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Exile on Main St.

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Exile on Main St.
Studio album by
Released12 May 1972
RecordedOctober 1970, June 1971 – March 1972
StudioOlympic Studios, London; villa Nellcôte, France; Sunset Sound Recorders, Los Angeles
LabelRolling Stones
ProducerJimmy 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 Angel"
    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. It was released on 12 May 1972 in LP format by Rolling Stones Records. The record was the band's first double album and tenth studio album released in the United Kingdom.[2]

The album was partially recorded in sessions at a rented villa named Nellcôte in the south of France while the band lived abroad as tax exiles. The recording was completed at Los Angeles's Sunset Sound and included additional musicians such as pianist Nicky Hopkins, saxophonist Bobby Keys, drummer Jimmy Miller, and horn player Jim Price. The resulting music was rooted in styles such as blues, rock and roll, swing, country, and gospel, while the lyrics explored themes of hedonism, sex, and time.

Exile on Main St. was originally met with mixed reviews before a positive critical reassessment during the 1970s. It has since been viewed by critics as the Rolling Stones' best work and has been ranked highly on various lists of the greatest albums. A remastered and expanded version of the album was released in Europe on 17 May 2010 and in the United States the next day, featuring a bonus disc with 10 new tracks.[3]


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.[4]

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, 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 two 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 pounds 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.[5] Parsons was asked to leave Nellcôte in early July 1971, the result of his obnoxious behaviour and an attempt by Richards to clean the house of drug users as the result of pressure from the French police.[6]

Richards' substance abuse frequently prevented him from attending the sessions that continued in his basement, while Jagger and 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, Nicky Hopkins, Miller (a skilled drummer in his own right who covered for the absent Watts on the aforementioned "Happy" and "Shine a Light"),[4] 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).[5]

Los Angeles[edit]

Work on basic tracks (probably only "Rocks Off", "Rip This Joint", "Casino Boogie", "Tumbling Dice", "Happy", "Turd on the Run", "Ventilator Blues" and "Soul Survivor")[4] began in the basement of Nellcôte and taken to Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, where overdubs (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.[4] Although Jagger was frequently missing from Nellcôte,[5] 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.[4] 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.[4]

The extended recording sessions and differing methods on the part of Jagger and Richards reflected the growing disparity in their personal lives.[5] 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, yet both were in the throes of heroin addiction,[5] which Richards would not overcome until the turn of the decade.

Music and lyrics[edit]

AllMusic called the album as "a sprawling, weary double album", describing it as "a series of dark, dense jams" that encompass rock & roll, blues, country, and gospel styles.[7] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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".[8]

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."[9]


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".[10] 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.[10][11] 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,[12] 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;[13] 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;[14] 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.[15] 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 Americans outtakes.[11]

Release and reception[edit]

Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[7]
The A.V. ClubA[16]
Christgau's Record GuideA+[17]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[18]
Entertainment WeeklyA+[19]
MusicHound Rock5/5[20]
Q5/5 stars[22]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[23]
Uncut5/5 stars[24]

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.[25]

Exile on Main St was not well received by most contemporary critics, who found the quality of the songs inconsistent.[18] 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".[26] 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."[27] 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".[28]

Critics later reassessed Exile on Main St favourably,[18] and by the late 1970s it had become viewed as the Rolling Stones' greatest album.[29] 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".[30] 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."[31]

The album has sold over 8 million copies worldwide, and ranks as their 4th best selling studio album behind Some Girls, Sticky Fingers and Tattoo You.[32]

Legal issues with ABKCO[edit]

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, More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies).[33]


Band appraisal[edit]

At the time of Exile's release, Jagger said, "This new album is fucking mad. 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."[4]

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.[34] 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.[35][better source needed]

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."[31]


Exile on Main St has been ranked on various lists as one of the greatest albums of all time.[36] According to Acclaimed Music, it is the ninth best-ranked record on critics' all-time lists.[37] In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Exile on Main St the 42nd greatest album of all time,[38] while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 3 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.[39] In 1987 it was ranked third on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the best 100 albums of the period 1967–1987.[40] In 1993, Entertainment Weekly named it No. 1 on their list of "100 Greatest CDs".[41] In 2003, Pitchfork Media ranked it number 11 on their Top 100 Albums of the 1970s.[42] In 2001, the TV network VH1 placed it at number 22 on their best albums survey.[43] 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.[44] 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.[45] 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[citation needed]. In 2007, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (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."[46] 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.[47] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[48] In 2012, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[49]

In popular culture[edit]

The album and its title have been referenced several times by other bands. For example, confrontational garage-trash noise-rock band Pussy Galore released a complete cover of the album, titled Exile on Main St., that reflected their own personal and musical interpretations of the songs, as opposed to paying tribute to the original sound. John Duffy of Allmusic rated the album three and a half out of five stars.[50] NME ranked it number 253 in "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[51]

The British acid house group Alabama 3 titled its debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane. Perhaps the most notable reference comes from indie singer/songwriter Liz Phair's debut album Exile in Guyville. Phair herself claims the album to be a direct song-by-song "response" of sorts to Exile on Main St. Post-grunge band Matchbox Twenty paid homage to this album by titling their 2007 retrospective Exile on Mainstream. Industrial Rock band Chemlab named the leading track from their album East Side Militia, "Exile on Mainline", in reference to the Rolling Stones album.

The Departed, a 2006 film by Martin Scorsese, features a scene in which Bill Costigan mails Madolyn Madden an Exile on Main St jewel case containing an incriminating recording of Colin Sullivan conspiring with crime boss Frank Costello. The same film also uses the song "Let It Loose" from the album.

On 31 October 2009, American rock band Phish covered Exile on Main St in its entirety as the "musical costume" for their Halloween show in Indio, California.

The first episode of the fourth season of the Showtime program Californication is called "Exile on Main St". A later episode in the sixth season featured a guest character waking up next to her musician boyfriend who had died from an overdose in the night in room "1009," a reference to the lyrics of "Shine a Light". The same song was also played by Tim Minchin's character in the following episode.

The first episode of the sixth season of the hit CW show Supernatural is titled "Exile on Main Street".


In 1994, Exile on Main St was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, along with the rest of the post-Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out catalogue, after the company acquired the masters to the band's output on its own label. This remaster was initially released in a Collector's Edition CD, which replicated in miniature many elements of the original vinyl album packaging, including the postcards insert.

Universal Music, which remastered and re-released the rest of the post-1970 Rolling Stones catalogue in 2009,[52] issued a new remastering of Exile on Main St in a deluxe package in May 2010.[53] Of the ten bonus tracks, only two are undoctored outtakes from the original sessions: an early version of "Tumbling Dice" entitled "Good Time Women", and "Soul Survivor", the last featuring a Richards lead vocal (with dummy/placeholder lyrics).[54] The other tracks received overdubs just prior to release on this package, with new lead vocals by Jagger on all except "I'm Not Signifying", backing vocals in places by past and current Stones tour singers Cindy Mizelle and Lisa Fischer, and a new guitar part by Mick Taylor on "Plundered My Soul."[54] On the selection of tracks, Richards said, "Well, basically it's the record and a few tracks we found when we were plundering the vaults. Listening back to everything we said, 'Well, this would be an interesting addition.'".[55] All harmonica heard was added during 2010 sessions by Jagger, and Richards added a new guitar lead on 'So Divine'. "Title 5" is not an actual outtake from the sessions for Exile, it is an outtake from early 1967 sessions. It features the MRB effect (mid-range boost) from a Vox Conqueror or Supreme amp, as used by Richards in 1967 and 1968. "Loving Cup" is an outtake from early June 1969, but is actually an edit from two outtakes. The first 2:12 minutes is the well known 'drunk' version, as has been available on bootlegs since the early 1990s, but the second part is spliced from a second, previously unknown take. "Following the River" features Jagger overdubs on a previously uncirculated track featuring Nicky Hopkins on piano.

Jimmy Fallon announced on his show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, that he would mark the re-release of the album with a week's worth of musicians performing songs from the album.[56] Phish, who had played the album in its entirety live in concert before, were the first confirmed act to join the salute.

The re-released album entered at number one in the UK charts, almost 38 years to the week after it first occupied that position.[57] The album also re-entered at number two in the US charts selling 76,000 during the first week.[58] The bonus disc, available separately as Exile on Main St Rarities Edition exclusively in the US at Target also charted, debuting at number 27 with 15,000 copies sold.

It was released once again in 2011 by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese-only SHM-SACD version.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except where noted.

Side one
1."Rocks Off" 4:31
2."Rip This Joint" 2:22
3."Shake Your Hips"Slim Harpo2:59
4."Casino Boogie" 3:33
5."Tumbling Dice" 3:45
Side two
6."Sweet Virginia"4:27
7."Torn and Frayed"4:17
8."Sweet Black Angel"2:54
9."Loving Cup"4:25
Side three
10."Happy" 3:04
11."Turd on the Run" 2:36
12."Ventilator Blues"Jagger, Richards, Mick Taylor3:24
13."I Just Want to See His Face" 2:52
14."Let It Loose" 5:16
Side four
15."All Down the Line" 3:49
16."Stop Breaking Down"Robert Johnson4:34
17."Shine a Light" 4:14
18."Soul Survivor" 3:49
2010 reissue bonus disc
1."Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren)"4:54
2."Plundered My Soul"3:59
3."I'm Not Signifying"3:55
4."Following the River"4:52
5."Dancing in the Light"4:21
6."So Divine (Aladdin Story)"4:32
7."Loving Cup" (Alternative take)5:26
8."Soul Survivor" (Alternative take)3:59
9."Good Time Women"3:21
10."Title 5"1:47
11."All Down the Line" (Alternative take; Japanese bonus track)4:09


The Rolling Stones

Additional musicians


Additional personnel on 2010 bonus disc