It had the makings of a disaster.
The Rolling Stones decided to record an album while the group’s members were battling each other and their former manager Allen Klein. They went into communal tax exile in France and made shambolic efforts to set up their own record label.
Drummer Charlie Watts was the only one not consuming large quantities of drink and drugs and the sole Stone to make the flight on time. Singer Mick Jagger followed in a limo with his wife Bianca; then came heroin-addicted guitarist Keith Richards, who was scooped up by friends from his Swinging London home and dropped down in Nellcote, his rented mansion near Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The band decided to record an LP called “Tropical Diseases” in the untidy basement kitchen. As temperatures soared, tempers flared and Richards’s toddler Marlon bawled, the group spent day and night turning out dozens of songs in every fashionable flavor of rock -- blues, country, dance and folk.
The resulting 1972 double album, “Exile on Main Street,” has become one of the most lauded LPs of its time. While the hits, such as “Tumbling Dice,” didn’t match the earlier commercial success of “Brown Sugar,” this still is the band’s masterpiece. It’s polished by the blues playing of Mick Taylor, who replaced the late Brian Jones, and Al Perkins’s steel guitar overdubbed as the project was finished in Los Angeles.
Record companies long ago realized they can boost profits by reissuing so-called classic albums with an extra track or two, often outtakes that deserve to be left on the studio floor.
It’s a pleasure to report that the Universal issue out on May 18 is an admirable labor of love, with an impressive new single, “Plundered My Soul.” I’m awaiting a final copy of the CD, which will have nine more tracks from the same sessions, but I’ve heard enough to be sure that this is a **** release.
The singer born James Newell Osterberg was enduring a grim career phase as the Stones enjoyed the French sun. Iggy Pop, as he’s better known, had been dropped by his record company. His finances and band, the Stooges, were in ruins.
David Bowie, fortunately, played savior and produced “Raw Power.” The Stooges were pulled back together, though with guitarist Ron Asheton demoted to bass, and flown to London. The 1972 sessions were fueled by heroin, hashish, beer, Mandrax, Quaaludes, Valium and codeine, according to Ron’s brother Scott.
“Raw Power” also has been remastered with the usual care of Sony Legacy, and it’s now obvious why it was one of the great precursors to punk and why Iggy deserved his place in the Rock Hall of Fame this year. The original in 1973 was mixed so flat that it sounded like a tinny transistor radio. Now, Iggy’s anger is crystal clear, and even scarier.
“The world’s forgotten boy” snarls anarchy from the opening “Search and Destroy.” It’s followed by a chilling ballad for a “little stranger,” titled “Gimme Danger.”
The recording is available as a 2-CD set or with an extra DVD documentary. My only criticism: “Raw Power” was intended as a lean, 34-minute blast. Listening to it at more than three times that length, and with scholarly liner notes, is too much.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
Download fees vary across services. “Exile on Main Street” (Universal) will cost $14 (about 9 pounds) or $22 for an edition with bonus tracks and $119 for a special edition with vinyl LPs, a book and a DVD. “Raw Power” is priced from $15 or 10 pounds (Sony Legacy). Information: http://www.rollingstones.com/home.php, http://www.iggyandthestoogesmusic.com/.
(Mark Beech writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)