Why ‘Exile On Main St.’ Is the Rolling Stones’ Greatest Album of All Time

For most fans, this isn’t even debatable: Exile On Main St. is The Rolling Stones’ best album of all time. Released in 1972, the album is beloved for its odd musicianship, somewhat messy production, and rock-star energy complete with the sounds of partying going on in the background on some tracks.

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If it was any other band, critics would say it was a sloppy final product. And some certainly did. But because the album came from The Rolling Stones, it is still nothing short of perfect.

The Origins of ‘Exile On Main St.’

It took three years for The Rolling Stones to finish recording Exile On Main St., and it was a long-winded effort that paid off. It was mostly recorded in the band’s infamous mobile recording studio, which also recorded hit albums like Who’s Next by The Who, Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple, and four Led Zeppelin albums.

The sessions were very loose, schedules virtually didn’t exist, and drugs were in abundance. It’s no surprise that the album transitioned the band from blues rock to an eclectic mix of rock and roll, country, soul, and even gospel.

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What Made ‘Exile On Main St.’ So Good?

The album was The Rolling Stones’ necessary move to a more eclectic sound. If they had simply stayed a blues rock band and didn’t experiment at all, who knows if they’d be considered as legendary as they are now?

But what really makes Exile On Main St. such a stellar record is its living, breathing energy. It was not a polished, perfect album. The Rolling Stones were not a polished, perfect band. And that’s what made an entire generation of rock fans love them. At times, the record feels like a lengthy jam session or even a live album, littered with background noise.

Just about every song on the album has its merit. “Happy”, “Sweet Virginia”, and “Tumbling Dice” were the money-makers on Exile On Main St. But the tracks “Ventilator Blues” and “Shine A Light” became cult fan favorites.

Exile On Main St. was The Rolling Stones at their most natural and raw, as well as their most experimental. They really don’t make albums quite like this one anymore.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives

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