soundstreamsunday: “Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones-Exile on Main Street 1“Unlikely” is probably the right word, that the hairiest, grittiest, straight-uppenest American rock record of the 1970s, maybe ever, would be made by an English band in tax exile in the south of France lolling in sheer European decadence. That the Rolling Stones attained such a state of grace is only partly surprising, though, given the sheer will of their progress to the point of Exile on Main Street: with Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers the writing was on the wall, but it was this double album that sealed their legend, where the channeling was complete, where without seams the Deep South blackness poured through their pasty, pale, drug-addled limey fingers in drums and basses and guitars and voxes and keys and horns. They hadn’t just gone to the crossroads, they’d set up the tent years before and waited it out, for the spirit to finally visit them. “Satisfaction”? “Get Off My Cloud”? Even “Honky Tonk Women,” with its perfect guitar? Those were killing time, chop builders, and the work they’ve done since has had high points too but has never been more than the downhill coast. Exile’s the big meet up, a meticulously made album with no contrivance, a blues turned over with a rock shovel, originals mixing with covers with barely a hint of borderline, as if this is their music as much as it is yours or mine or Robert Johnson’s. And it’s here that they cover one of Johnson’s more unusual songs, less a blues than a prophet’s vision of the rock and roll to come.  The Stones had already covered Johnson on record by the time of Exile — the down tempo “Love in Vain” was featured on Let It Bleed — but the rock and roll suggested in “Stop Breaking Down” is wrung from the song by the Stones, matching the strut of the lyric, “Every time I’m walking down the street….”

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