The Rolling Stones

Torn and Frayed

Composed by Mick Jagger / Keith Richards

Song Review by

It is telling that the Rolling Stones chose Robert Frank as the photographer and tour documentary filmmaker for their sprawling masterwork, Exile on Main St.. The record is their work most focused on the American roots of rock & roll, encompassing a wide scope of genres: gospel, blues, country, hard rock, and soul music. Their outsider perspective as British interpreters of American-originated music never seems like anything less than authentic. Like the Stones, Frank was an outsider to the United States, an émigré from Switzerland, and in his famous collection of photographs from the '40s and '50s called The Americans, he got right at the heart of America and its people -- in urban and rural settings both. Fittingly, it features an introduction by author Jack Kerouac. The album cover integrates photos from the book, Frank's photos of the band, and vintage portraits of sideshow freaks. The rough art direction hinted at the rough-and-tumble nature of the basement-recorded material therein, and even foreshadowed punk rock's edgy graphics. The original vinyl release of Exile on Main St. was organized into sides with songs similar in tone or genre. Side one is the hard rock & roll side; side two is the country/folk side. "Torn and Frayed" comes from the acoustic-based side two. It is a twangy, three-chord honky tonk, but not typically country. The progression of the chords brings gospel music to mind. The song is driven by the acoustic guitar of Keith Richards, but the song is rich in texture: the pedal steel guitar of Al Perkins; a clean, country Telecaster, also played by Richards; Bill Price's organ; and Nicky Hopkins' piano are prominent, all converging in a chiming, mournful wail. The music comes as close to definitive country-rock or Stax-like country-soul as anything from the era, barring Gram Parsons -- an immediate influence on the Stones. Jagger sings an oblique, impressionistic lyric that seems most influenced, if not by The Americans itself, then certainly by the same sort of subject matter and vivid, sepia-toned imagery: the street-level characters on the edge of America and "that crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of a jukebox or a funeral," which is how Kerouac described Frank's photos but could easily be applied to the musical sweep of Exile. The lyrics of "Torn and Frayed" follow a vagabond-like guitar player whose "coat is torn and frayed," into "ballrooms and smelly bordellos/And dressing rooms filled with parasites." Live versions from the era fail to do "Torn and Frayed" justice; the song needs the textured, acoustic-based approach of the original. The electric live versions sound like plodding Southern rock rather than the mixture of R&B and country that is uniquely the Stones.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Exile on Main St. 1972 Virgin 4:18
LP Sleeve Box Set 2005 Toshiba EMI