The Rolling Stones

I Just Want to See His Face

Song Review by

Demonstrating the depth of their knowledge of roots music in general and African-American spirituals specifically, the Rolling Stones turn in this almost-hidden gem from their sprawling masterpiece, the double record Exile on Main St.. Like much of Exile, "I Just Want to See His Face" has the band exploring the music of America, specifically the country, blues, folk, and soul of the South. As with much of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music and Bob Dylan and the Band's legendary Basement Tapes, "I Just Want to See His Face" sounds ancient and from another planet; a swampy, stompy gospel song hat was recorded to intentionally sound as if it is a field recording document of a long-ago church basement revival meeting. Thus, one understands why Tom Waits has called it his favorite Rolling Stones song. Indeed, it was recorded in a basement -- albeit in Keith Richards' house in the south of France. The inspired lyric suggests surrendering in the midst of trouble and finding the spirit, getting into the mystic, as Van Morrison would say, and letting go of any intellectualizing about religion; the comfort that comes from a shoulder to cry on: "Sometimes you ain't got nobody and you want somebody to love/Then you don't want to walk and talk about Jesus/You just want to see His face." The music fades in eerily from the hard-rocking blues of "Ventilator Blues." "I Just Want to See His Face" sounds as if were recorded with one microphone while the band jammed around a bluesy Wurlitzer electric piano riff played by Richards, with hands clapping; background gospel singers Clydie King, Vanetta Field, and Jesse Kirkland moaning (backgrounds were recorded later, during the mixing stage); tambourine; a malleted tom-tom drum by Charlie Watts; standup bass by Bill Plummer; and Mick Jagger mumbling, almost speaking in tongues as the spirit moves him. The song fades away as easily as it appeared. The experimental spontaneity exhibited on "I Just Want to See His Face" foreshadowed work by Waits and even bands like Sonic Youth, who used atmospherics and room sounds as integral elements to their recordings. "Just Want to See His Face" shows a band at their uninhibited best and supremely confident.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Exile on Main St. 1972 Virgin 2:53
LP Sleeve Box Set 2005 Toshiba EMI