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Terrible Noise: Stones' 'Exile on Main Street' still thrills 48 years on

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There has never been a time in my life that the Rolling Stones haven’t been simply there, floating around in the ether like smoke from a distant wildfire on a warm summer morning, playing at grocery stores and in cars and in waiting rooms, overheard in half-watched advertisements and the opening credits of television shows.

The first Stones song I recognized as being a song by a band called the Rolling Stones was “Paint It Black,” which I can no longer remember separately from its use as the theme song to the late 1980s Vietnam War drama “Tour of Duty.” In the weird atemporal zone that was my youth, “Paint It Black” remained one of the most emo songs I knew for years, my tastes flowing directly from there to a now regrettable interest in the kind of industrial angst-rock that managed to penetrate the charts here in our desert redoubt. I only circled back to bands like the Smiths years later.

What makes the Stones such a popular soundtrack choice? I suppose ubiquity feeds on itself; chart hits get played in box office hits, and so on and so on. Martin Scorsese puts “Gimmie Shelter” under a scene to invoke a particular era and a particular feeling, and future filmmakers fall under his influence, making references to references.

I think of the band as omnipresent, but their first appearance in a commercial was a decade after “Tour of Duty,” promoting Windows 95. It seemed like a big deal at the time. One might well ask, another few decades down the line, if that needle-drop still held any power. I believe I can report that it does.

“Knives Out” (which is fantastic and which you should absolutely go see) ends with a classic example of the power of a perfect song dropped into a film. “Sweet Virginia” plays over the final scene, managing to sum up all the emotions of a film released 47 years after “Exile on Main Street” came out. Of course, the film is a kind of throwback, current in its concerns but classic in its structure, and if I were going to answer my own question, I might posit that the Stones have that going on as well.

So it was that one moment, that one scene, that pushed me to finally pick up a copy of “Exile” and listen to it in a serious way, over and over. (And yet for all that, this is probably my second favorite Rolling Stones soundtrack moment, after “2000 Man” in “Bottle Rocket.” For whatever reason I haven’t yet sat down and listened to “Their Satanic Majesties Request.”)

You hardly need me to tell you about “Exile on Main Street,” but you should know that this kid, not born when it was released, and whose predominate experiences with it have all been mediated in some way or other until very recently, has made a quiet spectacle of himself the last several evenings, quite literally kicking out the jams. Some records (or books, or films) seem like such monumental undertakings that to approach them without a guidebook in hand feels irresponsible, but it doesn’t have to be.

• Simon Sizer is the legal and obituary clerk at the Yakima Herald-Republic. He’s constantly prattling on about music, so we gave him this column.

Reach Pat Muir at

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