Oct 202017

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

exile on main street

It’s a bit overrated, to be honest. Compared to Let it Bleed and Beggars Banquet, which I think are more of a piece, I don’t see it’s as thematic as the other two. I’m not saying it’s not good. It doesn’t contain as many outstanding songs as the previous two records. I think the playing’s quite good. It’s got a raw quality, but I don’t think all around it’s as good. – Mick Jagger

Every time I (choose my favorite Stones album), I keep thinking about the ones I’m leaving out. It’s like babies. But if I’ve got to pick one I’ll say – and you can take it with a large dose of salt – Exile. Because of its amazing spirit, the incredible amount of enthusiasm and screw-you-ing, You can throw us out but you can’t get rid of us. – Keith Richards

Now seen as a masterpiece, Exile on Main Street has been getting mixed reviews for most of its life, and not just from its creators. Lester Bangs wrote a review calling it “at once the worst studio album the Stones have ever made, and the most maddeningly inconsistent and strangely depressing release of their career”; later, he wrote, “I practically gave myself an ulcer and hemorrhoids, too, trying to find some way to like it. Finally I just gave up, wrote a review that was almost a total pan, and tried to forget about the whole thing. A couple weeks later, I went back to California, got a copy just to see if it might’ve gotten better, and it knocked me out of my chair. Now I think it’s possibly the best Stones album ever.”

Now the critics of yesteryear who trashed Exile have turned into critics calling the record overrated. But that’s a hard criticism to support. The record shows the Stones at their bravest and least calculated, playing blues, gospel, country, boogie, good old rock ‘n’ roll, even a couple of covers, as if the music exuded from deep inside their selves. These multiple genres weren’t accoutrements to dress up in as the mood struck, but were part of the sweat and grime that hung in the air and coated the basement walls at Nellcote as the Stones recorded there.

And what songs! Torn and frayed, tumbling and loving, they rose and fell from the album’s grooves, ready to knock or sweep the listener off his feet. Exile on Main Street isn’t a Mick record or a Keith record – it’s a Stones record, and one of the greatest albums of the 20th century.

Are there any number of covers of the album’s songs? Heh heh heh, you know there are. Do they represent the Stones? the artist covering the Stones? the genre the artist is covering the Stones in? Well, see and hear for yourself…

Old 97’s – Rocks Off (The Rolling Stones cover)

Exile on Main Street kicks off with “Rocks Off,” and while it didn’t have the impact of the leadoff track of their last record (“Brown Sugar” off Sticky Fingers), it gave every indication of what was to follow in its wake. Not just on Exile, either – the whole album has been embraced by the alt-country movement, whose covers are numerous and tend to be very faithful to the source. The Old 97’s demonstrate that faithfulness in their cover; we’ll meet more who do a little later.

Green Day – Rip This Joint (The Rolling Stones cover)

When Exile was re-released in 2010, Jimmy Fallon hosted Rolling Stones Week on his late-night show. The week kicked off with Green Day’s cover of “Rip This Joint.” The headlong song sounds made for them, and they dive into it will full gusto, so even a crowd containing nobody who was alive at the original’s release (that includes Fallon) could enjoy it.

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Shake Your Hips (Slim Harpo cover)

“Shake Your Hips” sounds like it’s as old as “Stop Breaking Down,” the other cover on Exile, but it was only written in 1965, a year after the Stones had covered Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” Harpo died in 1970 at only 46, and the Stones cover he never got to hear will soon be older than he ever got to be, and equally as influential. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers bring the song some genuine Southern swamp sound on their 2003 album Cockadoodledon’t.

Pussy Galore – Casino Boogie (The Rolling Stones cover)

Sonic Youth were rumored to be recording their own version of the White Album; fellow noise-rockers Pussy Galore decided to get in there first with their own full-cassette take of Exile on Main Street. Barely released, their pile of low-fi deconstructionist takes got them a lot of notice in the right circles; even if it’s more piss-take than tribute, we would’ve been remiss not to take a moment to acknowledge their work. “Casino Boogie” gets the nod here, and it’s fairly representative of the PG album as a whole.

Owen Gray – Tumbling Dice (The Rolling Stones cover)

“Tumbling Dice” was the lead single from Exile, making it into the top ten and still a favorite on classic rock radio for its super-laid-back groove. But when you play that groove with a reggae sound, it become so laid back it could double as a mattress. Owen Gray proved the song could be just as much a rocksteady classic as a rock classic.

Jeff Lang – Sweet Virginia (The Rolling Stones cover)

Exile on Blues Street was a 2003 tribute album that took about half of Exile on Main Street and set it firmly in the blues genre. One of the record’s highlights was Jeff Lang’s cover of “Sweet Virginia.” Lang, an Australian slide guitarist, plays both acoustic and electric slide here, changing the song from a raggedy singalong to a clean, ringing affirmation of the need to de-excrementalize your footwear.

Yonder Mountain String Band – Torn And Frayed (The Rolling Stones cover)

Add “progressive bluegrass” to the genres that Exile on Main Street songs seem perfectly suited for – or at least they seem that way after one listen to Yonder Mountain String Band’s performance of “Torn and Frayed,” which could serve as a theme song for any number of struggling country acts with big dreams. In their hands, the song is more sprightly; it may be a hard life on the road, but Yonder sounds like they’re still going uphill.

The Wailing Souls – Sweet Black Angel (The Rolling Stones cover)

“Sweet Black Angel,” a rare (for the Stones) political song, was a country-blues tune on Exile; the Wailing Souls swapped those genres for reggae-gospel and added a saxophone that Bobby Keys would have been proud to call his own.

The Bittersweets – Loving Cup (The Rolling Stones cover)

In our review of Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute to the Rolling Stones, we singled out the Bittersweets’ treatment of “Loving Cup” as a highlight of the record, pointing out how the song’s transformation from loud to quiet reveals it as the love song it had always been. What a beautiful buzz, indeed.

Nils Lofgren – Happy (The Rolling Stones cover)

Nobody can make “Happy” into their song – it’s Kwintessential Keef, the song that sums up the man better than any other – so any version of it has to be a tribute, by default. Speaking of tributes, Nils Lofgren wrote “Keith Don’t Go” for his solo debut in 1975, so it seems only fair to give him, a dyed-in-the-wool fan, the “Happy” cover of this compilation, recorded in 1977 for his I Came to Dance album.

Exile on 8th Street – Turd On The Run (The Rolling Stones cover)

In 2011, the 11th Annual Americana Music Association Conference/Festival was held in Nashville. One of the highlights: an all-star band (many of them in the El Roostars) going by the name “Exile on 8th Street” for the night, performing Exile on Main Street in its entirety. Dan Baird, Grace Potter, and more made appearances that night, and the whole thing smoked. For just a sample, watch what they do to “Turd on the Run”; for the whole thing, click here.

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown – Ventilator Blues (The Rolling Stones cover)

Texas bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown takes the claustrophobic “Ventilator Blues” outdoors in his cover, keeping it in the dark but giving it clearer air to breathe. Result: a song that’s just as bluesy, but not quite as oppressive.

Blind Boys of Alabama – Just Wanna See His Face (The Rolling Stones cover)

“That song had a big impact on me,” Tom Waits said about “I Just Want to See His Face.” It’s a connection that becomes obvious the moment he says it; the murky, percussion-heavy sound and the falsetto vocals about Jesus would have prominent spots in Waits’ playbook in years to come. The Blind Boys of Alabama knew those gospel stylings well, too – they’d been performing together before Mick and Keith were even born – and their cover, from 2001’s Spirit of the Century, stands tall by the original.

The Magpie Salute – Let It Loose (The Rolling Stones cover)

Barely a year old, the Magpie Salute rose from the ashes of the Black Crowes; led by Rich Robinson, the ten-piece band spent the summer touring America and carving out their own distinctive identity, with originals and Black Crowes covers mixing easily in the setlists. The band has also been covering some of its greater influences; their version of “Let It Loose” shows how well they’ve distilled the lessons of their forebears.

Simply Red – All Down The Line (The Rolling Stones cover)

Mick Hucknall’s stature as one of the great blue-eyed soul singers gives him more than enough license to tackle a Stones song. His version of “All Down the Line” was recorded during the sessions for 2007’s Stay; this was when Simply Red was basically Mick Hucknall and a cast of thousands, which makes for an uninspired if competent backing track to his vocal.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Stop Breaking Down (Robert Johnson cover)

Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” was credited to “Traditional” on Exile‘s original release, as the song was believed to have entered the public domain. A few lawsuits later, that was determined not to be the case. In any event, the original hit by the original artist is powerful enough that a cover need not show a trace of the Stones’ version to make a strong impression. That’s certainly the case with the Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears’ version, about which NPR said that “[Lewis’s] shouting, mush-mouthed style over [Zach] Ernst’s raging guitar recalls a barroom brawl; you can practically smell the whiskey coming off Lewis’ breath throughout.”

Allison Crowe – Shine A Light (The Rolling Stones cover)

Allison Crowe is a Canadian treasure. Classically trained on the piano, with a powerhouse of a voice, she’s been called “one of the best interpreters to come along since Joe Cocker.” Her 2004 album Tidings was a Christmas album with a difference; half of the songs were more about spirituality than the holidays, which allowed her the chance to take “Shine a Light” onto a whole other level.

Phish – Soul Survivor (The Rolling Stones cover)

Pussy Galore isn’t the only band to cover Exile in its entirety; Phish, who have a well-known history of full-album covers, performed the album live at their 2009 Halloween show. Consider the fact that the Rolling Stones still haven’t played half a dozen Exile on Main Street songs in concert (find the full list here), with “Soul Survivor” being one of them, and you have to give it up for Phish for showing the whole album can be got live if you want it.

Get the original Exile on Main Street from Amazon.

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  4 Responses to “Full Albums: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile on Main Street’”

Comments (2) Pingbacks (2)
  1. I found all of these covers (except maybe Just Wanna See His Face & Turd on the Run) to be disappointing). It is a masterpiece & It’s better left alone.

  2. Amazing post. I love Exile, and love covers, but had never heard of most of these versions. Thank you – I will be tracking most down to assemble this Alternate Exile.

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