Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St. – [Record 85]
Exile on Main St. is a double album by English rock band The Rolling Stones. It was released on 12 May 1972 by Rolling Stones Records. The album’s music incorporates rock and roll, blues, soul, country, and gospel genres.
Although it originally received mixed reviews, Exile on Main St. has been ranked on various lists as one of the greatest albums of all time.
The 2010 remastered version of the album was released in Europe on 17 May 2010 and in the United States on 18 May 2010, featuring a bonus disc with 10 new tracks.
Record One, Side One.
1. Rocks Off.
2. Rip This Joint.
3. Shake Your Hips.
4. Casino Boogie.
5. Tumbling Dice.
Record One, Side Two.
6. Sweet Virginia.
7. Torn and Frayed.
8. Sweet Black Angel.
9. Loving Cup.
Record Two, Side One.
11. Turd on the Run.
12. Ventilator Blues.
13. I Just Want to See His Face.
14. Let It Loose.
Record Two, Side Two.
15. All Down the Line.
16. Stop Breaking Down.
17. Shine a Light.
18. Soul Survivor.
Recording: Exile on Main St. was written and recorded between 1968 and 1972. Mick Jagger said “After we got out of our contract with Allen Klein, we didn’t want to give him [those earlier tracks],” as they were forced to do with “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” from Sticky Fingers. Many tracks were recorded between 1969 and 1971 at Olympic Studios and Jagger’s Stargroves country house in England during sessions for Sticky Fingers.
By the spring of 1971 the Rolling Stones had spent the money they owed in taxes and left Britain before the government could seize their assets. Mick Jagger settled in Paris with his new bride Bianca, and guitarist Keith Richards rented a villa, Nellcôte, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice. The other members settled in the south of France. As a suitable recording studio could not be found where they could continue work on the album, Richards’ basement at Nellcôte became a makeshift studio using the band’s mobile recording truck.
Nellcôte: Recording began in earnest sometime near the middle of June. Bassist Bill Wyman recalls the band working all night, every night, from eight in the evening until three the following morning for the rest of the month. Wyman said of that period, “Not everyone turned up every night. This was, for me, one of the major frustrations of this whole period. For our previous two albums we had worked well and listened to producer Jimmy Miller. At Nellcôte things were very different and it took me a while to understand why.” By this time Richards had begun a daily habit of using heroin. Thousands of pounds worth of heroin flowed through the mansion each week in addition to a contingent of visitors that included William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, Gram Parsons and Marshall Chess (who was running the Rolling Stones’ new label). Parsons was asked to leave Nellcôte in early July 1971, the result of his obnoxious behaviour and an attempt by Richards to clean the house of drug users as the result of pressure from the French police.
Richards’ substance abuse prevented him from attending the sessions that continued in his basement, while Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman were often unable to attend sessions for other reasons. This often left the band in the position of having to record in altered forms. A notable instance was the recording of one of Richards’ most famous songs, “Happy”. Recorded in the basement, Richards said in 1982, “‘Happy’ was something I did because I was for one time early for a session. There was Bobby Keys and Jimmy Miller. We had nothing to do and had suddenly picked up the guitar and played this riff. So we cut it and it’s the record, it’s the same. We cut the original track with a baritone sax, a guitar and Jimmy Miller on drums. And the rest of it is built up over that track. It was just an afternoon jam that everybody said, ‘Wow, yeah, work on it'”.
The basic band for the Nellcôte sessions consisted of Richards, Bobby Keys, Mick Taylor, Charlie Watts, Miller (a skilled drummer in his own right who covered for the absent Watts on the aforementioned “Happy” and “Shine a Light”), and Jagger when he was available. Wyman did not like the ambience of Richards’ villa and sat out many of the French sessions. Although Wyman is credited on only eight songs of the released album, he told Bass Player Magazine that the credits are incorrect and that he actually played on more tracks than that. The other bass parts were credited to Taylor, Richards and session bassist Bill Plummer. Wyman noted in his memoir Stone Alone that there was a division between the band members who freely indulged in drugs (Richards, Miller, Keys, Taylor, engineer Andy Johns) and those who abstained to varying degrees (Wyman, Watts and Jagger).
Los Angeles: Additional basic tracks (probably only “Rip this Joint”, “Shake Your Hips”, “Casino Boogie”, “Happy”, “Rocks Off”, “Turd on the Run” and “Ventilator Blues”) were begun in the basement of Nellcôte and taken to Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles where numerous overdubs (all piano and keyboard parts, all lead and backing vocals, all guitar and bass overdubs) were added during sessions that meandered from December 1971 until May 1972. Some tracks (such as “Torn and Frayed” and “Loving Cup”) were freshly recorded in Los Angeles. Although Jagger was frequently missing from Nellcôte, he took charge during the second stage of recording in Los Angeles, arranging for the keyboardists Billy Preston and Dr John and the cream of the city’s session backup vocalists to record layers of overdubs. The final gospel-inflected arrangements of “Tumbling Dice”, “Loving Cup”, “Let It Loose” and “Shine a Light” were inspired by Jagger and Preston’s visit to a local evangelical church.
The extended recording sessions and differing methods on the part of Jagger and Richards reflected the growing disparity in their personal lives. During the making of the album, Jagger had married Bianca, followed closely by the birth of their only child, Jade, in October 1971. Richards was firmly attached to his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, yet both were in the throes of heroin addiction, which Richards would not overcome until the turn of the decade. Even though the album is often described as being Richards’ finest moment, as Exile is often thought to reflect his vision for a raw, rootsy rock sound, Jagger was already expressing his boredom with rock and roll in several interviews at the time of the album’s release. With Richards’ effectiveness seriously undermined by his dependence on heroin, the group’s subsequent 1970s releases—directed largely by Jagger—would experiment to varying degrees with other musical genres, moving away from the roots-based sound of Exile on Main St.
Release and reception: Preceded by the UK and US Top 10 hit “Tumbling Dice”, Exile on Main St. was released in May 1972. It was an immediate commercial success, reaching No. 1 worldwide just as the band embarked on their celebrated 1972 American Tour. Their first American tour in three years, it featured many songs from the new album. “Happy”, sung by Richards, would be a Top 30 US hit later that summer.
According to Robert Christgau, music critics by 1977 had come to view Exile on Main St. as the Rolling Stones’ greatest album. Lenny Kaye of Rolling Stone observed “a tight focus on basic components of the Stones’ sound as we’ve always known it, knock-down rock and roll stemming from blues, backed with a pervading feeling of blackness that the Stones have seldom failed to handle well.” He felt that “there are songs that are better, there are songs that are worse, and others you’ll probably lift the needle for when the time is due”, and asserted that “the great Stones album of their mature period is yet to come”. Other critics praised the album’s rawness and different styles, from blues to country to soul. Richard Williams of Melody Maker said that the album “is definitely going to take its place in history” and called it “the best album they’ve ever made”, writing that it “utterly repulses the sneers and arrows of outraged put down artists. Once and for all, it answers any questions about their ability as rock ‘n’ rollers.” Bill Janovitz called it “the greatest, most soulful, rock & roll record ever made” because it seamlessly distills “perhaps all the essential elements of rock & roll up to 1971, if not beyond.” In his year-end list for Newsday, Christgau named it the best album of 1972 and wrote that “this fagged-out masterpiece” was the peak of rock music in 1972 and that it “explores new depths of record-studio murk, burying Mick’s voice under layers of cynicism, angst and ennui”.
On the initial critical and commercial reaction, Richards said, “When Exile came out it didn’t sell particularly well at the beginning, and it was also pretty much universally panned. But within a few years the people who had written the reviews saying it was a piece of crap were extolling it as the best frigging album in the world.”
Exile on Main St. featured a gatefold cover and included a series of 12 perforated postcards with a sequence of images inserts, all of which were shot by photographer Norman Seeff. The back cover features various photos of the Stones; the “mystery woman” pictured in the lower left side is Chris O’Dell, their personal assistant. The album photography and concept was by Robert Frank and includes images from his seminal 1958 book The Americans. The “Joe Allen” pictured in the collage is of a postcard-style advertisement by Frank of the contortionist, Joe Allen, billed as “The Human Corkscrew” for his ability to wiggle and twist through the “13 1/2 inch hoop” approximately 25,000 times during his circus career, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on 8 May 1950. The man with the three balls (a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a “5” billiard ball) in his mouth is formally known as “Three Ball Charlie”, a 1930’s sideshow performer from Humboldt, Nebraska who could also not only balance on several balls at once, but could also juggle balls, and whistle, all while performing all 4 tasks simultaneously, according to Ripley’s.
Band appraisal: At the time of Exile’s release, Jagger said, “This new album is fucking mad. There’s so many different tracks. It’s very rock & roll, you know. I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over. Since I’ve left England, I’ve had this thing I’ve wanted to do. I’m not against rock & roll, but I really want to experiment. The new album’s very rock & roll and it’s good. I mean, I’m very bored with rock & roll. The revival. Everyone knows what their roots are, but you’ve got to explore everywhere. You’ve got to explore the sky too.”
In 2003, Jagger said, “Exile is not one of my favourite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling. I’m not too sure how great the songs are, but put together it’s a nice piece. However, when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies. Of course I’m ultimately responsible for it, but it’s really not good and there’s no concerted effort or intention.” Jagger also stated he did not understand the praise amongst Rolling Stones fans because the album did not yield very many hits. Indeed of the 18 tracks on the album, only three (“Tumbling Dice”, “Happy” and “All Down The Line”) got heavy rotation at concerts and seven have never been performed live.
Of the album, Richards said, “Exile was a double album. And because it’s a double album you’re going to be hitting different areas, including ‘D for Down’, and the Stones really felt like exiles. We didn’t start off intending to make a double album; we just went down to the south of France to make an album and by the time we’d finished we said, ‘We want to put it all out.’ The point is that the Stones had reached a point where we no longer had to do what we were told to do. Around the time Andrew Oldham left us, we’d done our time, things were changing and I was no longer interested in hitting Number One in the charts every time. What I want to do is good shit—if it’s good they’ll get it some time down the road.”
Accolades and cultural references: In 1998 Q magazine readers voted Exile on Main St. the 42nd greatest album of all time, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 3 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 1987 it was ranked third on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the best 100 albums of the period 1967–1987. In 1993, Entertainment Weekly named it No. 1 on their list of “100 Greatest CDs”. In 2003, Pitchfork Media ranked it number 11 on their Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2001, the TV network VH1 placed it at number 22 on their best albums survey. In 2003, the album was ranked 7th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, the highest Rolling Stones album ranked on the list. In 2005, Exile on Main St. was ranked number 286 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. The album was ranked number 19 on the October 2006 issue of Guitar World magazine’s list of the greatest 100 guitar albums of all time. In 2007, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame placed the album No. 6 on the “Definitive 200” list of albums that “every music lover should own.” Its re-release has a highest normalised rating of 100 on Metacritic based on seven professional reviews, a distinction it shares with other re-releases such as London Calling by The Clash. In 2012, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The album and its title have been referenced several times by other bands. For example, the British acid house group Alabama 3 titled its debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane. Perhaps the most notable reference comes from indie singer/songwriter Liz Phair’s debut album Exile in Guyville. Phair herself claims the album to be a direct song-by-song “response” of sorts to Exile on Main St. Confrontational garage-trash noise-rock band Pussy Galore released a complete cover of the album that reflected their own personal and musical interpretations of the songs, as opposed to paying tribute to the original sound. Post-grunge band Matchbox Twenty paid homage to this album by titling their 2007 retrospective Exile on Mainstream. Industrial Rock band Chemlab named the leading track from their album East Side Militia, “Exile on Mainline”, in reference to the Rolling Stones album.
The Departed, a 2006 film by Martin Scorsese, features a scene in which Bill Costigan mails Madolyn Madden an Exile on Main St. jewel case containing an incriminating recording of Colin Sullivan conspiring with crime boss Frank Costello. The same film also uses the song “Let It Loose” from the album.
On 31 October 2009, American rock band Phish covered Exile on Main St. in its entirety as the “musical costume” for their Halloween show in Indio, California.
The first episode of the fourth season of the Showtime program Californication is called “Exile on Main St.”. On 17 February 2013, the second episode of the sixth season of Californication featured a guest character named Faith who says that she had woken up next to her musician boyfriend who had died from an overdose in the night. She said she woke up in room “1009,” a reference to the lyrics of Shine a Light. The same song was also played by Tim Minchin’s character in the following episode.
Re-release: In 1994, Exile on Main St. was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, along with the rest of the post-Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out catalogue, after the company acquired the masters to the band’s output on its own label.
Universal Music, which remastered and re-released the rest of the post-1970 Rolling Stones catalogue in 2009, issued a new remastering of Exile on Main St. in a deluxe package in May 2010. Of the ten bonus tracks, only two are undoctored outtakes from the original sessions: an early version of “Tumbling Dice” entitled “Good Time Women,” and “Soul Survivor,” the last featuring a Richards lead vocal (with dummy/placeholder lyrics). The other tracks received overdubs just prior to release on this package, with new lead vocals by Jagger on all except “I’m Not Signifying”, backing vocals in places by past and current Stones tour singers Cindy Mizelle and Lisa Fischer, a new guitar part by Mick Taylor on “Plundered My Soul.” On the selection of tracks, Richards said, “Well, basically it’s the record and a few tracks we found when we were plundering the vaults. Listening back to everything we said, ‘Well, this would be an interesting addition.'”. All harmonica heard was added during 2010 sessions by Jagger, and Richards added a new guitar lead on ‘So Divine’. “Title 5” is not an actual outtake from the sessions for Exile, it is an outtake from early 1967 sessions. It features the MRB effect from a Vox Conqueror or Supreme amp, as used by Richards in 1967 and 1968. “Loving Cup” is an outtake from early June 1969, but is actually an edit from two outtakes. The first 2:12 minutes is the well known ‘drunk’ version, as has been available on bootlegs since the early 1990s, but the second part is spliced from a second, previously unknown take. “Following the River” features Jagger overdubs on a previously uncirculated track featuring Nicky Hopkins on piano.
Jimmy Fallon announced on his show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, that he would mark the re-release of the album with a week’s worth of musicians performing songs from the album. Phish, who had played the album in its entirety live in concert before, were the first confirmed act to join the salute.
The re-released album entered at number one in the UK charts, almost 38 years to the week after it first occupied that position. The album also re-entered at number two in the US charts selling 76,000 during the first week. The bonus disc, available separately as Exile on Main St. Rarities Edition exclusively in the US at Target also charted, debuting at number 27 with 15,000 copies sold.
It was released once again in 2011 by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese-only SHM-SACD version.