Didja know that in 2010, The Rolling Stones re-released their classic L.P.”Exile On Main St.” The record entered the album charts at NUMBER ONE, 38 years to the week after it first occupied that position. The Rolling Stones are the first act to ever have an album return to No.1 after it was first released back on May 12th 1972 and attaining the top mark!
Exile on Main St. was the band’s first double album and tenth studio album, It was primarily recorded in a rented villa in Nellcôte, France while the band lived abroad as tax exiles. The sessions included additional musicians such as pianist Nicky Hopkins, saxophonist Bobby Keys, drummer Jimmy Miller, and horn player Jim Price. 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 any more songs,” 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. But, by the spring of 1971 the Rolling Stones had spent all the money they owed in taxes and fled Britain before the government could seize their assets. 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.
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 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 dollars worth of heroin flowed through the mansion each week, along with visitors such as William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, Gram Parsons and Marshall Chess, the son of famous blues impresario Leonard Chess, who had been recently recruited to serve as president of the Rolling Stones’ new eponymous record label. Gram Parsons was actually asked to leave Nellcôte in early July 1971, the result of his obnoxious behavior and an attempt by Richards to clean the house of drug users as the result of pressure from the French police.
With Exile on Main Street, the packaging was as unique and important as the music!
Mick Jagger wanted an album cover that reflected the band as “runaway outlaws using the blues as its weapon against the world”, showcasing “ a feeling of joyful isolation, grinning in the face of a scary and unknown future”. As the band finished the album in Los Angeles, they approached designer John Van Hamersveld and his photographer partner Norman Seeff, and also invited documentary photographer Robert Frank. The same day Seeff photographed the Stones at their Bel Air mansion, Frank took Jagger for night photographs at Los Angeles’ Main Street. Still, Van Hamersveld and Jagger chose the cover image from an already existing Frank photograph, an outtake from his seminal 1958 book The Americans. Named “Tattoo Parlor” the image is a collage of circus performers and freaks, such as “Three Ball Charlie”, a 1930s sideshow performer from Humboldt, Nebraska who holds three balls (a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a “5” billiard ball) in his mouth; Joe “The Human Corkscrew” Allen, pictured in a postcard-style advertisement, a contortionist with the ability to wiggle and twist through a 13 1/2 inch hoop; and Hezekiah Trambles, “The Congo Jungle Freak”, a man who dressed as an African savage, in a picture taken by the recently deceased Diane Arbus. The Seeff pictures were repurposed as 12 perforated postcards inside the sleeve, while Frank’s Main Street photographs were used in the gatefold and back cover collage made by Van Hamersveld, which features other pictures Frank took of the band and their crew – including their assistant Chris O’Dell.
“Exile”, delivered so many of our favorite Stones songs including, Sweet Virginia, Torn and Frayed, Rip This Joint and Happy, But, it was “Tumbling Dice” that exploded out of the L.P. And shot to number one!
Exile On Main Street, resides in our top three favorite Rolling Stone records, how about you? Admit it, you love this album and like us, you have a billion great memories associated with it! Dontja ?
Here are The Stones in all their brilliance from the South of France;