The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

Death Of The Rock Gods: The Stones, Pussy Galore & Exile On Main Street
Huw Nesbitt , June 8th, 2010 08:52

With the anniversary of Exile On Main Street garnering 523,456 column inches, Huw Nesbitt explains why Pussy Galore's bastardised version is the better listen

Add your comment »

The recent surfeit of press over The Rolling Stones reissue of Exile on Main Street is liver curling to say the least. Four years ago you couldn't even buy their LPs in HMV without forking out for the Japanese imports. Now this - an extra disc of outtakes on top of the already lengthy double album recorded in an former Nazi dungeon in France, in 1972 - forced down your gullet, begging for thanks. Right now every idiot hack in town is lining up outside west London press agencies, waiting to throttle Keith Richards with questions like, "Were you feeling okay back then?" and, "What was it like snorting the contents of your ball bag?" Who'd have thought such ontological terror could be sustained by simply buggering off to the continent to avoid the long arm of HM Revenue & Customs?

But whatever you want to say about this record, it was, undeniably, a certified classic the moment it hit the shelves - probably because it's the closest the Stones ever came to being remotely sincere in their entire lives. Oh yeah, you've got the likes of 1968's 'Sympathy for the Devil' as well; an apparent lament for the passing age of hippy innocence. But how seriously can you take that when the following year they press-ganged a bunch of biker crooks into stage minding them for the blood bath that became Altamont? Like the Beatles, the Stones waded too far out into the ditch of their own egos, only to discover that not only couldn't they walk on water, but their own bullshit, too.

And aside from a few other carve ups (Jean Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, Brian Jones copping it), by the time they finished recording Exile..., that period when they were still considered gods of the rebellion had died. Even the title, "Exile on Main Street", points to feelings of exclusion where they once belonged. Tracks like 'Rocks Off' (Keith whinging about impending smack overdoses, heartbreak), and 'Soul Survivor' (musings on failed mutinies, more heartbreak) all sum it up perfectly: the hit makers were on the rocks.

Luckily, this brought out the best in them, and Exile... is without doubt not just the best Stones record, but one of the best rock albums of all time. But it's far from perfect, and the constant, sycophantic, reappraisal of their oeuvre through cynical franchises updating their masterpieces is a sham. And here's why.

Because apart from this being a brilliant record, it was also one that failed on its own terms, stopping short of the complete rejection of the showbiz myth that it threatened. Mick and Keith might have been disenfranchised, but alongside sentiments of addled disillusionment and isolation were signs that, deep down, they were longing for redemption ('Shine a Light'), struggling to cope with absence of dead mentors like Elvis Presley ('Rip This Joint'), and equally haunted and enthralled by that other hair rebel, Jesus Christ ('I Just Wanna See His Face'). If anything, Exile... was a con show, on the one hand demanding pity, while the other riffled through your wallet, nicked your girlfriend and signed you up for the sequel. They flirted with the void, but it was all just boyish Byronism, and they never committed... something that Pussy Galore had no qualms about when they returned to finish the job with their own cover of the 'seminal' album some fourteen years later.

Alongside Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore were the archetypal American noise band of the 80s, dedicated to degrading the aesthetics and principles of the music industry by subverting the mainstream and DIY scenes alike. At one point they even shovelled their ire atop of Ian MacKaye of Fugazi's Dischord label. Formed by some local losers called Jon Spencer (The Blues Explosion), Julia Cafritz, later ex-Sonic Youth sticksman Bob Bert and Neil Hagerty (Royal Trux), they blazed a trail between 1985 and 1990, brokering the provocative aggression of early DC hardcore with grim experimentation. They also had a sense of humour, which is rarer than rocking horse shit in American indie...

And what they recognised through their cover version, was that Exile... wasn't just the book-end peak by some 60s mavericks, but the end of the road for rock music in general, and that the band which wrote the swan song couldn't even bring themselves to admit it. Galore's version, however, simply doesn't falter. It's built from four track tape feedback, guitars that are out of tune and time, voices telling you to go fuck yourself, versions of previous epics retroactively aborted back to unformed foetuses drowning in sonic uterine discharge, convulsing over exploding tape heads... Pussy Galore weren't just ambivalent about success, but about the meaninglessness of their careers too. The Stones might have once been gods to some, but they didn't have to strength to utter a complete articulation of the truth, because all they really wanted was the joy bang to never end.

Naturally, Pussy Galore's version is hilarious, too. It's a spoof, originally released on 550 cassettes. Nowadays you can probably pick it up for free online or as a bootleg, and it's just as important as the original. It's unpleasant, and you probably won't want to flick it on every day. But if nothing else it serves as a searing critique of the demise of what was once a fruitful rebellion, turned withering cash cow.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

Rasheed
Jun 8, 2010 2:22pm

This was very good, particularly the last sentence.

Reply to this Admin

charles u
Jun 8, 2010 4:06pm

The cult like worship of Exile continues to elude me.

Reply to this Admin

glen
Jun 8, 2010 11:49pm

actions speak louder than words the fact that the did keep going and in the last decade were the top earners not bad for a rock band that you seemed to think was finished in 1972 get your facts by reseaching yourself not just believing everything you r

Reply to this Admin


Jun 9, 2010 12:16am

In reply to glen:

Glen, you ever heard of punctuation marks?

Reply to this Admin

F. Leghorn
Jun 9, 2010 2:08am

Good take, now if I may add my two cents...
Elvis wasn't dead in 1972; he was 'dead', yes, but still alive.
I'm inclined to think that Pussy Galore was not so much taking the piss, as just applying some lower East Side crud to the mix. I am also reluctant to except the fact that all the members of the band considered their careers, or potential 'careers' in music, to be 'meaningless', as all mentioned, aside from Bob Bert, are still recording artists with Spencer, and especially Cafritz, wholly and undeniably indebted to whatever 'rock n' roll spirit' the Stones may or may not have ever represented to them. They didn't go on to be installation artists or something. Spencer, as a matter of fact, is in the midst of his own career rehabilitation with the releases of his excellent JSBX records. The snake always eats the tail.
Again, I agree totally, but I'd be reluctant to use Pussy Galore as some sort of bellweather of 'that's all rock n' roll bullshit' stomping on Mick Jagger's photographs. They wanted in just as much. Royal Trux made a whole career out of doing cruddy renditions of 'Exile'. And I loved 'em just as much as I do the (early) Stones.

Reply to this Admin

F. Leghorn's stenographer
Jun 9, 2010 2:10am

In reply to F. Leghorn:

I'm also reluctant to accept using 'except' as 'accept.'

Reply to this Admin

djonnymac
Jun 9, 2010 11:31am

You whinge on for several paragraphs about the Stones and their Exile complaining that there's way too much press given to it and them in the last TWO paragraphs mumble something about Pussy Galore's version barely saying a thing about the actual music contained within. Perhaps you weren't around when it came out or barely conscious of it but it (the PG version was brilliant in it's sound and execution- hardly a parody.) Don't just spray paint a wall just to piss off your parents and the church goers, have some substance to your rants.

Reply to this Admin


Jun 9, 2010 11:34am

Great piece. I was horrified to find myself in my local record store, picking up the bells and whistles Exiles and thinking seriously about buying it. Fortunately, I came to my senses. The endless spiralling paradox of the Stones - terrific music (in the main) made by thoroughly calculating sometimes downright greedy and nasty individuals - remains fascinating. The problem is that, whatever we say, 99.9% of us are fans. Have to say, though, that the championing of Pussy Galore, if you can call it that, smacks a bit too much of the Greil Marcuses for my liking. Exile in Guyville is a lot more interesting and that doesn't actually bear much listening to either. It's an idea to admire.

Reply to this Admin

chris sables
Oct 29, 2010 10:56am

"Exile... is without doubt not just the best Stones record, but one of the best rock albums of all time. But it's far from perfect..." If one of the best rock albums of all time is still far from perfect then what criteria are we left with to measure such things...and where does it leave everyone else. Please explain.

Reply to this Admin

Reza Mills
Apr 17, 2011 11:05am

I love both versions of 'Exile on Main Street'. So there... :P

Reply to this Admin

julio
Oct 29, 2012 2:50pm

both versions are great, and the ps one is much more a tribute to the fathers of their calculist/ hedonist/ 'shock as art' method of work than the critic this article want to see. in the end, the stones' victory in this case is not without raising the flag of spencer & cia. mick must cringe with envy for this...

Reply to this Admin

N. Hampshire
Aug 25, 2016 12:46am

"Better listen" my @$$. Like most post-modern art, Pussy Galore's cover record is a much cooler idea IN THEORY than the actual product. All the music on Pussy Galore's albums is shite.

Reply to this Admin