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If Mick Jagger's An Exile on Main St. .......Then I'm an Okie from Muskogee

Exile on Main St., by the Rolling Stones

By Andy Klein

AM RADIO can help you make it through some pretty tough times. When I'm tired enough, I can get behind anything on WRKO. The Stones, the Who, and the Faces are great sure, but so are the Honey Cone, Aretha Franklin, the Osmonds, Glen Campbell in his better moments, Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Tommy James, Joe South, maybe even the Carpenters, if it's late at night and you're someplace on the Ohio Turnpike eighty miles short of Cleveland. To be certain, most of it is stupid, but it's not supposed to be smart. It's supposed to make you dance or make you sing or make you feel sad: in general, to take you out of yourself and to help alleviate the tedium and-or downright misery of your life.

So AM radio is dumb. Some of it, like Bobby Dylan and Smokey Robinson and Mick Jagger, is not so dumb as the rest, but even that stuff avoids obscurity.

People don't turn on the radio to hear smart stuff; they turn it on to make them feel good or keep them company when they're lonely or keep them busy when they're bored. If you want to hear smart stuff, you can go listen to some Harvard professor mouth off for an hour in Low Lec. If that's your notion of a good time. There are faculty members who doubtless have some extremely intricate, perhaps even brilliant, perceptions into the essays of John Ruskin and Walter Pater to tell you about. Big deal. Has any professor ever made you feel like dancing? made you happy or sad? talked to you as though you were a human being with feelings and problems? Fat chance. Maybe if you're married to one. Maybe. Most of the time they just treat you to their individual ideas on some topic, presented in the scintillating lecture format; on a rare occasion, their ideas may even be more interesting and useful than your own, depending on which of you has been more calloused to life by over-exposure to academia. Afterwards they have the nerve to grade you on how well you have been able to put up with their particular fetishes. You should be grading them on how entertaining or useful their lectures were; on second thought, grading puts it mildly, you should be sentencing them.

Now clearly, for all his fuckups, Mick Jagger has a better sense of what's really going on than the English and Physics Departments put together. Among the fantasies that have kept me amused through many a drowsy lecture is the image of capturing the whole Faculty of Arts end Sciences in Burr B and making them listen to the entirety of the Stones' output from England's Newest Hitmakers on, at top volume, just to see if any of them catch on. The Stones would be particularly appropriate for such an action because, unlike the late lamented Beatles, they have always represented those elements of AM radio which are most incomprehensible and noisy to the ears of a Harvard professor or any comparable middle-aged fart. Andy Williams might have recorded "Ruby Tuesday" but he ain't gonna come near "Honky Tonk Women."

Unfortunately, the Stones may never come near it again, themselves, judging by their new two-record release, Exile on Main St. (The title, no doubt referring to the Stones leaving England, is supposed to reinforce the bad boy anti-establishment image. Exile, my ass. The only reason they emigrated from England was that France's more conservative tax laws benefited them.)

This album just doesn't really make it. Now, two-record packages are a tricky business to put together and almost as tricky a business to listen to; they present too much material to absorb at one sitting. But I have listened to the whole thing a dozen times now, and with the exception of the four or five best cuts, it all sounds the same. The hard rock material in particular comes off sounding like failed imitations of the Stones' earlier work; three of the album's four sides open with guitar riffs that are suspiciously similar to the chords that kick off "Brown Sugar."

SIDES One and Two were clearly conceived as a rock side and a ballad side, respectively. Three of the cuts on the first side are pedestrian rock songs that are nearly indistinguishable from each other. The standouts are "Shake Your Hips," a Slim Harpo tune that the Stones do in a version a little slower than, (but otherwise identical to) the original; and "Tumbling Dice," the single, which is nice enough but hardly up to the standard of most Stones 45s. Jagger's voice is mixed down so low on this whole side that the lyrics are completely unintelligible.

Side Two features one song that sounds just like "Dead Flowers" and another cut that resembles but is vastly inferior to "Moonlight Mile." It is redeemed primarily by the presence of "Sweet Black Angel," the flip of the current single; it is one of the few things on the entire album that is worthy of the Stones.

Side Three starts off with "Happy," a nice enough rock song that sounds just like all that stuff on Side One. "Turd on the Run" is an ineffective pastiche of the worst elements of Bo Diddley. It's the worst cut the Stones have done in quite some time and is followed by "Ventilator Blues," which is not a whole lot better and bears an uncomfortable resemblance to "Come Together." "Just Wanna See His Face" is an exceedingly weird quasi-spiritual and one of the most distinctive and memorable cuts on the album. The side closes with "Let It Loose," the kind of hard rock ballad (sort of like "You Can't Always Get What You Want") that only the Stones can do really well; Nicky Hopkins repeats the same lovely piano part he used on Rod Stewart's "Handbags and Gladrags."

THE LAST side is probably the best and most consistent. "All Down the Line," the opener, is the best of the rockers, and "Stop Breaking Down" is a good electric reworking of an old Robert Johnson blues. "Shine a Light" is a gospel oriented ballad with fine instrumental work from Billy Preston and Keith Richard. The final cut, "Soul Survivor," sounds like a cross between "Jigsaw Puzzle" and "Street Fighting Man."

Well, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's not all as boring as it sounds to me right now; but it's definitely not the rock revelation we have come to expect from the Stones once a year. For pure shaking and stamping, it doesn't touch such obscure albums as Official Music by King Biscuit Boy or the recent first effort of Mitch Ryder's new band, Detroit. Either the Stones are beginning to get old or I am.

IT WOULD BE a mistake to read this album as an epitaph. After all, a two-record set is a pretty ambitious undertaking and the Stones have always been at their best when least ambitious. The last time they overstepped their natural boundaries, they produced the relatively lousy Their Satanic Majesties Request, but then they followed it up with "Jumping Jack Flash," Beggar's Banquet, and "Honky Tonk Women." A Stones fanatic can only hope they'll pull themselves together after this current minor fiasco and prove once more that they are indeed the world's finest and most durable rock and roll band. I still cherish my collection of Stones records somewhat more than my Harvard diploma, and until they put out another good one. I'll just have to content myself with all that great dopey stuff on the AM radio.

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