The first time Rocks Off the Younger truly heard "Happy," we were loading a case of Dannon yogurt into the display case at the Kroger in Pearland we worked at from 1999 until he first left home. It would have been September 2002, and we had just signed the papers that would mark our entry into the United States Marine Corps in a few months. We swept our hair back from our forehead (man, those were the days) and looked up at the ceiling, and for a second we couldn't place the track fromExile on Main Street
. At this point, the only Rolling Stones albums we owned were
and the 1975 hits compilationMade In The Shade
, which we lifted from our mother's vinyl collection. We had always passed over "Happy" on the way to "Wild Horses," which closed out Side 1. There was something about it being 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, hung over and groggy, that made "Happy" pop for us. We were only 19 years old and still steeped in punk rock, but slowly but surely coming out of that cocoon. At first we wondered why Mick Jagger sounded so wheezy, but soon enough we discovered it was actually Keith Richards singing. Rookie mistake.
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When we got home and looked up the lyrics, we realized that they were about our teenage selves - we never kept a dollar past sunset; it always burned a hole in our pants. Never made a school mama happy, always took candy from strangers, that kind of thing. The next month, the Stones' new hits album, Forty Licks, came out and we wore out the double-disc set by Christmastime and our ship-out date to the Marine Corps. We must have dug a rut into the second disc, but only to track 12, which was that awful "Mixed Emotions" crap. After we came back to civilian life about a year later, we immersed ourselves in all things Stones. We collected all the vinyl, buying one copy of Exile to display and one to listen to on the turntable. We worshipped every track and forced everyone we worked with at the time to worship it, be it the bootleg tracks we bought online or the original disc. We were the manager of a pizza place at the time, so they had no choice.
Every opening shift started with the first cut, "Rocks Off," which is now eerily prophetic seeing that every waking hour almost is somehow dedicated to a blog by the same name. Somewhere around the time we snagged a slew of Sticky Fingers demos, we went to our tattoo guy and got the lips and tongue inked into our right arm. We spent the hour session listening to our discovery at the time, Black and Blue. Funny enough, now even the lyrics to "Rocks Off" apply to our daily lives: Zipping through the days at lightning speed. Plug in, flush out and fire the fuckin' feed. The sunshine bores the daylights out of us. Chasing shadows moonlight mystery. We can't count the days that we have spent watching the sun go down, waiting for the next show to cover or bar to review. The song we are into now from Exile? It has to be the grimy vocals and the slow, loping lines of "Ventilator Blues": Charlie Watts sitting in the back pounding out the beat while Bobby Keys breathes into his sax. You can smell that sweaty French mansion in every line. The expanded and remastered version of Exile on Main Street is in record stores today.