Forty Licks

The Rolling Stones

Virgin, 2002

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


A while back, I made the mistake of telling a good friend I did not see what the big deal was about the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. He stared at me like I was an idiot. "It's just basic rock and roll," he said.

I didn't get it at the time, but after thinking about it for a while I see what he meant. Rock and roll in the 90s was something very different than the preceding decades. And while I obviously grew up on some of the classic Stones, by and large it wasn't played much in my house; my father was a Beatles fan through and through.

Because the Stones influenced so much of what came after, not to mention created the entire concept of a swaggering frontman and guitar hero guitarist, it can be easy to forget that they were innovators. Really, there had been no one like them before, and those that have come after (Aerosmith, Guns 'n' Roses, etc.) have simply stepped into the shadow. Have you seen your mother, baby? Mick probably has. And your daughter, and your sister. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Where I differ from other critics is my feeling that the Stones only made a couple of classic albums, where nearly every song start-to-finish is part of the overall picture with no filler (or only one questionable track). I still feel that Exile is too long with not enough moments that truly grab you...perhaps I need to listen to it in chunks to really appreciate it, sure, but I've never had to do that with The Beatles, or Quadrophenia or Tommy, or Physical Graffiti (well, maybe the fourth side of that one), or even The Wall

Back to the point. The best way to discover the Stones in 2012 - and iTunes makes this a lot easier - is to discover their singles, the killer riffs, the true definition of rock and roll. And they are all here on Forty Licks, as perfect a hits compilation as you could imagine. It summarizes everything you need to know about the band; only after appreciating this should you start digging into the actual albums.

If you are anything but a devoted fan, this is pretty much all you need, maybe along with Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. The first disc is all 60s and early 70s, and nothing is missing that really matters. "Satisfaction." "The Last Time." "Street Fighting Man." "Honky Tonk Women." "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Mother's Little Helper. "Get Off of My Cloud" and "Wild Horses. "Paint it Black" and "Not Fade Away." Don't even try to say these aren't some of the greatest rock songs of all time.

The second disc is the 70s and beyond, up to Bridges to Babylon, plus four new songs. Two of these are fine; the other two could have been chucked in favor of two better-known licks like "She's So Cold," but that's nitpicking. Any disc that has "Shattered," "Mixed Emotions," "Start Me Up," "Brown Sugar," "Miss You" and the excellent "Anybody Seen My Baby" is just fine by me.

Forty Licks works as a career summary, a stellar introduction and/or a perfect compilation for casual fans, not to mention it's the only release on the market that spans the band's entire career through 1996. More than that, it's basic rock and roll, and I like it.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


With regard to the following statement:

"The problem with Exile is that it's just too long. Actually, every Stones album is too long, even the short ones. This is because the guys never made one truly excellent album in their entire career."

My first impulse was to throw down and challenge Benjamin to identify the "filler" tracks on Exile and Sticky Fingers (and Aftermath and Between the Buttons, for that matter). But then something occurred to me that stayed my duelist's slap: I bet Benjamin (like most of the reviewers here) is too young to have come of age in the vinyl era, and therefore thinks of vintage Stones albums as intended for uninterrupted consumption from the first track to the last.

Old-timers like me know that from about the era of Rubber Soul, Aftermath , and Highway 61 Revisited until, roughly, the release of Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, LPs and (especially) multi-disc albums were programmed so each platter side had its own "arc" -- typically leading with a high energy track, ending on a ballad or extended jam, and modulating up and down in between.

Listen to each of Exile's LP sides (Rocks Off-Tumbling Dice; Sweet Virginia-Loving Cup; Happy-Let It Loose; All Down The Line-Soul Survivor) separately, as discrete "suites" (if that word can apply to undiluted raunch), and see if you still think the album is too long. (If you use iTunes, the "Grouping" tag -- typically used to cluster movements of symphonic works -- is great for clumping tracks by album side.)

Once you've test-driven Exile On Main Street that way, try the same thing with Sticky Fingers, Abbey Road, The White Album (Side 3 is killer), Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, London Calling, and so on. You may start to appreciate some of these "too long" albums in a new light.

Last lick: "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!" is blisteringly good, even played from start to finish, and at just over 45 minutes' total runtime, I don't see how anyone could call it too long.
I like your comments Jim Akin

© 2007 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.