Exile on Main St.
Exile on Main St. was written and recorded between 1969 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 (1971). 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.
1st Stage ar 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)
2nd stage in 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.
Music and lyrics:
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 Music biographer John Perry wrote that the Rolling Stones had developed a style of hard rock for the album that was "entirely modern yet rooted in 1950s rock & roll and 1930s-1940s swing".
According to Robert Christgau, Exile on Main St. expanded on the hedonistic themes the band had explored on previous albums such as Sticky Fingers: "It piled all the old themes—sex as power, sex as love, sex as pleasure, distance, craziness, release—on top of an obsession with time that was more than appropriate in men pushing 30 who were still committed to what was once considered youth music
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.
By the late 1970s, critics 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
All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except where noted.
No. Title Length
1. "Rocks Off" 4:31
2. "Rip This Joint" 2:22
3. "Shake Your Hips" (Slim Harpo) 2:59
4. "Casino Boogie" 3:33
5. "Tumbling Dice" 3:45
No. Title Length
6. "Sweet Virginia" 4:27
7. "Torn and Frayed" 4:17
8. "Sweet Black Angel" 2:54
9. "Loving Cup" 4:25
No. Title Length
10. "Happy" 3:04
11. "Turd on the Run" 2:36
12. "Ventilator Blues" (Jagger/Richards/Mick Taylor) 3:24
13. "I Just Want to See His Face" 2:52
14. "Let It Loose" 5:16
No. Title Length
15. "All Down the Line" 3:49
16. "Stop Breaking Down" (Robert Johnson) 4:34
17. "Shine a Light" 4:14
18. "Soul Survivor"
Mick Jagger – lead vocals, harmonica, percussion; guitar on "Tumbling Dice" and "Stop Breaking Down"
Keith Richards – guitars, backing vocals; lead vocals on "Happy"; electric piano on "I Just Want to See His Face"; bass guitar on "Casino Boogie", "Happy" and "Soul Survivor"
Mick Taylor – guitars, slide guitar; bass guitar on "Tumbling Dice", "Torn and Frayed", "I Just Want to See His Face" and "Shine a Light"
Bill Wyman – bass guitar
Charlie Watts – drums
Nicky Hopkins – piano
Bobby Keys – saxophone, percussion on "Happy"
Jim Price – trumpet, trombone, organ on "Torn and Frayed"
Ian Stewart – piano on "Shake Your Hips", "Sweet Virginia" and "Stop Breaking Down"
Jimmy Miller – drums on "Tumbling Dice" (the outro), "Happy" and "Shine a Light", percussion on "Sweet Black Angel", "Loving Cup", "I Just Want to See His Face" and "All Down the Line"
Bill Plummer – upright bass on "Rip This Joint", "Turd on the Run", "I Just Want to See His Face" and "All Down the Line"
Billy Preston – piano and organ on "Shine a Light"
Al Perkins – pedal steel guitar on "Torn and Frayed"
Richard Washington – marimba on "Sweet Black Angel"
Clydie King, Venetta Fields – backing vocals on "Tumbling Dice", "I Just Want to See His Face", "Let It Loose" and "Shine a Light"
Joe Green – backing vocals on "Let It Loose" and "Shine a Light"
Chris Shepard – tambourine on "Turd on the Run"
Jerry Kirkland – backing vocals on "I Just Want to See His Face" and "Shine a Light"
Mac Rebennack, Shirley Goodman, Tami Lynn – backing vocals on "Let It Loose"
Kathi McDonald – backing vocals on "All Down the Line"
Engineers – Glyn and Andy Johns, Joe Zaganno, Jeremy Gee
Cover photography/concept – Robert Frank
Layout design – John Van Hamersveld, Norman Seeff
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