The Rolling Stones were at their most torn and frayed in 1972. Despite their status as tax exiles and the prominent addiction problems of guitarists Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, the band still managed to create their masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, in the basement of a French chateau. The lineups of each song varied wildly, and the album has a muddy and raw sound due to the relatively inhospitable conditions of recording in a space not meant for rock and roll.
None of those factors mattered, however, as Exile found the Stones at the ideal nexus between creative exploration and charmingly scuzzy imperfection. From country tracks like ‘Sweet Virginia‘ to harried rock and roll tunes like ‘All Down the Line’, the album radiates with its own singular sound that mixes in the best of blues, rock, soul, gospel, and everything in between.
The height of that sound, and perhaps the ultimate highlight of the album, is ‘Tumbling Dice’. The whiskey-soaked romp that warns of cheating women and “low down bitching” by likening them to gamblers and sin-seekers is one of the most glorious nuggets in the Stones catalogue.
Featuring the classic guitar work of Richards, utilising the same open G tuning-4th fret capo combination that he would also use on ‘Happy’, ‘Tumbling Dice’ is the platonic ideal of a Rolling Stones song.
Despite their legendarily ramshackle nature of producing Exile, the Stones were still able to commit to a tour and a number of promotional appearances. One of those came with the German television programme Beat-Club, a famous platform where artists like the Grateful Dead and Deep Purple could raise their international profiles.
The Stones’ appearance on Beat-Club is actually a pretaped studio performance that the band did over a thousand kilometres away in Montreux, Switzerland, home of the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival. The Stones might not have been playing the jazz festival, but they bring their own sense of indelible groove to their live take on ‘Tumbling Dice’.
Slowed down from the energetic tempo of the original, this version of ‘Tumbling Dice’ focuses on the rough and ready chemistry of the band as a group entity. Mick Jagger, usually a composed and methodical frontman, throws in a number of alternate lines and seemingly improvised vocal flourishes, setting a precedent that would be repeated on future live performances of the song. Richards and Taylor trade licks, incorporating the weaving style of playing that was rarely used during this era of the group. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are steady as ever, never sacrificing the groove for flash or fills.
Check out the performance of ‘Tumbling Dice’ live at Montreux down below.