The Rolling Stones

Rip This Joint

Song Review by

Exploding off the rocking side one (of the original vinyl release) of the seminal Exile on Main Street (1972), "Rip This Joint" takes off at a breakneck pace and never pauses to look back. The song has an almost psychobilly flare, with Bill Plummer walking up and down the neck of an upright bass and Charlie Watts hammering away on the snare, adding fills like those of Odie Payne on Chuck Berry's recordings. "Rip This Joint" is typical of what the Rolling Stones achieve on this masterwork album: Taking the early roots of rock & roll, music like the rockabilly and piano boogie-woogie of artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Berry, they add hard rock guitars to the slapping bass and Nicky Hopkins' Johnny Johnson-like piano rolls, and up the tempo to what remained the fastest song in the band's catalog for most of its career. The result is a frenetic pace that approaches the tempos played by hardcore punk rock bands roughly ten years later, certainly recognizing the raw excitement of early roots rock & roll years before such neo-rockabilly-meets-punk rock artists as the Reverend Horton Heat had any baby curls to grease down with Royal Crown. Mick Jagger here straddles the wide-eyed country-boy character he inhabits on other songs off the record, such as "All Down the Line" ("Mama says yes, papa says no/Make up you mind 'cause I got to go/I'm gonna raise hell at the Union Hall/Drive myself right over the wall"), and his real-life status as a foreign artist, an exile, awaiting admittance into the United States ("Mister President, mister immigration man/Let me in, sweetie, to your fair land....Dick and Pat in old D.C./Well, they're going to hold some shit for me").

Jagger delivers the amphetamine rush of words as if between rebel yells, sitting in the back of a '65 Lincoln, tearing up Alabama back roads with the bottle of Old Grand Dad he is pictured with in the Robert Frank photo in the sleeve of the record. The band's utilization of Swiss photographer/filmmaker Frank is relevant in that "Rip This Joint," and most of Exile, is played with the same sort of exuberance that Frank's best-known work, the photographic collection entitled The Americans, shows for its subject matter: the majestic potential of America, its people, and their music. Both projects exhibit the sort of enthusiasm that usually takes an outsider's perspective to appreciate, though an appreciation that Massachusetts-bred Jack Kerouac also managed to possess: In his introduction to Frank's landmark work, Kerouac notes that the photographs reminded him of "that crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of a jukebox or a funeral." This quote could also be applied to the accomplishments of Exile. Like Frank's book, the record ambitiously encompasses a breadth and scope of American music, made contemporary and given the British slant by the Stones. It is for this reason that criticism of the double record as overly sprawling misses the point: Though the band most likely did not sit down and preconceive it as such, the record seems to set out to cover nothing less than the wide-open spaces of America itself via the nation's music -- from urban soul to down-home country to New Orleans jazz. "Rip This Joint" sets the tone for this journey, as a modern-day "Route 66" travelogue from Birmingham to San Diego.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Exile on Main St. 1972 Virgin 2:22
No Image 1972 Swingin' Pig
Made in the Shade 1975 Capitol / Hip-O 2:24
No Image 1995 Totonka
No Image 1997 Midnight Beat 2:02
LP Sleeve Box Set 2005 Toshiba EMI