On May 18 of this year, the Rolling Stones released a remastered and expanded edition of what is arguably the greatest rock and roll album ever made, Exile On Main Street. You can read my review for Popdose here. Now Eagle Vision has released an hour-long companion DVD, Stones In Exile. The film was directed by Stephan Kijak, and produced by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts, and it is a must for any Stones fan, or student of the history of rock and roll.
One lucky reader will win a copy of the Stones In Exile DVD. Please read to the end to find out how to win.
In the spring of 1971, the Rolling Stones were in economic trouble. Despite all of their success, they were faced with a manager (Allen Klein) who insisted that he owned everything they had ever done, or would ever do, a low royalty rate from their record company, and an Inland Revenue Service that placed them in a 93% tax bracket. There was simply no way to stay in England and earn enough money to pay the taxes that they owed. Despite serious reservations, particularly from Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, the Stones elected to get out of Dodge.
They decamped to a place called Villefranche-sur-Mer in the south of France, where Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg, and their young son Marlon rented a villa called Nellcote. The villa had been built by the English Admiral Byrd, and over the next few months it became legendary for the tales of rock star excess that surrounded it, and the music that came out of the basement. Stones In Exile tells the story of the creation of Exile On Main Street from its beginnings at Olympic Studios in London, through the time at Nellcote, to the album’s completion at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.
The story is told by the people who were there, including all five members of the Stones in those days. In addition to Jagger, Richards, Wyman, and Watts, there was the young guitarist Mick Taylor. We hear from sax player Bobby Keys, who was a part of the band’s horn section, which also included trumpeter Jim Price. There are comments from Exile producer Jimmy Miller, and engineer Andy Johns. Photographer Dominique Tarle, who came by to take photographs one afternoon and ended up staying for six months, offers his thoughts, as does Anita Pallenberg. Reissue producer Don Was, Martin Scorcese, Sheryl Crow, Will.I.Am, Benicio del Toro, Caleb Followill, and Jack White offer their contemporary spin on the album.
In addition to the interview segments, there is fascinating footage from Robert Frank’s legendary Stones documentary, Cocksucker Blues, which very few people have ever seen. I particularly like the fact that the Stones didn’t try to whitewash, or gloss over the decadence that was going on during the time at Nellcote. Drug and alcohol abuse is discussed openly, particularly as it affected Keith Richards. While timeless rock and roll was being made in the villa’s dank basement, a non-stop party was going on upstairs. The nature of the party was such that as time went on, things got darker and darker. By September of 1971, the Stones were well aware that they were just one step ahead of the French authorities. Since they were pretty sure that they had what they needed musically, they left France, this time heading to Los Angeles to finish the album.
They hadn’t intended to make a double album, but there was so much material to go through that it quickly became apparent that one disc wouldn’t hold all of the music they had. There were many fragments that needed to be assembled, and numerous takes of each song to choose from. Richards was well known for demanding multiple takes, while Jagger was content to move forward. There were unfinished lyrics to complete, and vocals, both lead and background, to record. When the recording was done, the songs that would make up the album were chosen, and mixes were made. Meanwhile, Jagger and Watts were combing through photography books, looking for the perfect cover art. That’s how they found photographer Robert Franks. They thought that Franks would take some photographs of the band, but the photographer threw them a curve and told them he wanted to shoot Super-8 film, and use the stills.
Exile On Main Street was released in 1972, and the reviews were universally bad. It was too muddy they said. The vocals were too low in the mix, and you couldn’t understand the lyrics, they complained. In short, it was the perfect example of why you should read about music, but ultimately decide for yourself whether you like a particular album. These days, Exile is widely considered a rock and roll classic.
The DVD also includes about 90 minutes of bonus features. There are extended interviews with the participants. Of particular interest, and to me the prime reason to own this DVD, is the most lucid Keith Richards interview that I’ve heard in years. It’s utterly compelling. Strangely, there’s little comment in the film or in the extras from Mick Jagger, though he is seen in a segment with Watts where they revisit two of the places where the early recordings for Exile were done. Finally, there is endless analysis from all the aforementioned contemporary commenters, whose ranks grow to include Liz Phair, she of the famous track-by-track Exile On Main Street response album, Exile In Guyville.
Now on to that contest I mentioned. I told you that Jagger and Watts are seen on the DVD visiting two locations where early recording for Exile On Main Street took place. One was Olympic Studios in London. To win the DVD, tell me the name of the other location. It was in this location that the very first recordings for Exile were done. I’m looking for a very specific name here. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with your answer. I will choose a random winner from all of the correct answers that I receive by Sunday, July 18, at midnight. I’m sorry but this contest is open only to readers with a mailing address in the U.S. Good luck!
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