I was there when this joke of an album was released onto the public. I was there in 1972, money in hand, waiting to get my new Stones album, my apartment was arranged and equipped [nod nod, wink wink], waiting for me to get home and spin these records. I’d even gotten myself a new Stanton cartridge for my turntable in honor of this moment, it came in a really cool little silver coloured metal box, all black velvet lined, with it’s own special machined screw driver ... which, unlike the album, I have to this very day.
So I’m walking home and checking out the cover. Man, this had to be one of the worst album covers ever. I mean, there was nothing pleasing about it at all. But hey, turns out I’ve got myself a double album here, the weight of it alone should mean there’s lots of great stuff between the sleeves of this jacket.
Flash forward ... I remember speaking with John Mellencamp for a bit, discussing musical inspirations, best loved albums, and he told me that ‘Exile On Main Street’ was his favorite Stones album. I said, "John, that was a terrible album, they’ve never done anything like it since." He went on to say that it wasn’t like ‘Sticky Fingers’ and I gave him that, and then asked him to go on and hum any one of the great [?] tunes form the release. He never did.
Now, to the Stones credit, there are some fine songs on the records, but this is not a great album. And even the fine songs are, shall I say, lacking at having any of the edges polished. I hear you, "What’s wrong with a rough album?" I’d have to answer, "Nothing, if that’s your intention, but this, these pages were just torn out of past rejects thrown together, packaged and shipped out."
Let’s put some rumors to bed, and shine some light on some truths. Not all of this album was recorded in the basement of Keith’s home, Nellcote, near Nice, in France ... where the studio, was so damp that the instruments could not remain in tune for even one song. A place were thousands and thousands of dollars of heroin and other drugs were freely flowing into the house, up the noses and veins of most of the musicians [primarily Richard's, Miller and Keys]. Founding members of the Stones who didn’t use, found the place preposterous and stayed away [Jagger, Wyman and Watts]. This is why you will find these key members playing on less then half the tracks. Oh, and that great recording studio in Keith’s basement, it was so bad that they had to bring in the mobile recording studio to even finish this piece of dribble.
In England, at Mick Jagger’s country home, is where many of the basic tracks were laid down. Most likely in France, is where the tracks, ‘Casino Boogie, Rip This Joint, Turd On The Run, Ventilator Blues, Happy, Shake Your Hips’ and several others were recorded. At any rate, ALL of this material was taken to Sunset Sound Recorders, in Los Angeles for complete overdubs of ALL piano, ALL backing vocals, ALL bass riffs, ALL lead guitar, ALL lead vocals, and ALL keyboards. Mick brought in a virtual who’s who of session men, like Billy Preston and Dr. John, to as best they could, straighten this thing out.
Ya, they did a great job on this one from the get go...NOT! But when you have legendary drug users the likes of Keith Richard's, Gram Parsons [who despite history, never played on the records], William Burroughs and Terry Southern, floating in and out, it must have been tough to concentrate on even getting high.
There were many personal problems both between wives and band members during this time. There was also a conflict in the musical direction the band was headed. Mick, openly stated that he was tired of Rock & Roll, and perhaps this album shows directions they would like to head in the future.
There is nothing tight on this record, the music is sloppy, scattered, off handed, has difficulty finding it’s next chord, yet alone its next step. Vocals by Keith are so terrible, they take me to the point of laughing. This record should have never been made, it should have remained as Dylan and The Band’s ‘Basement Tapes,’ something for us to discover years later and connect the dots.
So, where does this leave us? In the years since its release, ‘Exile On Main Street’ has charted at number seven on Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 500 Albums Of All Time.’ But I truly believe that people say they like it just because they’re afraid they’ll appear stupid or not cool if they don’t say they dig it. As if they were to leave this record on their shelf long enough, it’s going to soak in and one day they’ll wake up saying, ‘I get it!’
Last weekend I’m in my local used CD store, and sure enough, there’s a copy of ‘Exile On Main Street.’ So what do I think? I think, ya’ know, maybe I was wrong about this album, perhaps I should give it a second chance. So I buy album, I drop the discs on the tray, put my feet up, open the tiny booklet that I can’t even read and kick back...THIS STILL LETS ME DOWN, THERE'S NO CONTINUNITY OR EVEN THE FEELING THAT THIS RELESE IS ANYTHING MORE THEN OUT TAKES, YOU GUYS OWE ME ANOTHER $14.00!!!
The album artwork: When the buying public took their first look at the design and imagery of the sprawling record cover, most people admitted that they didn’t “get it”. Having just soaked in Warhol’s ultimately iconic cover with a zipper for Sticky Fingers, fans should have been ready for anything, but John Van Hamersveld’s designs seemed to confound them, asking them to digest a rough, anti establishment, punk-before there was punk collage of images that may have, initially, combined with the unfamiliar musical stylings to impact sales. And so when Van Hamersveld, who’d established his industry cred via his poster and package designs for Hendrix, The Beatles (Magical Mystery Tour), Jefferson Airplane (Crown of Creation) and others, was approached by the Rolling Stones, who were in a studio in LA putting the finishing touches on this new album, to work on the graphics and packaging for a songbook project the band wanted to release, he along with Robert Frank and Norman Seefjoined set about creating a disturbing jacket that attempted to feature the outlaw, circus freak nature of the Rolling Stones themselves.
Although it’s widely assumed to be a collage, the main shot was actually a photo of the wall of a Route 66 tattoo parlour, taken by art director Robert Frank as he passed through in 1950. To underline the key point, that the disreputable, drug-addled and tax-exiled Stones were as much outsiders as the circus freaks, the reverse of the sleeve had shots of the band members assembled in a similar collage effect.