The Rolling Stones Let it Loose: Happy 'Exile on Main Street' Reissue Day!


As Mick Jagger famously noted, you can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, or, alternately, wait close to four decades, you'll get what you need, particularly if what you need is a reissue of the enigmatic, once polarizing, now almost universally embraced Rolling Stones masterpiece Exile on Main Street. And if you were also hoping for an attendant, full-court media press to mark the occasion, well, you will most certainly get what you crave.

In re-releasing the bluesy, brilliant Exile, the Stones are also offering a deluxe version of the record with 10 previously unreleased tracks, and an even more deluxe edition that includes vinyl tracks, a DVD and a 50-page book on the band. Oh, and did we mention that the reissue is tied to a new documentary on the recording of the epic album, Stones in Exile, so named for the group's relocation to the south of France during the recording due to some tax complications back home in England?

To promote all this Exilia, Keith and the gang have popped up everywhere from The Today Showto NPR to the Wall Street Journal. Last week Late Night With Jimmy Falloncelebrated the event by hosting "Rolling Stones Week" on the program. For five days, every musical act on the show played a favorite Exile tune -- Phish did "Loving Cup," Sheryl Crow belted "All Down the Line" -- and Fallon ended the week with a showing of Stones in Exile. And Mick and Keith dropped by.

Though the band clearly isn't hurting for cash, there is plenty to be gained from a well-executed reissue. In 2009, all 13 of The Beatles' studio albums were re-released and went on to sell some 3.3 million copies. The haul from the sales was good enough to make the Fab Four the sixth-best selling act of the year, just behind Beyonce, according to Billboard. Even less highly anticipated re-releases, such as Led Zeppelin's 2007 updating of "The Song Remains the Same" can move units -- that album hit No. 23 on Billboard's sales chart. Entire labels, like Rhino, specialize in re-packaging and reissuing past hits.

Still Dancing in the Light

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when not everyone adored Exile on Main Street. That time was 1972, just after the album's original release. A year earlier the band had produced the straight-ahead rock gem Sticky Fingers. Perhaps expecting more of the same, many critics were put off by Exile's stranger, experimental mash-up of blues, rock, folk, soul, you name it. Eighteen tracks staggered over four sides of the double LP. Not that the naysayers held much sway with the record-buying public -- the album went on to become a No. 1 hit and soon enough began showing up on "greatest-records-of-all-time" lists. "Most critics disapproved, but the sales were good," Marshall Chess, the former president of Rolling Stones Records, told the Journal.

And to think the album very easily might not have been made at all. The Stones were well established by the time they set out to record Exile -- it was their tenth album, after all. However, the band hadn't exactly been fiscally responsible and, as the legend goes, collectively they owed more taxes in 1972 than they could afford. It was time to tighten their studded belts, reign in profligate spending and get down to work -- so Keith Richards rented a 16-room, beach-front mansion in a lovely town in southern France. Oddly, it proved to be the perfect environment in which to knock out a record that attempts to come to terms with alienation, temptation and indulgence in a fast-changing world.

Today the world is changing even faster and it is maybe for that reason, among others, that Exile on Main Street still sounds so fresh. If you doubt that, feel free to listen to a few of the previously unreleased tracks here. Or here. And watch a clip from the Stones documentary here. Or, if you've got an extra $140 lying around, pick up the super deluxe edition. That seems reasonable if you consider that by now Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie might want to amend the lyrics of one of their most iconic songs (a song, incidentally, that is not on Exile) to say: If you can afford it, then you probably can always get what you want.