I could blame it all on Pete Buck. Back in the day when REM were releasing their first few albums and Michael Stipe’s lyrics were a blur against the swirl of the music there was an interview in one of the rock weeklies, probably the NME and probably still in my attic, and Buck was asked about whether it mattered, no one could understand what the words were about. Buck answered that Exile on Main St was one of his favourite albums and there were barely two words on that he could make out.
That did it for me. I of coarse knew The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black, Brown Sugar and Satisfaction had all been danced to and enjoyed and I could still still remember the first time I heard Sympathy For the Devil on a copy of Rolled Gold borrowed from Rupert Higgen, but Exile on Main St was still a mystery, there were no familiar titles and all that I had read about told me of murky guitars, cash register pianos and a slurred, incoherent, inchoate sound contemptuous of its audience.
I can’t remember where I bought it on vinyl the two discs housed in the black and white snapshots of carney life and the band at half tilt. There is no barcode on it so it must have been some time ago.
It took some years for the music to work its way into me. Even now I would struggle to name all of the songs and to put them into some sort of order. They blur into and out of each other. Although on the one hand it sounds cobbled together and too long there is no other way that it could work but taken as a whole.
It is normally enough to listen to the opening few seconds the curl of the guitar and Mick Jagger’s whispered oh yeaaa before the drums and the rest of the band kick in and you are drawn into its world. It is one of my favourite Friday night sounds. Put me on my desert island and all I would need to listen to would be those few opening moments.
They did of course play the O2 Arena on Sunday evening and 3 songs from Exile on Main St were let out for the evening. I am sure that if I had been there I would have got a thrill from watching and hearing them crunch their way through All Down the Line and Tumbling Dice and who knows they may have carried it off with the right amount of sway and swagger but I doubt it.