The Goldmine-Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones

It’s the end of the month so that means it’s time to profile another double album! The album in question may in fact be the best album that I will ever talk about on this blog, that is The Rolling Stones’ 1972 magnum opus Exile on Main St. The final record in the band’s incredible five year untouchable golden run that brought forth Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile; some of the finest rock music ever recorded. The Stones were the kings of rock and roll and at the peak of their creative powers.

Describing Exile on Main St. itself is rather difficult due to the sheer vastness of it all. Describing it piece by piece is also somewhat of a challenge because on first blush it is a cobbled together collection of muddily mixed rock-ish genre tracks. The strength of the album comes from the depth as well as breadth found in between the two vinyl discs. Sure, The Rolling Stones were a rock and roll band, they in fact bill themselves as the world’s greatest, but this album displays a vast reservoir of blues, soul, gospel, and country to go along with it. I think we should just jump in instead of me setting the stage any more.

Side A

The album begins in true Stones flair, with a drugged out and muddy sounding rocker about their hedonistic rock lifestyle. The song is appropriately titled Rocks Off, and sets an exhilarating tone for the rest of the record. The song’s mix is purposely haphazard, with instruments cutting in and out with little rhyme or reason, yet somehow it sounds better than the most professional records of the era. Session piano man Nicky Hopkins contributes his famous key licks to the track, and the backing brass keeps the song swinging as it frolics along.

A slow fade out and suddenly we find ourselves being swept up in Rip This Joint, one of the fastest songs the band ever recorded. A short little rocker moving at a breakneck pace, the song is about a tour across the country, and certainly could be seen to mirror the Stones’ own tours of the era, which were some of the most famous of all time for their decadence and general indecency.

The first of the cover songs on the album, track three is the Stones taking on Slim Harpo’s swinging blues classic Shake Your Hips. The Stones were perhaps the most decorated cover band of the time, devoting at least one album slot to an old blues or Motown standard which they gave a triumphant dressing up.

The fourth song on the first side is Casino Boogie, which takes blues images and shuffles them around a swinging boogie beat. The song has Keith Richard’s affection for the blues written all over it in his guitar lines and his backing vocals supporting Mick Jagger’s muddy drawl.

To close out the first quarter of the album we run into Tumbling Dice. Unlike the rest of The Rolling Stone’s albums, Exile has no real hits, as in a signature song that instantly conjures up the image of the rest of the album to other fans. Tumbling Dice is perhaps the closest thing to this as it is the most regularly performed song on the album in concert. The song features Jagger and a chorus of beautiful backing singers singing about gambling and infidelity. Sixth-Stone Ian Stewart contributes piano to the song. Drummer Charlie Watts was allegedly frustrated with his ability to play the beat coming out of the “keep on rolling” section of the song and was replaced in that part by producer Jimmy Miller, who also played drums on the Stone’s mega-hit You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

Side B

The second side begins with the song Sweet Virginia, a country-blues piece featuring the whole stones ensemble including Ian Stewart. Keith Richards and Mick Taylor duet on acoustic guitars and provide backing vocals for Mick Jagger along with a whole crew of other backing vocalists along with New Orleans blues legend Dr. John.

The second track on the second side is more country than country-blues but it has a notable soul influence in the vocalizations and the organ track. Al Perkins of The Flying Burrito Brothers contributed his signature steel pedal guitar to the song. Torn and Frayed is similar in lyrical content to other Stones country-influenced tracks as Dear Doctor and Far Away Eyes, telling the stories of washed up and haggard protagonists trying to survive their trying times.

While staying in the country-blues theme of this side of the album, Sweet Black Angel stands in stark contrast thematically to the other tracks on the album. Behind the absolutely beautiful acoustic arrangements is a sharp political statement from the Stones concerning the trail of civil rights activist Angela Davis, who was being charged with murder at the time the album was being recorded. The Stones were never a very political band, but this is one of their most overt statement against injustice as they saw it.

To close the first album is the lush and lusty Loving Cup. Nicky Hopkins takes over again on the keys and together with Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman provides the Stones the perfect backing track to perform their subtle and sublime overlays. Similar to Tumbling Dice, Loving Cup has an aurally astounding vocal display from Mick Jagger and his backing vocalists.

Side C

The second album begins with the classic Keith Richards song Happy. It is considered to be the signature tune for the guitarist, and is frequently played in concert whenever Keith gets his two or so songs in the middle of the show. Mick Taylor performs the slide guitar and Mick Jagger is relegated to backing vocals for this one track. Both Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins play piano on the song, with session man Hopkins taking up the electric piano.

The next track is the short and rollicking Turd on the Run, and yes that is the song’s name. The song has a varied mix of acoustic and electric instrument and the production job makes it somewhat difficult to decipher what exactly is being said and played, but it’s a fun little tune.

A deep down and dirty slide guitar riff from Keith Richards starts off the lumbering Ventilator Blues. The song is the only song ever co-credited to guitarist Mick Taylor, although he only plays the guitar solo that closes out the song. It’s likely that he also wrote the guitar licks even though Keith plays them on the recorded version. Nicky Hopkin’s complex and articulate piano riffs roll up and down and contrast the slow back beat.

Ventilator Blues fades directly into I Just Want to See His Face. A gospel inspired song, the combination of the falsetto vocals and sparse instrumentation make the song sound as if it’s somewhere out of the 19th century swamps and fields of the American Deep South.

The last song on the third side is Let It Loose, one of the most spiritually moving songs that The Rolling Stones ever wrote. The song draws on soul, gospel, and blues and meshes them together in an incredibly powerful manner that draws out the very heart of any invested listener. Dr. John again contributes backing vocals and also performs the delicate piano track. Mick Jagger gives one of his finest vocal performances on the song, this is high praise for the singer of a band whose very logo is a mouth. The backing gospel choir adds onto Jagger’s solos with precise angelic swoons and hails. Taylor and Richard’s guitars, plugged into Leslie organ speakers, give the song another unique angle that makes it stand out not only on the album but throughout the Stones catalog.

Side D

The last side of the album would not be as tame as the previous two, beginning with a bang with All Down the Line. The song is one of the most straightforward rock tracks on the album. It features Mick Taylor’s slick electric slide guitar licks, a key to the band’s success during his tenure as guitarist opposite Keith Richards. Bill Wyman’s bass and Charlie Watt’s drums pull the song forward like a speedy roadster. Bobby Keys and Jim Price, who contributed sax, and trumpet and trombone throughout the album lend their lungs to this rolling record.

The second cover song on Exile can be found in Stop Breaking Down, from the original blues master Robert Johnson himself. The song contains much more instrumentation than just Johnson and his solitary acoustic guitar, with Taylor once again performing his masterful slide. Mick Jagger plays harmonica in addition to singing. A full band effort, the song is a great example for how the Stones can retool an old blues song into a rock and roll format.

The album makes its last twist and turn in direction with the gospel inspired Shine a Light. The song was written for former Stones guitarist Brian Jones, whose tragic detachment from the band and eventual death is spiritually chronicled in harrowing style by Mick Jagger. Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor plays a fitting emotive guitar tribute to his predecessor. Billy Preston, who had performed with The Beatles in their Get Back and Abbey Road days contributed both piano and organ to the song.

To close out an album as vast and expansive as Exile on Main St. we finally come to Soul Survivor. The tune seems to sum up the album, drawing elements from many of the genres explored in the album, including soul, gospel, and of course rock and roll.

With that we reach the end of the album Exile on Main St. It is truly one of rock music’s great master works and is an essential record in the history of genre as a whole. The album displays an astounding depth and breadth in all of the 18 tracks laid down by the band. If you want to experience what rock music was at its absolute height, this is a great place to start.

I’d like to thank all of my readers, running this weekly publication has been very fun and rewarding. I was honored on April 25th as KCR Radio’s best blogger and I hope to continue my work here. Thanks for reading.

The Goldmine-Animals by Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd is a band that has released a fair number of great albums. Some of them were very obvious candidates for writing an album profile, in this series I try to make each review about one of the best albums by the band I select. For Pink Floyd the most obvious choice would be Dark Side of the Moon, that legendary album that influenced nearly everything since and is a landmark in the history of recorded popular music. The Wall and Wish You Were Here are the other best candidates. I don’t want to profile double albums too often and the story of The Wall is so important to the album that a proper profile would be far longer than anything else I’ll every write for this site. Wish You Were Here is like Dark Side, it is still an album that’s known well enough that I don’t think I need to promote it on this site. By the way, all three of these albums are near required listening for any fan trying to break into classic rock. If you haven’t heard them please go right ahead.

In choosing to write about another Pink Floyd album, Animals became the clear choice. It was released in 1977, in between Wish You Were Here and The Wall, and is sometimes overlooked because of its more inaccessible features. Mostly the fact that the album basically is made up of 3 songs each over 10 minutes long. It is also the first of three very politically charged albums, this coincided with the transition of bassist Roger Waters being the songwriting leader of the band to him being more or less the sole authority of what the band’s output would be. The tension in this change would bring eventually lead to him leaving the band and nearly ending Pink Floyd as an entity.

Nevertheless, Pink Floyd’s Animals is a thought provoking and critical commentary on modern society. The idea behind the album is that it uses the George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm as a template, classifying man into three different categories, the pigs, the sheep, and the dogs. Despite (or maybe because of) the tension within the band it is some of the hardest rocking music Floyd ever wrote. Let’s dive in.

Side A

Pigs on the Wing (Part I) is the first track on the album and it lasts only 1 minute 25 seconds. It features Roger Waters alone playing an acoustic guitar. It is a short and wistful song that stands as an island of comfort before the storm that is the rest of the album hits.

The entire rest of the first side of the album is taken up by the behemoth epic Dogs. Just over 17 minutes long, Dogs is the real face of Animals: harsh and angry. Going off of the Animal Farm connection, the dogs are the enforcers. They work for the pigs to protect their interests, doing the dirty work behind the scenes to maintain order and the power structure. The dogs in question are also victims of this world, being used by those in charge and then disposed of themselves when they can no longer carry out their duties. This is the only song on the album co-written by anybody other than Roger Waters. The song began as a composition by guitarist David Gilmour, and as such is the most guitar oriented song on the album. The guitar work on this song is sublimely intricate. The solos for this album are biting and snarling, which is fitting given the name of the song. As mentioned before, the first part of the song is very guitar driven, with acoustic and electric interplay by Gilmour and Waters. But around 8 minutes in, the song changes into a slow and spacey synthesizer solo by keyboardist Richard Wright as a middle section with dog noises and whistling dubbed in by Gilmour on a vocoder. Around 12 minutes into the song, the guitar format returns, mimicking the original section. This time Roger Waters is singing his lyrics, David Gilmour would later admit that it was very hard for him to sing all the vocals on this 17 minute long slog. The song ends with a roughly two minute electrically charged requiem for the dogs, who served their masters faithfully and without hesitation, only to be thrown away and replaced when they could no longer perform. A sad end to a sad life.

Side B

Pigs (Three Different Ones) is the first song on the second side of the album. It is an 11 and a half minute long scathing criticism of the powers that be. The pigs are the ones in charge, the ones pulling the strings in society. The “three different ones” in question are three different representations of people in power that Waters sings about in the three verses of the song. The first can be assumed to be a politician, the second is either an aristocrat or some kind of military class, and these of course can go together. From the very outset, the band plays sharp and determined. Nick Mason’s drums slowly plod along as the rest of the band creates a dense and furious atmosphere for the song. Richard Wright’s synthesizer takes the lead alongside Water’s rhythm guitar and David Gilmour’s lead guitar and overdubbed bass. After the second verse, the band extends into a lengthy jam that includes Gilmour screaming into a vocoder with animal like howls. After this, the third verse specifically mentions an actual person as one of the pigs. The person in question being Mary Whitehouse, a conservative social activist who was who was fighting the progressive changes in British society at the time. With two minutes left, the band fires into one of the most aggressive jams of their long and storied career. David Gilmour blasts away with the most intense guitar solo he ever composed. The song fades out at just at its most intense moment, giving away to pastoral sounds of birds and sheep.

From these recorded farm noises we come to the second track on this side of the album, the ten and a half minute long Sheep. It begins with a long and relaxed, jazzy electric piano solo by Rick Wright. As a droning bass begins to fade in, the song explodes into a mid-tempo rocker, again sung by Roger Waters. The sheep in question are everyone who isn’t a pig or a dog. They are the vast majority who has to keep docile and idle lest they face the wrath of the dogs. The sheep are beset on all sides but can do nothing to change their situation without severe consequences. The song features guitarist David Gilmour playing bass as he also did on Pigs, it is some of the best recorded bass by Pink Floyd. The middle of the song features an extended jam session of guitars and synthesizers before breaking into a more murky section of bass and synth that builds and builds until it explodes into the final verse of the song. Waters sings about the final social revolution where the sheep finally rise up to kill the dogs and pigs to take over. The song features another very hard rocking section that slowly fades out as we close the book on this world of dogs, pigs, and sheep only with the cold thought in the back of our minds that this world and ours are the same.

Just like on Wish You Were Here, one song cut in half bookends the album. Pigs on the Wing (Part II) once again offers a respite from the hurricane of raw anger and vivid images of greed and violence that dominate the album. Completely out of place, it could not be a more refreshing end to such an album.

In hindsight it is clear why Animals came out to be the least popular of Pink Floyd’s legendary four albums spanning Dark Side of the Moon to The Wall. Dark Side was all about the sad things in life that drove people apart, the beautiful music and universal nature of the lyrics made it an all-time great. Wish You Were Here was a musical collage of sound that served as a final tribute to former bandmate Syd Barrett but was also about so much more. The Wall was similar to Animals in musical and lyrical content, but it offered a more introspective look at the feelings associated with the political and social issues brought up in both albums. Animals is truly an angry album made by an angry band.

If you aren’t afraid of long songs and can look deeper beyond the tone of an album and into its core message, you may very well learn something by listening to this album.

The Goldmine-L.A. Woman by The Doors

L.A. WomanFor this first blog post we will be going back to unearth the famous album L.A. Woman by The Doors. The sixth and final Doors album with lead singer Jim Morrison, L.A. Woman is considered one of the bands’ masterpieces. It is a fabulous array of blues rock from one of the seminal psychedelic bands of the late 1960’s. Released in April of 1971, the album was recorded under tense conditions by the band, who were attempting to spurn the notoriety that Morrison had attracted which had landed him in jail in several states.

Immediately evident is the distinct lack of all dark psychedelia that The Doors built their careers on. L.A. Woman would pick up where their previous album, Morrison Hotel, left off. A drive deeper and deeper into blues rock. All while incorporating Jim Morrison’s unique and thought provoking poetry. The album features two additional musicians to the band members themselves: bassist Jerry Scheff who was Elvis Presley’s own bassist, and guitarist Marc Benno to play rhythm, this allowed Doors guitarist Robby Krieger to play lead guitar lines and solo without overdubbing in the studio.

Side A

L.A. Woman begins with some driving funky blues of courtesy of The Changeling. Drummer John Densmore plays sharp and tight while Ray Manzarek’s super-funk organ and Scheff’s bass set the tone in this rollicking tune.

Following The Changeling is Love Her Madly, one of the more popular radio songs the band wrote, featuring Manzarek’s signature flair on the keyboard that was the musical lynchpin of the group.

Up next is Been Down So Long, a swaggering and dirty blues-rock song oriented around Krieger and Benno’s guitar play. Morrison sounds so at home in his blues man persona; the days of Break On Through and Light My Fire from their first album The Doors sound from a completely different time and place. In the tours before the recording L.A. Woman, Manzarek would join Krieger on guitar because there are no keyboards on the track.

If Been Down So Long is The Doors playing blues-rock at its best then Cars Hiss By My Window is The Doors playing straight up blues at its best. Listen closely for an eerie second vocal track by Jim Morrison hidden in the mix. Another fun open secret about this song is the ‘guitar solo’ is actually sung by Morrison to mimic a soulful blues six string performance (whether or not you find it convincing is up to you.)

The rather abrupt end of Cars Hiss By My Window brings us to the title track: L.A. Woman is perhaps the best song The Doors wrote in their blues phase and one of the crowning achievements of the band. Evoking dark, mysterious images and murky tones that place the listener into the world of an LA night. The American fascination with the underside city of Los Angeles is fleshed out and embodied by this track; equal parts wonder, mystery, and danger. L.A. Woman is the longest song on the album, clocking in at 7 minutes and 49 seconds, so each band member gets his chance to properly stretch his legs with some fantastic improvisation. The song builds up from a bluesy interlude into a furious finale through the chorus. A seminal moment of the recording career of The Doors can be heard when Robby Krieger is striking the guitar chords after Morrsion sings “city at night” backed with the textural piano playing of Ray Manzarek and John Densmore laying down a pounding beat. We conclude the first side of the album with Jim Morrison yelling “L.A. Woman” as the music fades out.

Side B

Beginning the second side of the album is a truly deep and dark piece of music called L’America. The sinister opening of creepy noises begins the journey into a different sort of city, one with none of the wonder but all the darkness conveyed in L.A. Woman. Densmore’s half-military style drumming moves along the track and features Ray Manzarek back on his electric organ, something more akin to the earlier work of the band.

Speaking of the earlier work of The Doors, the elegant and sad Hyacinth House sounds similar to works like The Crystal Ship off the The Doors’ first album. Hyacinth House shows off beautiful organ sweeps by Ray Manzarek, some of the finest work of his illustrious career. Jim Morrison tells a sorrowful tale of loneliness that many critics thought of as a reflection of his own feelings in the months leading up to his death.

Next up is Crawling King Snake, one of the bluesier songs on the album after Been Down So Long and Cars Hiss Past My Window. An old blues piece The Doors is breathing life into with their own special style. Robby Krieger is at home on his slide guitar and gives the song the mystique of the dirty southern bayous that generated the blues itself.

A bit more of a Doors version of the blues can be found on the following track: The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). It’s blues but with a Doors psychedelic twist. Just like the song itself suggests, the back beat is in charge and drives the song along. Manzarek’s funky organ plays along with Kriger and Densmore, all playing loose at times but coming together for those moments that show you just why The Doors were one of the best bands the United States ever produced.

Finishing off the B-side is the other centerpiece on the album aside from the title track itself. Riders On the Storm begins with the sound of thunder and rain, leading us through a murky and dark journey to conclude the album. Each band member gets in on the action, Krieger solos with underrated feeling and precision on guitar, Ray Manzarek’s electric piano washes over like the storm itself. Scheff’s bass and Densmore’s drums are sharp but understated, perfect for evolving the atmosphere the track. Underneath Morrison’s evocative vocals is another ghost-like, whispering voice that follow his vocal track like an echo of the thunder. Aside from L.A. Woman the song, Riders on the Storm is one of the most well known and popular songs The Doors wrote. The sound of rain fades out, ending the album. For listeners everywhere it would be the last of Jim Morrison any of them would ever hear, the singer died a bit under three months after the release of the album.

If you listen to the 40th edition of the album, slightly different mixes of songs can be heard. Along with that two extra tracks:You Need Meat (Don’t Go No Further) is a bluesy romp sung by Ray Manzarek, and Orange County Suite is a sorrowful song recorded by Morrison alone on the piano and given sparse back instrumentation by his band mates after his death. It was likely written for his girlfriend Pamela Courson.

L.A. Woman is one of the best albums to come out of the fall of the counterculture movement in the late sixties. Most people in that generation were extolling the happiness and freedom a life of love and drugs could bring. The Doors were a band of that exciting time set apart by their propensity to explore the darker elements of the summer of love. It is the final album by The Doors with Jim Morrison, widely regarded as one of the most popular rock icons of his generation and a national poet for the counterculture movement. The album is certified double platinum in the United States. Give it a listen if you have 40 minutes to spare.