There aren’t many Rolling Stones songs that have been spared the ignoble fate of being analysed to death. When you’re a band as massively popular and incredibly influential as The Stones, you’re not going to have many deep cuts, especially on an album that is almost universally cited as your best.
But that’s the best way to describe ‘Turd on the Run’, the second track on side three of Exile on Main St. As of writing this article, ‘Turn on the Run’ is one of only two tracks from the original release of Exile that doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page (the other being album closer ‘Soul Survivor’), and the amount of ink spilt in covering the song is minuscule compared to the volumes of essays you can find on tracks like ‘Tumbling Dice’ and ‘Sweet Black Angel’.
Everything about ‘Turd on the Run’ is shrouded in either mystery or indifference. The exact lineup for master take is uncertain, putting Mick Taylor’s participation into question, and the band never attempted it live. Not even revivals from acts like Pussy Galore and Phish are enough to move the needle. What gives? Why is ‘Turd on the Run’ barely mentioned within The Rolling Stones’ history, especially given its prominent place on Exile?
Maybe it’s because, as you could probably guess from the title, ‘Turd on the Run’ is just one big poop joke. This is made clear in the second verse when Jagger hangs on tight as the centre of his affections makes off with his diamonds, leaving him with only a single parting gift: venereal disease. The venereal part isn’t specifically mentioned, but it can be assumed by naming the song ‘Turd on the Run’ in the first place because otherwise, the scatological title doesn’t have any meaning besides Jagger possibly feeling crappy about his lost love.
The real magic of ‘Turd on the Run’ lies in its composition, a classic example of the murky swampiness that came from recording in the basement of Richards’ Nellcote chateau in France. A rollicking blues stomper, Jagger shows off his harmonica skills in ways that he hadn’t matched since ‘Midnight Rambler’.
Charlie Watts picks up a pair of brushes and keeps the snare drum shuffle working, never once breaking off into fills, cymbal work, or even a bass drum hit. The song gets some old-school upright bass, but not from Bill Wyman: L.A. session musician Bill Plummer stepped in to flesh out the composition when sessions moved to California. The main colour from the song comes from Nicky Hopkins’ honky tonk piano and Jagger’s mix between infernal screams and propulsive harp work.
Ultimately, ‘Turd on the Run’ plays as a lesser work within The Stones’ canon because, well, it is a lesser work within The Stones’ canon. But it remains a weirdly wonky, oddly upbeat bit of potty humour that finds the band working at their most effortlessly bluesy.