The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St.

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The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
Studio album by The Rolling Stones
Released 12 May 1972
Recorded October 1970, June 1971 - March 1972
Studio Olympic Studios, London; Nellĉote, France; Sunset Sound Recorders, Los Angeles
Genre Rock and roll, hard rock
Length 67:07
Label Rolling Stones
Producer Jimmy Miller
The Rolling Stones chronology
Sticky Fingers
Exile on Main St.
Goats Head Soup
Singles from Exile on Main St.
  1. "Tumbling Dice" / "Sweet Black Angle"
    Released: 14 April 1972
  2. "Happy" / "All Down the Line"
    Released: 15 July 1972


  "Exile on Main St." is a double album by English rock band the Rolling Stones, released on 12 May 1972 on LP by Rolling Stones Records. It was the band's first double album and tenth studio album released in the United Kingdom. It was primarily recorded in a rented villa in Nellĉote, France while the band lived abroad as tax exiles, and is rooted in styles such as blues, rock and roll, swing, country, and gospel. The sessions included additional musicians such as pianist Nicky Hopkins, saxophonist Bobby Keys, drummer Jimmy Miller, and horn player Jim Price, and were completed at Los Angeles's Sunset Sound.

Although it originally received mixed reviews, some critics have since called "Exile on Main St." the Rolling Stones' best work, and it has been ranked on various lists as one of the greatest albums of all time.



"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. Jagger settled in Paris with his new bride Bianca, and guitarist Keith Richards rented a villa, Nellĉote, 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 track.



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 Nellĉote things were very different and it took me a while to understand why." By this time Richards had begun a daily habit of substance abuse.

Richards' substance abuse frequently 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 and associates who freely indulged in drugs (Richards, Miller, Keys, Taylor, engineer Andy Johns) and those who abstained to varying degrees (Wyman, Watts and Jagger).


Los Angeles

Work on other basic tracks (probably only "Rip this Joint", and "Ventilator Blues") began in the basement of Nellcôte and taken to Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, where 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 March 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.


Music and lyrics

AllMusic called the album as "a sprawling, weary double album," describing it as "a series of dark, dense jams" that encompass rock and roll, blues, country, and gospel styles. 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."



For "Exile on Main St.", Mick Jagger wanted an album cover that reflected the band as "runaway outlaws using the blues as its weapon against the world", showcasing "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 Bell 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" but possibly taken from Hubert's Dime Museum in New York City, 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, a former acquaintance of Van Hamersveld who brought him to the Stones - and other The American outtakes.


Release and reception

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars
The A.V. Club A
Christgau's Record Guide A+
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars
Entertainment Weekly A+
MusicHound Rock 5/5
NME 10/10
Q 5/5 stars
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars
Uncut 5/5 stars

Preceded by the UK (No. 5) and US (No. 7) 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. The Richards-sung "Happy" was released as a second single to capitalize on the tour; it would peak at No. 22 in the United States in August.

Exile on Main St was not well received by most contemporary critics, who found the quality of the songs inconsistent. In a review for Rolling Stone, Lenny Kaye said the record had "a tight focus on basic components of the Stones' sound as we've always known it," including blues-based rock music with a "pervading feeling of blackness". He nonetheless said the uneven quality of songs meant "the great Stones album of their mature period is yet to come". Richard Williams from Melody Maker was more enthusiastic and deemed it the band's best album, writing that it would "take its place in history" as 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." In a year-end list for Newsday, Christgau named it the year's best album and wrote that "this fagged-out masterpiece" was the peak of rock music in 1972 as it "explored new depths of record-studio murk, burying Mick's voice under layers of cynicism, angst and ennui".

Critics later reassessed "Exile on Main St" favourably, and by the late 1970s it had become viewed as the Rolling Stones' greatest album. Bill Janovitz later 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". On the response to the album, 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."

The album has sold over 8 million copies worldwide, and ranks as their 4th best selling studio album behind of "Some Girls", "Sticky Fingers" and "Tattoo You".


Legal issues with ABKCO

After the release of "Exile on Main St", Allen Klein sued the Rolling Stones for breach of settlement because five songs on the album were composed while Jagger and Richards were under contract with his company, ABKCO: "Sweet Virginia", "Loving Cup", "All Down the Line", "Shine a Light" and "Stop Breaking Down" (written by Robert Johnson but re-interpreted by Jagger and Richards). ABKCO acquired publishing rights to the songs, giving it a share of the royalties from "Exile on Main St", and was able to publish another album of Rolling Stones songs, "MoreHot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)".



Band appraisal

At the time of Exile's release, Jagger said, "There's so many different tracks. It's very rock & roll, you know. I didn't want it to be like that. I'm the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over. Since I've left England, I've had this thing I've wanted to do. I'm not against rock & roll, but I really want to experiment. The new album's very rock & roll and it's good. I mean, I'm very bored with rock & roll. The revival. Everyone knows what their roots are, but you've got to explore everywhere. You've got to explore the sky too."

In 2003, Jagger said, "Exile is not one of my favourite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling. I'm not too sure how great the songs are, but put together it's a nice piece. However, when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I've ever heard. I'd love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. 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. Of course I'm ultimately responsible for it, but it's really not good and there's no concerted effort or intention." Jagger also stated he did not understand the praise among Rolling Stones fans because the album did not yield many hits. Of the 18 tracks on the album, only "Tumbling Dice", "Happy" and "All Down The Line" got heavy rotation at concerts. "Sweet Black Angel", "Ventilator Blues" and "Stop Breaking Down" were each performed live only once, while "Shake Your Hips", "Casino Boogie", "Turd on the Run", "I Just Wanna See His Face", "Let It Loose" and "Soul Survivor" have never been played live.

Richards said, "Exile was a double album. And because it’s a double album you’re going to be hitting different areas, including 'D for Down', and the Stones really felt like exiles. We didn't start off intending to make a double album; we just went down to the south of France to make an album and by the time we'd finished we said, 'We want to put it all out.' The point is that the Stones had reached a point where we no longer had to do what we were told to do. Around the time Andrew Oldham left us, we'd done our time, things were changing and I was no longer interested in hitting Number One in the charts every time. What I want to do is good shit—if it's good they'll get it some time down the road."



"Exile on Main St" has been ranked on various lists as one of the greatest albums of all time. According to Acclaimed Music, it is the eighth most ranked record on critics' all-time lists. In 1998, Q magazine readers voted "Exile on Main St" the 42nd greatest album of all time, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 3 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 1987 it was ranked third on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the best 100 albums of the period 1967–1987. In 1993, Entertainment Weekly named it No. 1 on their list of "100 Greatest CDs". In 2003, Pitchfork Media ranked it number 11 on their Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2001, the TV Network VH1 placed it at number 22 on their best albums survey. In 2003, the album was ranked 7th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, the highest Rolling Stones album ranked on the list. In 2005, "Exile on Main St" was ranked number 286 in Rock Hard magazine's book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. The album was ranked number 19 on the October 2006 issue of Guitar World magazine's list of the greatest 100 guitar albums of all time. In 2007, the National Association of Recording Merchandiers (NARM) and the Rock and Roll Hall of fame placed the album No. 6 on the "Definitive 200" list of albums that "every music lover should own." Its re-release has a highest normalised rating of 100 on Metacritic based on seven professional reviews, a distinction it shares with other re-releases such as "London Calling" by The Clash. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Mush Hear Before You Die. In 2012, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.



Track listing

All songs written by Mick Jagger and keith Richards, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) 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
Side two
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
Side three
No. Title Writer(s) 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
Side four
No. Title Writer(s) 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"   3:49


The Rolling Stones

  • Mick Jagger – lead vocals (all but 10), backing vocals (1, 2, 5-7, 9-11, 14, 15, 18), harmonica (3, 6, 8, 11, 16), clectric guitar (5, 16), tambourine (1), percussion (4)
  • Keith Richards – electric guitar (1-5, 7, 9-12, 14, 15, 18), backing vocals (1, 2, 4-11, 14, 15, 18), acoustic guitar (6-9, 12), bass guitar (4, 10, 18), electric piano (13), lead vocals (10)
  • Bill Wyman – bass guitar (1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 12, 14-17)
  • Charlie Watts – drums (1-7, 9, 11-16, 18), percussion (8)
  • Mick Taylor – electric guitar (1, 3, 4, 12, 15-18), acoustic guitar (6, 8), bass guitar (5, 7), backing vocals (6)


Additional musicians

  • Nicky Hopkins – piano (1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 18), electric piano (4, 10, 13)
  • Bobby Keys – tenor saxophone (1-6, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15), maracas (10, 11)
  • Jim Price – trumpet (1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15), organ (7)
  • Ian Stewart – piano (3, 6, 16)
  • Jimmy Miller – percussion (8, 9, 13, 15), drums (5, 10, 17)
  • Bill Plummer – double bass (2, 11, 13, 15)
  • Billy Preston – piano (17), organ (17)
  • Al Perkins – pedal steel guitar (7)
  • Richard Washington – marimba (8)
  • Clydie King, Venetta Fields – backing vocals (5, 13, 14, 17)
  • Joe Green – backing vocals (14, 17)
  • Gram Parsons – backing vocals (6)
  • Chris Shepard – tambourine (11)
  • Jerry Kirkland – backing vocals (13, 17)
  • Mac Rebennack, Shirley Goodman, Tami Lynn – backing vocals (14)
  • Kathi McDonald – backing vocals (15)


  • Glyn Johns – engineer
  • Andy Johns – engineer
  • Joe Zaganno – engineer
  • Jeremy Gee – engineer
  • Doug Sax – mastering
  • Robert frank – cover photography and concept
  • John Van Hamersveld – layout design
  • Norman Seeff – layout design



The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street

Rolling Stones COC 69100 double LP (1972).

Record produced by Jimmy Miller.

Both vinyl records have remained in excellent condition.

Audio quality is very clear and strong throughout.

All record centre labels are free from tears, stains or stickers.

The album's original gatefold cover is in excellent condition, displaying only minor signs of wear.

The album cover has a strong hinge and spine, displaying only minor signs of wear.

Both original inner sleeves are excellently presented.

The original album, perforated postcard inserts are absent.

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