Twin Peaks: A Re-appraisal Of Raw Power and Exile On Main Street
First published May 2010
Spring 2010 has seen the simultaneous re-release of Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones and Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges, originally released in May 1972 and June 1973 respectively. The Stones generated instant sales, a hit single and a sell-out US tour. By contrast this line up of the Stooges achieved no chart placings and managed just two gigs before losing their management and record deal. Over three decades later both records are widely recognised as classic recordings that continue to exert a significant influence on contemporary music and popular culture.
Someone who knew both the Stones and the Stooges intimately during the early 70’s was then-NME writer Nick Kent, whose recent memoir Apathy For The Devil offers excellent insights into both groups. “Exile on Main Street Street and Raw Power were both dark records, recorded in exile by two groups trying to deal with alien cultures.” The Stones were in tax-exile in the South of France, the Stooges transplanted from gritty Detroit to sleepy Maida Vale. “Both records bear the mark of hard drug useage – Raw Power prior to recording, Exile more as part of the creative process.”
“Both records are linked to the blues. Raw Power is a more poetic version of John Lee Hooker, so something like Serves You Right To Suffer becomes ‘I’m dying in a story I only live in to sing this song’ (I Need Somebody) – that’s the Stooges whole career in a single sentence right there. This is what white folks should be doing when they sing the blues – focus on the economy and tell the story. Plus there is incredible foresight in Death Trip – ‘We’re going down in history…’ Iggy is saying I’ll have to kill myself before I get any exposure for this music”
Nick describes Exile songs like Soul Survivor as “mysterious, dark but still tongue-in-cheek: ‘shit happens but we’re going to get out of this somehow’ The lyrics reflect the environment in which the songs were created – the sunbaked French Riviera in the company of the burnt-out idle rich. Hanging out with Paul Getty gave Mick Jagger something to write about. In ’68 he was a Street Fighting Man, by Exile it’s all about the wealthy and pampered.”
“Jagger’s lyrics reveal his concern for what was happening to those he was closest to – Keith Richards, Anita Pallenburg, Marianne Faithful. Although Jagger took heroin at this point he was not addicted like the other three. But I don’t really know what the Exile lyrics are about – Jaggers vocals are so low in the mix they almost become part of the rhythm track, like say Michael Jackson. It’s the last time he did this – from Goats Heads Soup onwards Jagger’s voice has been much higher in the mix. The ‘hidden’ sound of the lyrics on Exile reflect the lifestyle from which it was created.” The Only Ones’ John Perry points out “Exile is the Stones last record as Englishmen. After this they become rootless, stateless, international, and any real sense of Englishness is gone from the records.”
Is Exile still Nick’s favourite Stones record? ” For some years I thought it was, but now I think it’s Sticky Fingers where every song is 10/10, really well sequenced and not exclusively dark like Exile. Exile has the Stones ‘dream team’ firing on all cylinders. In addition to founding members Jagger, Richards, Wyman and Watts there was a fully-integrated Mick Taylor on guitar, Nicky Hopkins their best ever keyboard player who brought colour to the tracks and crucially producer Jimmy Miller. What Jimmy Miller brought to the group was groove – find a good groove, get Keith Richards to add a great riff and Mick Jagger to find an interesting lyrical topic beyond who he was fucking. Jimmy Miller started off as a drummer and was used to working with US black musicians. Plus they really knew how to use the horn section of Jim Price and Bobby Keyes to add rhythm, like the Memphis Horns were used on Stax records. Don’t play much, accentuate the riff. Remember Exile came out at the time that rock bands like Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears were using horns to play bad jazz”.
Nick is optimistic that both groups could make another record that compares well to these seminal works. “The Stones have the opportunity to make a really good record as ‘old guys’, facing the real prospect of death. Death is right in their faces now, and the blues is all about that. They need to rethink their performing and recording agenda and ask themselves the question ‘Why do we need to make new album?’. Take a leaf out of Bob Dylan’s book when he did Time Out Of Mind. Do the old blues and r’n’b songs. Use that as a touchstone then write your songs from that. No power ballads, no contemporary stuff. Recently Jagger has given the impression that when he writes a song he is only thinking about how the video is going to look. You need a producer who is going to do more than referee between Keith and Mick. Don Was says that producing the band in the studio is great for the 30% of the time when the band are playing. But the other 70% of the time is spent negotiating with Keith and Mick as they slag off each others new songs. But I’m never going to count out the Stones from making a great final record.”
“Iggy could do another strong record with James Williamson. Both the groups are good live. The market is there – all it needs is the right material. The Stones could copy the Stooges and do some gigs where they play Exile all the way through.” It is rumoured that Jagger – never a big fan of Exile – rejected this idea when it was suggested by Universal Records.
By contrast the Stooges spent May 2 and 3 playing the whole of Raw Power to ecstatic audiences at a sold-out Hammersmith Apollo. The attraction for long-term Stooges fans was the return on guitar of James Williamson and a song selection to match.” James had unfinished business, now he’s finishing it – he’s a better foil to Iggy than either Ron Asheton or David Bowie ever was.” In addition to the eight songs from Raw Power the sets included five songs from follow-up Kill City and even songs never adequately recorded in ’73 such as the irrepressible Cock In My Pocket and the reflective Open Up and Bleed. Veteran Stooges fans such as Bill Allerton and Phil Shoenfelt were hugely impressed, commenting “stupendous – one of the best gigs I’ve been to” and “one of the most apocalyptic shows I’ve seen in a long time – truly amazing, a brutal, dark slaughterhouse of a gig. What a performance, what nerve, what courage, what heroism.”
In an interesting online interview James Williamson confirms he has now remastered Kill City, the follow-up to Raw Power and a criminally underrated record that shows Pop and Williamson at their most Stones-like. “I’m telling you, the end result is just fantastic. I mean, we finally reached the full potential of that album. We’re gonna re-release that some time this year” (more at www.clashmusic.com/feature/the-stooges-james-williamson-interview). Also later this year there is finally an official DVD release of ‘Ladies And Gentlemen The Rolling Stones’, documenting the 1972 STP American tour to great effect.
So Nick which is the better record today – Exile or Raw Power? ” Raw Power is the greatest rock’n’roll album ever. It actually describes what it is talking about. Songs about rock’n’roll are usually corny but Raw Power gets it. Raw Power is the bridge between prime Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and the Sex Pistols. Kurt Cobain and Metallica. But unlike the Stones this is not copying Chuck Berry. This is the blueprint for how rock (not rock’n’roll) was going to be. In comparison Exile was almost a blueprint for what rock’n’roll had been up to 1972. Two real milestone records. There are never going to be greater rock’n’roll records made.”
Easy Action LP
This low-fi recording documents one of the rare live gigs featuring the twin guitar line-up of Ron Asheton and James Williamson. Recorded at the Electric Circus, New York in May 1971, none of the songs were to feature on Raw Power so with the exception of I Got A Right this material was effectively lost until now. Easy Action are to be congratulated for enabling die-hard Stooges fans to hear this short-lived line-up playing such rare material. Iggy’s solo rendition of The Shadow Of Your Smile is a nice touch. Pressed on bright orange vinyl so as to resemble a pumpkin.
James Williamson and the Careless Hearts
Easy Action Double LP/DVD
Prior to the high-profile Raw Power gigs James regained match fitness by rehearsing and gigging with San Jose’s Careless Hearts. This record was made when they played the Blank Club in September 2009, joined by original Stooges sax player Steve MacKay who featured at the Hammersmith gigs,. The selection of material also corresponds largely to the London gigs and James is in impressive form throughout. I have a problem with anyone other than Iggy singing ‘I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heartful of napalm” but singer Paul Kimball does his best here. The vinyl sounds flat to me and I preferred the simply shot DVD of the gig. Pressed on translucent red vinyl to look like giant Cherry-flavour Tunes.
Raw Power Box Set
Iggy and the Stooges
Sony Legacy 3CD/DVD/7″ single
There are cheaper and simpler versions but this box-set has significant advantages. CD1 is the original David Bowie production, remastered and sounding terrific, although the absence of the complete “violent” Iggy remix from 1996 is a missed opportunity (it would have fitted snugly onto CD1). CD2 is a multi-track recording of a live gig from Atlanta Georgia in October 1973 marred only by some guitar problems – when James Williamson’s guitar finally starts functioning just before the end of Head On it feels like the arrival of the US Cavalry. The live Gimme Danger showcases Ron Asheton’s bass playing, his interplay with Williamson worthy of Entwistle / Townshend or Fraser / Kossoff. I Need Somebody optimises the five-piece live Stooges, pianist Scott Thurston channelling Nicky Hopkins The rest of CD2 and CD3 collate studio out-takes and new mixes such as the Yardbirdsy I’m Sick Of You in best-ever sound. The DVD is an excellent ‘making-of’ documentary which only suffers from a lack of live footage – just Shake Appeal from the Sao Paolo festival of November 2009 . Plus five groovy postcards, a repro of the impossibly rare Japanese Raw Power vinyl single with priceless lyric translation on the pc sleeve (it starts “Dance to the beat of Nelly’s dead”…) and a 48-page colour leaflet stuffed full of juicy Mick Rock pics and informative anecdotes. A nice touch is that the box itself looks like a well-worn copy of the original LP. A box set put together for fans, by fans.
Exile On Main Street
The Rolling Stones
Universal Records 2CD set
Like Raw Power this re-release comes in a bewildering variety of formats from single CD to box-set-multiple-vinyl-free-DVD-plus-T-shirt-give-us-all-your-money-limited-edition. This 2CD version pairs the eighteen songs from the original 1972 release with a second CD of ten further songs recorded there or thereabouts (rumours of extensive contemporary re-recording persist).
Virgin did a good Bob Ludwig remaster of the original release in 1994 and by comparison CD1 here sounds pretty much the same only louder. Of the ‘new’ tracks on CD2 some are mere curiosities to play once such as the instrumental Title 5, an early version of Soul Survivor where a half-hearted Keith Richards vocal degenerates into “Etcetera, Etcetera” and a slovenly out-take of Loving Cup. Good Time Woman realises belatedly that it wants to turn into Tumbling Dice the way a caterpillar wants to turn into a glittering dragonfly. The Japanese release will additionally feature an unrefined early version of All Down The Line.
More successful are the songs not officially released before. I’m Not Signifying is a relaxed and effective blues built around Nicky Hopkins bar-room piano and Jaggers’ mouth-harp. Despite being the most unlimited limited-release in vinyl history Plundered My Soul swaggers in all the right places and highlights some fabulous Mick Taylor fills and cool Jagger lyrics, whilst being oddly reminiscent of Ooh La La-era Faces. Pass The Wine plonks a recently-recorded Jagger vocal over a 1971 instrumental called Sophia Loren to create a latiny groove that goes nowhere at some length, thus saying “Mick Jagger solo LP”. Original Stone Ian Stewart playing piano on Dancing In The Light (aka Four And In) is a nice surprise and a further 60’s reference is the resemblance between So Divine and Paint it, Black. A final highlight is Following The River, the most convincing ballad here with more delicious Nicky Hopkins piano and a lovelorn Jagger.
Jagger has made it clear that any further excavation of the Stones capacious vaults depends upon this release being a commercial success. So on that basis I hope it sells. But three successes out of ten tracks is a poor strike-rate. Where is Fast Talking Slow Walking, Key To The Highway, 32-20 Blues, When You Got A Good Friend, the acoustic All Down The Line, even the ‘drunken’ Loving Cup or Exile On Main Street Blues? Compare this to Raw Power and weep.