The critics all declare Exile On Main Street to be The Rolling Stones’ magnum opus. Yeah, it’s a great album alright but for my money, I’ll take the one right before it, Sticky Fingers, anyday.
From the sass of “Brown Sugar” to the gentle country of “Wild Horses” the record is mostly a merry celebration of sleaze blues supported by some of the strongest and varied songwriting ever by Richards and Jagger.
Four tracks into it is an often overlooked classic of the Richards/Jagger canon, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” It starts with a particularly nasty Richards riff and as Watts’ drum launches a funky shuffle beat, Jagger begins his mischevious pleading. Billy Preston’s organ give it just the right touch of soul. It has all the markings for a typical 3 minute Stones hit single.
But at the 2:43 mark something strange happens, for a Stones tune, at least. The funky shuffle turns into island percussion and Keith’s crunch is replaced with a jazzy rhythm guitar as Bobby Keyes chimes in with some soulful sax playing. Then around 4:45 Mick Taylor takes his turn and stretches out for one of the scandulously rare times he’s been allowed to do so on a Stones studio recording.
He starts out sounding a lot like Carlos Santana but with a slightly softer tone using some tasty blues notes before settling into a nice riff and then a coda to wrap up the tune. In all, the track goes on for a very un-Stoneslike seven minutes plus.
To me, the song encapsulates a lot of the best parts of the Rolling Stones; both the vocal and the extended jam parts of the songs play to their strengths. It’s also why I love so much of the music of that time, when the recording light never dared turn to red whenever a band got itself locked into a groove that wasn’t rehearsed.
And whether you agree with a hack like me or the pro critics as to which is better out of Main St. and Sticky Fingers, you have to concur that Mick Taylor was a good reason why both of those albums are among the Stones’ finest.
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