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The other 'Exile on Main St.': celebrating Pussy Galore's 1986 cover version

May 19, 2010 |  1:11 pm

Exilecover The cassette sounds like it was recorded in the tank of a Lower East Side toilet. It's a trebly, criminally unpracticed rock & roll stunt, Pussy Galore's 1986 cover version of "Exile on Main St."

The original Rolling Stones 1972 classic has been getting a lot of ink of late due to it being given the deluxe reissue treatment, and rock & roll fans are understandably excited.

What's not being reissued, and probably never will be, is P.G.'s gloriously sloppy song-by-song homage to "Exile," only issued on cassette (in an edition of 550, though a bootleg LP exists, and four of the songs are included on a collection called "Corpse Love").

The band, whose best known members, Jon Spencer and Neil Hagerty, went on to form, respectively, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Royal Trux, rose out of the New York 1980s noise and trash rock scene that spawned Sonic Youth, White Zombie, Live Skull, and Rat at Rat R. Named after a sexpot in the James Bond film 'Goldfinger,' Pussy Galore deconstructed the muscle car that is rock & roll until all that remained was a pile of spare parts on a mechanic's floor.

The tape begins with a benediction from P.G. member Julia Cafritz, which sets the tone:

"Hello I hate your ... guts, ... you I hate your ... guts. I hate your ... guts. I hate your ... guts. I hate this ... machine, I don't know how the ... to use it. I hate your ... guts. I'm going to make my ... music.

From there, the band rolls into the classic opener, "Rocks Off," except that it's completely out of tune, out of sync, messy and confusing. Basically, they ruin the song, and in doing so, create something nearly ... perfect. If you are a fan of the Stones' original version of "Exile," you will either hate Pussy Galore's chaotic attempt with a burning passion, or you will see that buried within this wobbled, sloppy, barely legible song cycle is the kernel of truth that Pussy Galore totally nailed it.

Exilecover2 Balk if you must -- and we can already predict what commenters are going to have to say about this -- but despite the relative tunelessness of the creation, it's quite clear that this isn't some half-baked, tossed-off attempt. Here, listen to the band's version of "Tumbling Dice."

It sounds Scotch-taped together, a collage of various takes that seeks not to hide the various edits, but rather magnifies the discrepencies and cuts. The hiss and the feedback are the glue, and despite that the guitars are so far out of tune that it feels like the strings are ready to fall off, the essence of "Exile" remains. So it goes throughout.

Other bands have covered entire records: The Flaming Lips just released their version of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," Laibach stomped out the Beatles' "Let it Be," Petra Haden covered all of "The Who Sell Out,"and the Smithereens did the same with the Beatles "Meet the Beatles." After Pussy Galore released its version of "Exile," in fact, Sonic Youth threatened to issue a response cassette -- a full cover of the Beatles' "White Album" -- but never got around to it (or chickened out), issuing instead "The Whitey Album" under their Ciccone Youth pseudonym. That album didn't cover a single Beatles song, though it did include a version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." 

But Pussy Galore's version of "Exile" is the best.

Why? Because they obviously loved the original album, and understood its essence. In much the same way that Picasso couldn't have mastered his abstract nudes without first being able to draw anatomically perfect versions, Pussy Galore's cover of "Exile" works because underneath every bum note, off-key failure and hiss-heavy miscue is the Platonic ideal of "Exile on Main St." Indeed, as Julia Cafritz indicated in the opening, the band did "make their own ... music."

You can download the entire cassette version of Pussy Galore's "Exile on Main St." here.

-- Randall Roberts

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