Rod Dreher

Did you know we’re coming up on 40 years since the release of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” which to my mind is the greatest rock album of all time? Forty years! Here’s a marvelous story from Sunday’s Guardian about the recording of the album. Some tasty tidbits:

Once the decision had been made to record the album in the basement of Villa Nellcôte, Richards’s rented house in the south of France, the working schedule was dictated by the irregular hours kept by the group’s wayward guitarist, who also had a singularly dogged approach to composing songs.
“A lot of Exile was done how Keith works,” confirms Charlie Watts in the documentary, “which is, play it 20 times, marinade, play it another 20 times. He knows what he likes, but he’s very loose.” Without a trace of irony, Watts adds, “Keith’s a very bohemian and eccentric person, he really is.”
Exile on Main St is so emphatically stamped with Keith Richards’s rock’n’roll signature that it could just as easily have been called “Torn and Frayed” after one of the two gloriously ragged songs that he wrote the lyrics for. The title alone sums up his gypsy demeanour, his elegantly wasted look. Or they could simply have called it “Happy”, after another track that was actually recorded in a single take when Richards woke up one morning – or evening – and gathered up the only other people who were awake, saxophonist Bobby Keys and producer Jimmy Miller, who was drafted in to play drums in place of the absent Watts. The whole record was, says Keys, a good ol’ boy from Texas, “about as unrehearsed as a hiccup”.


Tommy Weber, who is described as “a racing driver, drug runner and adventurer” in the documentary, and as “a fabulous character straight out of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night” by Greenfield, was one of Richards’s inner circle at Nellcôte. His son, Jake, now a Hollywood actor, was just eight when he witnessed the decadence around the Rolling Stones first-hand. In Stones in Exile, he says, “There was cocaine, a lot of joints. If you’re living a decadent life, there is always darkness there. But, at this point, this was the moment of grace. This was before the darkness, the sunrise before the sunset.”


In places, Exile on Main St does indeed sound, in the best possible way, like an album made by a bunch of drunks and junkies who were somehow firing on all engines.

Yes indeed. How dark their lives, how transcendently alive this music. The mystery of artistic creation.

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