Original Artist: The Rolling Stones
Original Album: Exile on Main St (1972)
Many casual Rolling Stones fans think of the self-proclaimed "Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World" as a singles band. And not without reason: the songwriting partnership of Jagger/Richards has produced an string of hit songs that is virtually unparalleled in rock music. Indeed, songs like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Brown Sugar," "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll," and "Start Me Up" serve as veritable aural definitions of the genre. So it's more than a bit ironic that the Stones album many critics and diehard fans consider to be their finest – the finest in rock history, in the opinion of many – contains just one song that could be remotely considered a hit single.
Yes, such is the greatness of the entirety of Exile on Main St that if you lined up eighteen Stones aficionados and asked them to name their favorite track from the album, you could very well get eighteen different answers. Nevertheless, the album did have a hit single in "Tumbling Dice," which reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. What would be a highlight in almost any other band's career barely qualifies as a footnote for the Glimmer Twins.
The recording sessions for Exile have achieved almost mythic status in the rock world for their excess and debauchery. Of course, it's not just the excess, but the perfect imperfection of the final product that drives the myth; Mötley Crüe was plenty debauched, but no one talks about Girls, Girls, Girls outside of VH1's Behind the Music. Recorded in the dank basement of Keith Richards' villa Nellcôte in the south of France, few of the songs on Exile came easily and none of them are completely polished. Yet they ooze attitude and carry the unmistakable imprimatur of the Stones.
Of all of the songs on Exile, "Tumbling Dice" may have been the hardest to record. The origins of "Tumbling Dice" pre-date the Exile sessions and, in fact, can be heard years earlier in the unreleased (and vastly inferior) "Good Time Women." Countless takes later (one of the sound engineers from the Exile sessions, Andy Johns, claims they recorded "hundreds" of reels of tape over the course of weeks just for that one track), "Tumbling Dice" emerged.
The Rolling Stones, "Tumbling Dice" – 5/21/72, Montreux, Switzerland
The lyrics contain several fantastic Stones-isms, such as "Women think I'm tasty / Always trying to waste me," "Don't need no jewels in my crown," and, of course, "You've got to roll me / And call me the tumbling dice." It's obviously a typical Jagger tale of bravado, but it could just as easily be taking place in the nitty gritty environs of Nellcôte as it could a stones throw away in elegant Monté Carlo. Either way, the dice in the song are loaded and ladies should expect the same result: the deuce will stay wild.
Phish has only played "Tumbling Dice" once, as a part of their musical costume on 10/31/09. Their version, though ably aided by Sharon Jones and Saundra Williams on vocals and the horn section of Dave Guy on trumpet, David Smith on trombone, and Tony Jarvis on saxophone, stuck closely to the original. That's okay, though, as there was still plenty of "fever in the funk house" during "Tumbling Dice" and throughout the Exile set.
Phish, "Tumbling Dice" – 10/31/09, Indio, CA