquet that sounds like they're more of a roots music band than any of their contemporaries. And people wonder why they were seemed more like an American band than an English one?
Winter": Goats Head Soup is half a great record and this is one of the reasons why it's half-great. Sure, it's obvious. Winter is cold. But the way Mick Jagger sings the word "California" is so ingrained in my being that sometimes I think he's ripping me off!
14) "In Another Land": Bill Wyman's "In Another Land." Poor Billy, never got to do much in the band besides wear linen suits, hold his bass vertically and look like he wished he was backstage wracking up even more voluminous numbers of women. His land isn't our land, but if he had shared, it could've been awesome.
Who's Been Sleeping Here?": Between The Buttons is often an overlooked LP in the Stones catalog. But it's filled with great tunes that don't depend on the standard Stones fare to get their point across. Was it because the album cover was blurry? Do people think it if they can't get an album cover in focus, then the music must also be unfocused?
12) "Just Want To See His Face": Exile has many classic tracks, but none sound weirder or more true to the spirit of a crazy, half-dazed time more than this gospel number. Jagger sounds like he's looking for his car keys and wanders off mic while his back-up singers do all the work. Being rich must be great!
Before They Make Me Run": As Keith was known to remark: he didn't have a drug problem; he had a police problem. At least he got a great track out of his legal hassles.
10) "Till The Next Goodbye": It's Only Rock n' Roll is my least favorite Stones album up until they all got stinky around the time of Steel Wheels and onward (notice I'm giving props to Undercover and Dirty Work!). But this ballad is the one track that stands out. It's probably a bad sign when a Stones album's best cuts are a ballad, a reggae tune ("Luxury") and a tune based on the guitar playing of soon to be departed guitarist (Mick Taylor on "Time Waits For No One"). Since when did they get lousier at rocking?
100 Years Ago": Another great sleeper track from Goats Head Soup. Billy Preston's clavinet is essential and Charlie Watts again proves why he's so essential to this entire machine. Record company promo departments (if they still exist, note: "Easily better than anything ever recorded by The Fall Out Boys!"
8) "Sweet Black Angel": I could've picked any number of Exile tracks for this spot, but I'm feeling partial to the loose harmonies of this back porch favorite. Besides, I love when Jagger sounds like he's condescending to everyone. Remember only little people have manners!
Blue Turns To Grey": December's Children (And Everybody's) is one of my favorite albums. I love the slapdash feel and the great covers, but this early nugget from the Jagger-Richards catalog deserved to be a huge hit, along with "The Singer Not The Song." You know bands are in the zone when even their throwaway tracks are better than your (well, MY) best ideas.
6) "Backstreet Girl": If you want to ruin your date, be sure to put this on in the background. It's said that women love jerks, well, here's your chance to find out if it's true. Better you than me, pal.
She Smiled Sweetly": I was amazed when I heard this tune in The Royal Tenenbaums. The organ is perfectly creepy and Jagger sounds almost sincere. What's going on there?
4) "Memory Motel": I love everything about this tune from Black & Blue, the Stones' most bi-polar album. I always imagine that the band is frantically trying to keep Keith awake so he can sing his line. "She's got a mind of her own..." I have a feeling he has no idea who "she" is and couldn't wait to go back on his nod.
Soul Survivor": One of the toughest tracks on Exile that defines what the band came to represent. "Rocks Off" is the obvious opening anthem, but this is the closer that rewards you for hanging in there. Odd to think that Exile is actually shorter than many CD-length albums made in the past two decades. If the Stones at their peak had only this much top-notch material, what makes clearly inferior bands think we need to hear every 70 minutes of music they record?
2) "Moonlight Mile": sounded great on The Sopranos. But it sounds even better late at night with your eyes closed. I finally learned the words to this one about two months ago and it didn't do any good. The Stones work on a subliminal level. Don't destroy the mystery. Write your own words.
Sway": That being said, anyone want to venture what the actual chorus here is? I maintain Jagger switches it at will. "Demon Wine," "Evil Life"..., it's the old blues trick of slurring it all together and making you wonder. That large chunky guitar overwhelms everything and destroys the notion of circular time? What can I say? I've listened to this for decades and I still don't get tired of it. Maybe there's something wrong with me.
- Exile On Main Street