On May 12, 1972, The Rolling Stones dropped an A-bomb on the Rock & Roll scene and the dust still hasn’t settled four decades later. Exile on Main St. may be the band’s most celebrated album, but some of the details swirling around its chaotic creation, epic four-sides, and endless legacy may still be unfamiliar to you. Here are 20 things you may not have known about Exile on Main St.…
2. Although The Rolling Stones have sometimes been criticized for fleeing England as tax exiles in 1971, Keith insists they weren’t entirely to blame for shirking their fiscal responsibilities in his autobiography Life. He says manager Allen Klein regularly loaned the guys money on which he had not paid the 83% tax that was the going rate for those in The Stones’ bracket. Staying in England would have left the band bankrupt.
3. The “Main St.” in the album’s title refers to the Riviera Strip where The Stones spent a lot of time hanging out while living in the south of France.
4. Several future Exile tracks—“All Down the Line”, “Loving Cup” (as “Give Me a Drink”), and “Tumbling Dice” (as “Good Time Women”)—were first attempted at much earlier sessions. The earliest versions of “Line” and “Cup” date all the way back to 1969.
5. Keith’s smack addiction was partially responsible for the weird hours the band kept while cutting Exile. The guitarist would call a session for 6PM, but by the time he was finished “putting his son Marlon to bed” (i.e.: shooting up and coming down), it would be 1am. The schedule became known as “Keith Time”.
6. According to Philip Norman’s The Stones, Anita Pallenberg was among those who perpetuated the rumor that Exile “was recorded with power illicitly diverted from the French railway system”!
7. According to Keith, Mick didn’t like “Rip This Joint” because he thought it was too fast.
8. With Slim Harpo’s “Hip Shake” (as “Shake Your Hips”) and Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, Exile on Main St. was The Rolling Stones’ first studio album to contain more than one cover since 1965’s Out of Our Heads. It was also the last.
9. Mick and Keith took a tip from William Burroughs when they wrote “Casino Boogie”. They employed the junkie writer’s “cut up” method by tearing phrases out of newspapers and books, tossing them up in the air, and assembling them like a jigsaw puzzle.
10. Although most of the tracks came together quickly, the basic track of “Tumbling Dice” took “a couple of weeks at least,” according to engineer Andy Johns in Rip This Joint. “That was a good song, but it was really like pulling teeth,” Johns said.
12. “Happy” is the only song with a lead vocal by Keith The Stones ever released as a single A-side. The single was only released in the U.S. where it peaked at a respectable #22.
13.Nellcôte, Keith’s villa where the basic tracks were recorded, has an even darker story than serving as home base for the decadent Exile on Main St. sessions. During World War II, the Gestapo used Nellcôte as headquarters during the occupation of Vichy France. The vents that inspired “Ventilator Blues” were still shaped like swastikas.
14. Shortly after the Exile sessions wrapped, Keith’s entire collection of 11 guitars was ripped off.
15. The Exile gatefold sleeve includes scraps of lyrics from “Sweet Virginia” and “I Just Want to See His Face”. Another scrap contains a line that doesn’t exactly appear on the album, though “I gave you the diamonds, you give me disease” would later serve as the title of a bootleg of Exile-era outtakes. "Turd on the Run" includes the variation, "Diamond rings, Vaseline, you gave me disease."
16. The gatefold also displays a poster advertising the 1970 porno Sweet Taste of Joy, which features tongue-baring lips suspiciously similar to the Rolling Stones Records logo. The movie’s tagline is “She never knew he was COMING to dinner, but she always KEPT IT WARM!” Subtle use of all-caps.
17. In late April 1972, New Musical Express offered readers a flexi-disc featuring excerpts from four Exile cuts: “All Down the Line”, “Tumbling Dice”, “Shine a Light”, and “Happy”. It also included the exclusive “Exile on Main St. Blues” on which Mick praises his latest album to sparse piano accompaniment.
18. According to The Rolling Stones Complete Recording Sessions, Mick once said that Exile is not best heard from start to finish but in “twenty-minute bursts,” each of its four sides played individually.
19. Although Exile is often rated as The Stones’ best work these days, it generally received negative reviews from critics who found it murky, samey, and uneven when it was released.
20. Count Mick Jagger among those who find Exile less than it’s cracked up to be. Over the years he has called it “overrated,” criticized its lyrics, and described the sessions as being less than “pleasant.” Says you.