Shine a Light: Rockers on the Genius of 'Exile on Main Street'

Phish, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello and more open up about the Rolling Stones' epic 1972 album

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Mick Jagger and Keith Richards revisit the making of the Rolling Stones' gritty masterpiece Exile on Main Street in the new issue of Rolling Stone , available now. As the band prepares for the May 18th reissue of its classic 1972 album, artists from Trey Anastasio to ?uestlove share their favorite epic Exile moments. Plus, look back at the Stones' best Exile-era photos and most incredible live shots and trace the band's history on the cover of RS .

Phish's Trey Anastasio:
"The song I really related to is 'Torn and Frayed.' 'The ballrooms and smelly bordellos/And dressing rooms filled with parasites': We really had a problem with that for awhile. Yet it's so beautifully stated in that song. And then, "Joe's got a cough, sounds kinda rough/And the codeine to fix it" [laughs]. We had one of those — the rock doctor. Every band's got one of those.

It's pretty affirming at the end. You pick up so much when you go through this process of playing every song on a record [like Phish did at Festival 8]. But one of the first things I noticed, even after having listened to this record over and over my entire life, is that half of the lyrics I thought Mick Jagger was singing were wrong. And the ones he was actually singing were much better than the ones I had made up in my mind." (For the rest of Anastasio's thoughts on Exile, visit our full story on David Fricke's Alternate Take.)

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready:
"I love that record like you wouldn't believe. That one and Sticky Fingers, I always go back and forth on which one is the greatest record of all time. And I mean of all time of any band. I love 'Loving Cup' because I love the harmonies in the beginning. I love how the piano starts off the song. I love how he describes this beautiful buzz when he's making out with that chick. I sound like fucking Frank Sinatra now. What a beautiful buzz, what a beautiful buzz. The soul to that song is impeccable. It's so beautiful and it always takes me somewhere when I listen to it. I love the piano. I love Nicky Hopkins. I love Mick's voice. I love the guitars. I love the harmonies. Specifically, when Mick does his own harmonies."

Elvis Costello:
"I know every track. 'Shake Your Hips.' I also like 'All Down the Line,' I like 'Rip This Joint.' 'Tumbling Dice,' one of the great guitar parts. 'Loving Cup' is great. See, I can't even choose, that's how great this record is! 'Shake Your Hips,' it's Slim Harpo. The Rolling Stones always loved rhythm & blues, and what's not to love about that song? I remember the Rolling Stones came to Liverpool in 1972 when that record came out, and my entire school queued up to get tickets. And you know what I said? I said, 'Rolling Stones, they're over. You go on, I'll go use the money to buy a record.' And I bought a Jefferson Airplane record instead, so that shows you how much I knew! I didn't buy Exile on Main Street back then, I discovered it about a year later. I couldn't have afforded it at first because it was a double album."

Beastie Boys' Mike Diamond:
" 'Sweet Black Angel' is one of those cuts that are in the flow of the album. I'm sure for most people, the first songs that appeal to them are 'Tumbling Dice' or 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll,' I know those are the more accessible songs. But the thing about that album is that it's very dense, and it obviously stands the test of time. 'Sweet Black Angel' is a cut you only get to after a while. Those are the cuts for me — for the heads!"

The Roots' ?uestlove:
"I used that album as a template for Game Theory, despite people thinking Kid A was our sonic reference. 'Loving Cup' is probably my favorite on the album. It's just them meshing as a group, meshing and falling apart at the same time. I tend to see the highlight of any musician's career as sort of the beginning of the end, and I'm not saying it's the decline. I remember one of my favorite scathing reviews for Exile actually came from Rolling Stone, from Lenny Kaye. I hung that up on my wall, because I love that record. It could have been Thriller, it could have been Purple Rain, it seems as though it's the pinnacle. People see it as the beginning, but I see it as the end of an era."

Brendan Benson:
"Oh my God, it's like the Bible. That record is so instilled in me. That was like a gold mine. I don't even know where to start. When it came out I was maybe seven years old, but I discovered it later — really truly discovered it. I was heavily into the Rolling Stones, I went chronologically. Beggars Banquet blew my mind. And then Let It Bleed, that remains my favorite. But Exile is a masterpiece. People are surprised to hear that I like the Rolling Stones. I don't write music like that, but that's the music that motivates me. I try to keep up with new music and there's a ton of great new bands and stuff that I like, but you know, you put that on and you're like, 'Fuck yeah! This is genius! What the hell? These guys were out of their minds.' They're like aliens — it's completely out of this world."

MGMT's Ben Goldwasser:
"It's one of those albums that I've heard so many times in different settings that it's more about like associating songs on it with experiences. It's kind of a life experience. The album reminds me the most of the summer I spent in Athens, Georgia. It was a summer of alternating between listening to records and swimming in a pool. The band was a couple years old. We weren't really playing out that much. That was the summer that we kinda started writing."

The Dead's Phil Lesh:
"My favorite song on that album was 'Tumbling Dice.' We did it a few times with Phil Lesh and Friends. It's a gas to play live. I really love the flow of it — it rolls like a river."