Desert Island Discs is one of my favorite parlor games.
Usually it’s a top ten list, with Bringing It All Back Home, Revolver and the first Cars album.
If forced to pick one record I’d take into exile ahead of all others, the answer is easy – Exile on Main Street.
The Rolling Stones’ ragged masterpiece is more than a great album.
It’s the pivotal moment in the life of the rough beast called rock and roll, as it slouched towards a modern Bethlehem to be born as commerce.
Eventually after that shiny day in 1972 when the two-record set hit the streets, its cover festooned with carnival freaks, everything went to hell.
As Robert Greenfield’s 2006 book harrowingly detailed, it’s a miracle the Stones even survived the making of Exile. Recorded in Keith Richards’ French mansion, the sessions were a nightmare of drugs, debauchery and near death experiences.
Next to that, a Quentin Tarantino movie seems like an episode of Barney the Dinosaur.
But make it they did, a sprawling 18-song opus that managed to find every touchstone on rock’s bumpy road – Hank Sr., Elvis, Aretha and Robert Johnson at the crossroads.
It’s a gospel stew spiked with a shot of bathtub gin.
At the same time, this beautiful mess full of under-mixed vocals, audibly dropped drumsticks and other fumbles took months in an L.A. studio to fix.
But I still play it from start to finish every time, grateful that modern technology means I don’t have to flip the record over.
Now, the greatest album ever made just got better.
Next month, Exile on Main Street will be reissued with eight never-before heard songs that were miraculously retrieved from the vaults, along with nuggets like “Tumbling Dice” with an extra lyric and other alternate takes.
A Super Deluxe box set includes a vinyl version (drat, back to flipping!) and a DVD with footage from the Robert Frank documentary commissioned by the Stones for the 1972 U.S. tour.
The band later sued to keep it from ever being screened. “If they show it in the States, we’ll never be allowed back in,” Mick Jagger reportedly told Frank.
The film’s title is too rude to print.
Über producer Don Was, who had the envious task of assembling the music for the reissue, gave this spot-on assessment of Exile:
“It’s become part of the vocabulary of rock & roll record-making,” Was told Rolling Stone. “But it’s wrong, by all standards. But it’s absolutely perfect. It’s a perfect record.”
Soon, it will be my Desert Island Box Set.
On to the rest of the week:
Thursday, April 22: Anat Cohen, Hopkins Center – If you think you know what a clarinet sounds like, you haven’t heard this young performer. Recently, jazz critic Rick Mason wrote that Cohen was bringing her instrument into the 21st Century, and said, “the Israeli native could become the most prominent jazz player on the long-neglected licorice stick since Benny Goodman.”
Friday, April 23: foreverinmotion, 802 Music – Emo rocker Brenden Thomas’s stage name refers to his touring regimen, traveling the country and winning fans one at a time, club by club. Vermont is Brenden’s home base – he helped start the Chester Underground in the basement of his favorite restaurant. Now he’s stopping by the latest great hope for local indie music, located in Springfield.
Saturday, April 24: Wailin’ Jennys, Lebanon Opera House – A more rustic Dixie Chicks, this band has won several awards in their native Canada. Sweet three-part harmonies lift their bright, natural sound, which begs a question. Why does so much great Americana music come from north of the border? I’ll take comfort that they’re really only two-thirds Canadian, and Garrison Keillor loves them.
Sunday, April 25: Willy Porter, Four Corners Grille – On “How to Rob a Bank,” the title track from Porter’s 2009 album, the singer-songwriter takes on the bailout with lyrics about “a bogus business plan [and] Wall Street Disneyland,” and ends up sounding like a blogger: “I’ll threaten massive layoffs, just like blackmail in disguise – that’s how you rob a bank.” Porter writes great breakup songs too.
Tuesday, April 27: Open Mic with Jim Ruffing, Benning Street Grill – One of the latest open mic to start up in the area. Most music at this West Lebanon complex takes place in the dark, blacklit Electra, but this happens in the main room, where there’s plenty of good food and TV in case the talent wears thin, or if you’re nervous while waiting your turn to play.
Wednesday, April 28: The Dubois, Green Mountain College – If the Shaggs had more musical chops, they may have sounded like this quirky Vermont band, though they’re a bit more psychedelic, rock decidedly harder, and you know what? They’re growing on me. For a taste, check out www.myspace.com/thedubois