exile

Posted on April 25, 2010
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Here’s a superb article from The Guardian’s
Sean O’Hagan discussing one of the great rock and roll albums of all time – Exile on Main Street.

There is a great moment in Stones in Exile, a new documentary about the making of Exile on Main St in 1971, when Keith Richards defines the essential difference in temperament between Mick Jagger and himself.

“Mick needs to know what he’s going to do tomorrow,” says Richards, his voice slurring into a laugh. “Me, I’m just happy to wake up and see who’s hanging around. Mick’s rock, I’m roll.”

On Exile on Main St, though, Jagger, for once, rolled with Richards. So, too, did everyone else involved, from Jimmy Miller, the producer, to Marshall Chess, the young Atlantic Records executive, to the rest of the group and their extended retinue of session players, studio technicians and hangers-on.

Once the decision had been made to record the album in the basement of Villa Nellcôte, Richards’s rented house in the south of France, the working schedule was dictated by the irregular hours kept by the group’s wayward guitarist, who also had a singularly dogged approach to composing songs.

“A lot of Exile was done how Keith works,” confirms Charlie Watts in the documentary, “which is, play it 20 times, marinade, play it another 20 times. He knows what he likes, but he’s very loose.” Without a trace of irony, Watts adds, “Keith’s a very bohemian and eccentric person, he really is.”

Exile on Main St is so emphatically stamped with Keith Richards’s rock’n'roll signature that it could just as easily have been called “Torn and Frayed” after one of the two gloriously ragged songs that he wrote the lyrics for. The title alone sums up his gypsy demeanour, his elegantly wasted look. Or they could simply have called it “Happy”, after another track that was actually recorded in a single take when Richards woke up one morning – or evening – and gathered up the only other people who were awake, saxophonist Bobby Keys and producer Jimmy Miller, who was drafted in to play drums in place of the absent Watts. The whole record was, says Keys, a good ol’ boy from Texas, “about as unrehearsed as a hiccup”.

Perhaps because he was not the controlling presence on Exile on Main St, which has often been voted the greatest rock’n'roll record ever by music critics, it is not necessarily one of Mick Jagger’s favourite Rolling Stones albums. He once described it as sounding “lousy” with “no concerted effort of intention”, adding “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.”

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