Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reissue of Rolling Stones' 'Exile on Main St.' glosses over best story

By Greg Kot
The Chicago Tribune
May 13, 2010

"Exile on Main St." is widely regarded as the Rolling Stones' masterpiece. It's also an album surrounded by so much dark myth and debauched legend that if the working conditions were really that out of control, it's a wonder it was even made.

The latest re-release of this iconic album will be available Tuesday, and it's the most ambitious repackaging yet. It includes a deluxe edition with bonus tracks, a documentary DVD and a hard-cover book, but it doesn't focus on the grungier aspects of the album.

Instead, it preserves the mystery by presenting the original album intact with liner notes and documentary footage that skims the surface of just what went on in Keith Richards' villa-turned-recording-studio in the summer of 1971. The 10 previously unreleased tracks shed little new light on the past; instead most of them feature freshly overdubbed vocals by Mick Jagger, a misguided attempt to update an album that needs no updating.

The good news is that the original album has never sounded better. Remastered in a way that amps up its clarity and power without sacrificing its hard-swinging griminess, "Exile on Main St." remains a towering achievement, the capstone to one of the great four-album runs in rock history (preceded by "Beggars Banquet" in 1968, "Let it Bleed" in 1969 and "Sticky Fingers" in 1971). The Stones were turning into a band divided, jaded rock stars who would never be as good again, but they had one final burst of brilliance in them.

The album arrived at a time when the group was the biggest rock band in the world, transformed from the Bad Boys of Swingin' '60s London ("Would you let your sister go with a Rolling Stone?") to jet-setting celebrities awash in drugs, sex and whatever else they craved.

The decadence had set in when the Stones headed to the south of France in summer 1971 in part to flee England and a mountain of unpaid taxes due to unscrupulous management. There they all rented villas and hunted for a studio. Nothing suited their fancy as much as Keith Richards' 16-room mansion, Nellcote, on the outskirts of the Mediterranean seaport of Nice. It had a huge basement that could be converted into a performance space and the advantage of having the band's least-controllable member on premises at all times. The Stones pulled their mobile recording studio onto the property and went to work at the start of a long, hot summer.

Richards' mansion housed not just the musicians and their family members, but all manner of Stones hangers-on, from Richards' guitar-playing buddy Gram Parsons to drug dealers and groupies. By Richards' admission, there was a party going on all the time upstairs; any Stone or ancillary Stone awake or sober enough slipped down into the basement to play music. Recording sessions began late and often didn't finish for days. The haphazard lineups for each track saw producer Jimmy Miller sometimes filling in on drums, Richards or guitarist Mick Taylor taking over on bass, Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart on piano, and horn players Bobby Keys and Jim Price adding percussion.

The working conditions were less than ideal: dark, grimy, hot and poorly ventilated (the inspiration for the "Exile" track "Ventilator Blues"). Instruments frequently went out of tune in the humidity, and songs were thrown together on the spot. Richards says he wrote and recorded "Happy" in the space of three hours, leaving Jagger with only a few vocals to sing on the chorus. The recording-bunker mentality suited Richards, who worked off feel and spontaneity, more so than Jagger, who preferred a more orderly approach.

As a result, "Exile" has the tone and texture of a quintessential Keith Richards-led Stones album — with the grit still intact — while Jagger serves as co-pilot, juggling the sessions with visits to his new bride, Bianca PĂ©erez Morena de Macias, in Paris (the couple had married in May, 1971). For all the unruliness, the sessions were also highly productive, with the Stones cranking out several albums' worth of material. The setting in part lent itself to music that was less studied, less concerned about pop-chart appeal, and instead allowed an uninhibited exploration of all the music — specifically, the American music — that had inspired the Stones in the first place. "Exile" plays like a tour of the American South, with its deep bows toward blues, soul, country, early rock 'n' roll, even gospel. All the styles were united by the band's feel for rhythm, a loose swing fostered by Richards' guitar, Bill Wyman's bass and especially Charlie Watts' drums.

After closing up shop at Nellcote, the band finished the recording in Los Angeles, bringing in more guest musicians (Dr. John, Billy Preston) who only solidified the album's American-roots direction. With 18 tracks and more than 70 minutes of music, "Exile" was divided into a double album, each of the four sides of music working as a discrete whole: rock abandon on Side 1, a reflective country feel on Side 2, the spooky ambiance of Side 3, the drunken stagger of Side 4.

Keith Richards' mansion in the south of France, where the Rolling Stones recorded "Exile on Main St."

Lukewarm reviews greeted the album's arrival in May 1972. Rolling Stone magazine called it "the Rolling Stones at their most dense and impenetrable … a tangled jungle though which you have to move toward the meat of the material." But over subsequent decades, the album has been elevated to exalted status, and routinely is named one of the great rock albums of all time. Of all the rock albums from the early '70s, it best captured the transition from '60s idealism to the more inward-looking dystopia of the new decade. "Exile" is as dark and dank as the basement in which it was made, but there's a glimmer of hope, a longing for a drop of salvation embodied by tracks such as "Just Wanna See His Face" and "Shine a Light." In retrospect, it's the sound of a great band flexing its strengths one last time before slipping off into a world of glitter and drugs.

The wealth of unreleased material from the "Exile" sessions has been long sought by Stones aficionados, and a number of songs have surfaced over the decades in countless bootlegs. The box includes 10 previously unreleased tracks, including early versions of "Loving Cup," "Soul Survivor" and "Tumbling Dice" (presented in its first incarnation as "Good Time Women"). There are seven rarities, with Jagger adding new vocals and lyrics, as well as occasional harmonica and guitar, to most of them.

Jagger, working with Richards and producer Don Was, says he built the vocals and lyrics for several of the new "Exile"-era rhythm tracks from scratch, because he didn't get around to recording vocals for them in the original sessions. The only guide he had for lyrics were the sometimes fanciful working titles ("Wally's Whistling Saw").

As strong as some of the hybrid tracks are, in particular "Plundered my Soul," it's bound to come as a disappointment to Stones fans that so little new material from the original sessions has been uncovered. Jagger acknowledges that the archive of outtakes is pretty extensive, but he wasn't interested in presenting alternate takes of well-known songs. As a result, we're no longer with the band in that sweaty bunker in Nellcote, but in an air-conditioned Los Angeles studio with Jagger and Don Was reassembling history to suit the needs of 2010.

What's really needed is a warts-and-all look at what went down in the south of France that summer 39 years ago, with outtakes, fragments and studio chatter that show us not just the finished product but the process. By all accounts, engineers Andy and Glyn Johns had the tapes in the mobile studio rolling pretty much continuously, and Jagger and Richards were writing songs on the spot trying to keep the band well-fed with new material. The real story of this album is not the party-out-of-bounds that swirled continuously around the Stones, but how they were able to create such a masterpiece in the midst of it. That story remains untold.


Mick Jagger interview: 'Exile on Main St.' revisited

May 12, 2010

The latest re-release of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 masterpiece, “Exile on Main St.,” will be available next week, and it’s the most ambitious repackaging yet. It includes a deluxe edition with bonus tracks, a documentary DVD and hard-cover book.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in Richards' mansion, where The Stones recorded the album.

It presents the original album intact and sounding better than ever with newly remastered sound. But the liner notes and documentary footage skim the surface of just what went on in Keith Richards’ villa-turned-recording-studio in the south of France during the summer of 1971.

More troubling: The 10 previously unreleased tracks – the main reason many Stones aficionados will bother shelling out for this pricey reissue ($29.98 to $179.98) -- shed little new light on the past; instead most of them feature freshly overdubbed vocals by Mick Jagger, a misguided attempt to update an album that needs no updating.

I spoke in the last few days with both Jagger and Richards about the reissue. It’s clear that Richards wasn’t heavily involved in the remixes of the previously unreleased “Exile”-era tracks. Instead he proclaimed his allegiance to the sanctity of the 1971 session recordings; the 18 album tracks on the original “Exile” were not remixed, only remastered.

But there was some pretty extensive overdubbing done on the disc of 10 previously unreleased “Exile” tracks. Richards said he added acoustic guitar on one track, but Jagger did a whole lot more, laying vocals as well as some guitar and harmonica atop several leftover rhythm tracks. As good as some of these tracks sound – “Plundered my Soul” in particular – it’s not really a representation of what went down in Richards’ sweaty basement in 1971 so much as what technological wonders can be concocted in an air-conditioned Los Angeles studio in 2010.

Here’s Jagger’s take on what went down.

Q: There must have been a ton of outtakes from those sessions. How come you didn’t release more?

A: I went through a lot of stuff but then I started asking questions if it was really from “Exile” or not. And then I had to work out, well, what does that mean? It wasn’t all recorded in one go. I had to define for myself what the “Exile” period was. The first song recorded for “Exile” and eventually used for the album was “Loving Cup.” That was [a demo] in 1969. As far as unreleased things, I tried to avoid songs that had already been heavily bootlegged. I chose alternative takes of some songs, and others not so well known. One of them had some kind of vocals on it, which was “I’m Not Signifying.” The rest had no vocals or words, just [rhythm] tracks. So I wrote melodies and lyrics for those. That was my main thrust. I wasn’t interested in finding take nine of “Tumbling Dice.” I’m sure it’s there, it’s just that I’m not that interested in it personally. So for “So Divine (Aladdin Story),” “Following the River,” “Plundered my Soul,” I started from scratch on vocals. There was nothing in terms of melody or lyrics. The most challenging one was “Following the River,” because the chorus doesn’t go where I would expect it to. I was quite pleased with it in the end. All of the tracks had working titles, some of which I left on, like “Sophia Loren” and “Aladdin Story.” But “Following the River” was originally called “Wally’s Whistling Saw.” I wasn’t going to stick with that title for a romantic ballad.

Q: What was it about these particular tracks that made you want to finish them as opposed to all the others that must’ve been in that archive?

A: Between us -- and Don Was had quite a lot of input -- these tracks were not that heavily bootlegged. They weren’t as well known as others. And these were the ones that sounded most interesting, that felt musically quite diverse.

Q: Were the original “Exile” tracks remixed at all?

A: The original album hasn’t been touched, except being remastered. It’s been remastered about five times since released originally. Don and I did the remix on the unissued songs in the spirit of “Exile.” We kept it in the feeling of the original, we didn’t employ extra sampling or any sort of new tricks.

Q: Were you surprised by anything you found in the “Exile” archives?

A: Some were a bit loose, they were unfinished and very raw. But “Plundered my Soul” was very together, no mistakes, no messing about, very arranged, very thought out, obviously very together. The same with “I’m Not Signifying,” we didn’t really have to do anything. Others were a bit more loose, they went on and on, got a bit repetitive, so we had to do a bit of editing. I didn’t do any vocals on the alternate tracks. Keith did a guitar overdub on “So Divine,” he did a bit on that. But most of Keith’s things were all done. I did some acoustic overdubs and I did some harmonica on “I’m not Signifying,” along with the horn line. I did vocals, percussion, acoustic guitar, and a bit of background vocals.

Q: During the original sessions, was it tough whittling down to the original 18 tracks. Could it have been longer?

A: Probably, but at that time, it was released on vinyl. And short sides on vinyl gave you the best fidelity. That was quite good to have it the way it was set up, to have four sides, in the mastering process you got a better and hotter fidelity the shorter the side was. When you had 30-minutes-plus music on the side of a vinyl record, you lost volume and bass end as the record moved to the center. So we thought 18 tracks was good for a double album, and would give us a good, loud, rocking sound.

Q: You’ve never been particularly enthusiastic about “Exile” when you’ve been asked about it in subsequent interviews. Why is that?

A: I was being slightly annoying because people would always say, “Isn’t that your favorite?” And I would be a bit rebellious, just to annoy people who kept asking me if it was the best Stones record. I don’t have favorite records. I’m more familiar with songs when you put them on a set list for a show. It’s not a period, it’s just a song. And since you don’t play the whole record in a concert, you don’t really hear it as a record. You pick your favorites and find out what works live. For that reason, I don’t have a favorite Stones record.

Q: But “Exile” is now routinely cited as the best Stones record.

A: And it is a great record. What’s interesting about it is that it has so many sides to it, so many different musical styles, very bluesy, and it has soul, gospel, and the other quirky little bits that perhaps you wouldn’t have put on a record with only 12 songs. You would’ve thrown out stuff maybe like “Just Wanna See his Face,” but on a more sprawling record like this you could afford to let those things go. Which perhaps explain why it wasn’t immediately reviewed as stunningly wonderful. But after a while people get to appreciate the breadth of it.

Q: The record didn’t get great reviews at first

A: Oh, yeah. You know what reviewers do, they play the first three songs and then review the record.

Q: Thanks, man.

A: [Laughs] But you know what I mean. You can’t take in 18 tracks in a day. It’s hard. So you get through those four sides, it could take a while to really get the full picture. It’s a lot of stuff to get through. It took a while for the record to be appreciated for what it was.

Q: A lot of mythology is attached to the record about the working conditions not being the greatest.

A: It wasn’t ideal at the beginning. It took a while to pull the place together. Even a studio that’s brilliant is like that. It takes a while to make it work. There were a lot of teething problems with the studio. We had some experience doing that already. It was a few different rooms. It wasn’t perfect acoustically. We had to work at getting a really good drum sound, which is always the most difficult thing. An acoustic instrument only, that is always the challenge in these places. You want to get a great drum sound, and that was difficult. There were a lot of breakdowns of power. Once it got going. You get used to these surroundings. I think in the end it wasn’t that difficult.

Q: Did you do it in Keith’s house because you were worried he wouldn’t show up anywhere else?

A: No, not really. He rented a house with a lot of room, and there weren’t a lot of studios in that part of the world at the time. We had done previous recording in my house with the same mobile back in England. We did some tracks on “Sticky Fingers,” like “Bitch” and “Moonlight Mile” on the mobile, so it wasn’t a major issue.

Q: What was the songwriting like with Keith? Were you collaborating head to head, or bringing your own stuff in?

A: There was some stuff from England that we brought, licks and half bits of songs. We had stuff recorded in London like “Shine a Light.” And there were riffs born in that basement, like “Ventilator Blues,” “Rocks Off.” We had bits of everything from everywhere, and then we took it to LA to finish it off.

Q: So do you think it’s overstated how big a role that basement played in the way the record came out?

A: We recorded a lot of stuff in there, and it was a very important part of the record. How much is complete conjecture. Would it have sounded the same at Sunset Sound? Probably not. The way you record, the people around you, are what gives each record its personality.

Q: Was the constant party a distraction?

A: We were separate from all that down in the basement. We were cut off from the rest of the house, and people didn’t come down and do a lot of gawking. There wasn’t a peanut gallery, like a regular studio where you could stand in the control room behind glass. There was nowhere to watch from. Once we went to the basement, we were working. They didn’t bother us in the basement much. People get very bored watching people record.

Q: Jimmy Miller gets slagged sometimes as the producer for the murky sound. How do you feel about his role?

A: I think Jimmy was a good producer. At the beginning of his production work with us he had more authority than the end, to be honest. He was enthusiastic, always good with time signatures, that was a forte of his because he was a drummer. He did have a good attitude to time signatures, which is always useful. I’m very involved in time signatures, because just getting to the groove was important, and he was always good with that. Producing can be all kinds of roles. Help pick the good songs, you might have 25 and you have to tell the writer that something isn’t quite up to snuff, because writers think everything they write is always brilliant.

Keith Richards interview: 'Exile on Main St.' revisited

May 12, 2010

Keith Richards talks about the forthcoming reissue of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 masterpiece “Exile on Main St.” Much of the original album was tracked in the basement of the 16-room mansion, Nellcote, that he rented in the south of France during the summer of 1971.

Keith Richards sits with Gram Parsons at Richards' mansion in the south of France, where the Rolling Stones recorded "Exile on Main Street."

Q: How come we didn’t get more unreleased stuff besides the 10 tracks?

A: That would be a whole ‘nother album. It’s amazing how much stuff was left behind. It was a very prolific year that year. We went through everything we could find. It was an enormous backlog. This was the best we had. Some of them were like 40-year bells going off. “Wow, we didn’t finish that one?”

Q: How did “Plundered my Soul” get left off the original?

A: It was difficult. That was why “Exile” became a double album. The record company wanted a single album, but the damn thing had a life of its own. We probably could’ve made it a triple. We tried to make a single, but it became impossible, like cutting babies in half.

Q: Did you feel like the band was in a great place musically?

A: The vibe was very good. It was a long, hot summer. Not recording in a studio was unique for us, as it was for anybody at the time. Once things got going, it had its own rhythm. With every album you make you go in with that feeling. But maybe that we really were exiles put some extra bite into it.

Q: Really? I know you had some tax problems back home, but it wasn’t like you guys were homeless?

A: Yeah, I didn’t mind living in the south of France, actually. But it was more of a collective feeling. “Hey, none of us are going home tonight.” That attitude pervaded the mood, and made us get down to work.

Q: There’s a lot of mythology about your nocturnal habits, Keith. How big of a party animal were you at Nellcote?

A: There were very late nights, for sure. I heard loads of stories too, but that was upstairs, baby, because where I was I didn’t see much debauchery. Yeah, it’s true: There was a continual party going on in the house. But I couldn’t write songs, make a record and debauch at the same time, man.

Q: Band members were coming in and out during the sessions. It sounded very casual, bordering on haphazard.

A: It was. A lot of those tracks came about with only two or three guys around, as we waited for everyone to show. It would be just me and Mick [Jagger], or me and Charlie [Watts]. An idea would start and you worked on it. It was haphazard. The first few weeks especially, no one quite knew their asses from their [expletive]. But once we got into the swing of things, it was like a bunker down there, and a lot of hard work got done.

Q: It was hot, instruments going in and out of tune. That can’t be a good thing for recording.

A: Yeah, all true. There was an overcome and adapt spirit about it. But if it was really terrible we wouldn’t have stayed down there that long.

Q: Then you went to LA to finish the album. How come?

A: We couldn’t do anything more to it in Nellcote. It was a great place for cutting the tracks, but it’s not a place to do vocals or any other overdubs. But the bone and the muscle was done down there in that bunker.

Q: Judging by his comments, Mick wasn’t happy with the album when it came out.

A: All I can say, as far as Mick’s concerns, I haven’t met a lead vocalist yet who thought his voice was loud enough. But then again, Mick and I and [producer] Jimmy Miller mixed it, I don’t quite get [his complaints]. But I watched him working on this [reissue] and he’s really been digging it, hearing more things than he did at the time.

Q: What about the remix of the older material?

A: My approach was basically hand’s off, don’t touch. I don’t want to do any fancy, modern ideas on top of a 40-year-old record. My job was to guard the sanctity and purity of the original tracks. But there was some overdubbing of vocals on some of the extra tracks. There was one track where we heard an acoustic guitar, then about one-third of the way through another acoustic guitar because I string must’ve broken, so I overdubbed that. I wouldn’t touch the original tracks with a barge bull.

Q: Jimmy Miller was criticized for some of his original production, which some listeners thought was a bit murky. How do you feel about it?

A: I very much like what he did with us. I don’t think another guy could’ve pulled it off. He was a great producer, great friend. He had a lot of good ideas, and he was a damn good drummer himself.

Q: Did it help that he was musician himself?

A: Yeah. It definitely made a difference. He wasn’t just a sound artist. He could play it too.

Q: Was Charlie at all threatened by Miller as a drummer?

A: Nah! Drummers love each other. They go into immediate conversation about tom toms and paradiddles (laughs).

Q: “Exile” is generally perceived as the best Stones album. Do you understand why that is?

A: Maybe because it was a double. I couldn’t put my finger on why people like it. It holds up with time. I can still listen to it, and that says something. I enjoyed gong back through it. Going back through the tracks, I could smell that basement and all the dust. It was very evocative.

Q: People view it as the quintessential Keith record in the Stones catalog. Do you agree?

A: I get it that people would think that from the fact that it was done in my house. But I never thought of those sessions as a different balance between me and the rest of the band. You’re in the middle of it, and your perception of things can be a bit blurred, especially with me.

Q: American roots music factored heavily into a lot of the songs. What inspired that?

A: It certainly wasn’t conscious. But after all we’d been touring America for six years pretty much constantly. I think “Exile” gave us a chance to pick out the things we heard in America. We do play American music, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. So a lot of things came out from working in America all those years. Within the Stones there are never meetings or a setting out of goals. The band is all about capturing a certain feel, and first you have to find out what that is. When you do, you go to work.

Q: How was your relationship as a guitarist different with Mick Taylor than with [his predecessor] Brian Jones?

A: Brian and I worked very close together as far as rhythm and leads were concerned. With Mick Taylor, he’s far more of a soloist, and I had to adjust. It was great fun to reinvent the sound of the band, because Mick certainly changed it a lot. He’s a beautiful player and it’s just a matter of finding the new slot. And I enjoyed playing with him. I was really pissed off when he left.

Q: Did you write specifically with his guitar playing in mind?

A: That goes along with songwriting. When you’re down there doing it, you can put the break into it. What’s beautiful about songwriting is just piddling around on the guitar and there it is, and something appears out of nowhere. The rest is trimming, editing and thinking. The best time is when it comes out of nowhere. That’s when I love it.

Q: How did you and Mick write at Nellcote?

A: We were trying to keep up with the band. We’d say, we haven’t got a song for tomorrow yet. We were scrambling writing them on the spot. “Happy” came like that one afternoon and several others. “Tumbling Dice,” that came quick. Started as a song called “Good Time Women.” The only difference was that we still didn’t have the lyrics, but it’s the same riff.

Q: How did you determine you’d sing “Happy”?

A: I did it before Mick arrived that day. He shows up and says, “Wow, great, there’s one I don’t have to do.” Mick joined in on the choruses. That’s what I mean by working quickly. We’d start at 2 and by 5 it’s done.

Q: I can’t imagine the record label was happy when you turned in a double album.

A: The record company wanted to cut it in half. There was quite a fight in a way, lawyers and blah-blah. The damn thing had a life of its own, insisted on being a double, and Mick and felt strongly about it. We got our way.

Q: What’s in the immediate future for the band?

A: I don’t know. I’m seeing the guys in a week or so. We’ll probably kick around some ideas then. There’s no road work this year, but maybe we’ll do some sessions.

Q: Would you like to make a new record?

A: I would, I sure would. When I see the guys, you have to take the temperature of everybody, because everybody’s gotta want to.

The Rolling Stones shine a light on 'Exile on Main St.' reissue

Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and recent producer Don Was discuss the band's 1972 album and the rerelease's previously unheard material.

By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
May 16, 2010

Keith Richards remembers the period in the early 1970s when the Rolling Stones were working on "Exile on Main St." as a fairly down time. The parts he remembers at all, that is.

That's partly due to the fact that the recording sessions took place as the Stones guitarist and songwriter's heroin habit took hold in a big way, a habit that took him nearly a decade to shake. But it wasn't strictly the drugs he was referring to when he spoke recently about that fabled phase in his and the group's life.

It's a period he and Mick Jagger have been revisiting in depth while preparing an elaborate new reissue of the landmark "Exile" double album as well as a new documentary of that period, "Stones in Exile," being released simultaneously.

"The word 'debauchery' comes up an awful lot," Richards, 66, said with a sly chuckle. "Drugs did too — there was quite a bit of that. But when you're making a record, you're totally focused on that. You don't really consider what else is going on; you don't have time for it. Debauchery is the last thing on your mind … I'm down in a bunker trying to make a record."

Indeed, the word "down" came up more often than "debauchery" or "drugs" during the conversation with Richards, one of a small handful of interviews he and Jagger agreed to in conjunction with Tuesday's reissue of "Exile," widely considered to be one of the group's finest.

There was a siege mentality to the making of "Exile," recorded as it was mostly in a foreign environment after the band members relocated to the South of France to avoid paying massive income tax bills back home in England. Richards rented Villa Nellcote, a 19th century mansion in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Nice, that had been used by the Gestapo during World War II, which added to the dark undercurrent.

By the time the band decamped for Los Angeles to put finishing touches on the basic tracks recorded in the mansion's basement, the band felt relief. "It was a joy to get to L.A. after being locked down in that bunker for months," Richards said, adding with an edgy laugh: "Tell it to Hitler." In fact, the "Main St." of the title refers to the downtown Los Angeles thoroughfare.

Most of the Stones' catalog has been remastered and reissued at various times over the years. But the arrival of an expanded reissue of "Exile on Main St.," including 10 bonus tracks recorded around the same time, constitutes a Big Event in any Stones fan's book.

When Rolling Stone published its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time in 2003, "Exile" ranked No. 7. Critic Robert Christgau puts it at the top of his assessment of the Stones' recorded output, bestowing an A+ rating on what he called "a fagged-out masterpiece." And "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" just devoted an entire week of shows built around the reissue.

'A special album'

Jagger has dissed "Exile" periodically, grousing at various times about the way his vocals were buried in the sonic mix, the ramshackle manner in which much of it was recorded and the retro feel of many of the songs at a time when the singer was pushing for greater musical experimentation.

But after spending a good chunk of the last year revisiting the period, the vocalist who defined rock swagger calls it "a special album."

"I don't really have a favorite Stones album, to be honest," Jagger, also 66, said in a separate interview. "You have songs you like one day, songs you like on another day … but there's not one [album] I treasure above all others. It depends on what you're in the mood for. But 'Exile' is very good .... It's got a lot to offer, there's a lot of depth in it and it holds up."

The Stones' self-imposed exile to France stemmed from a tax rate in England that could exceed 90% for those with the greatest incomes, which led many entertainers to establish homes elsewhere.

"It affected everyone" in the band, Jagger said of their flight. "You made light of it at the time, but when you look back, it was quite disruptive in a lot of ways."

As Richards recalls,"It required a lot of improvisation. At the same time, I don't remember anybody being apprehensive about it. You just make due. It proved to us you could make records not just inside a studio."

Asking a favor

When Jagger called three-time Grammy-winning producer Don Was last year looking for assistance in assembling the "Exile" bonus material, it was the lifelong Stones fan's dream come true.

Was, who's on tap to discuss the reissue on June 3 at the Grammy Museum, first saw the band live at age 12 in Detroit on their first U.S. tour in 1964; decades later the group enlisted him to produce "Voodoo Lounge," "Bridges to Babylon," "Stripped," "Live Licks" and "A Bigger Bang."

"Mick called up and asked me to help, almost as if it were a chore," Was, 57, said. "I'm just glad he couldn't see me salivating over the phone. Whatever you think of 'Exile,' it's become so ingrained in the musical vocabulary of all rock 'n' roll musicians who have come subsequently .... That thing is seminal."

Indeed, Jagger said he was happy for the attention. "When Universal got the catalog, they said, 'We want to put out the albums with special rereleases — Would you help us?' And when you say OK, you know it's never going to be like two weeks' work .… A lot of the work could be delegated to other people, but when it comes down to it, you've got to put your back into it and pick the best things. But I quite enjoyed the result."

Richards' instructional note to Was was unequivocal about his philosophy on how to handle the previously unreleased material.

"At the very beginning, Keith sent me a fax in calligraphy script with a whole lot of flair," Was said. "It just said, 'Don't try to make it sound like 'Exile' — it is 'Exile.' The idea was to do as absolutely little as possible, and not try to reinvent the wheel. Keith said, 'Don't rewrite the Bible.' "

The Glimmer Twins

By some accounts, "Exile" reflects more of Richards' stick-to-the-basics musical aesthetic. The album's signature songs, such as "Rocks Off," "Rip This Joint," "All Down the Line," "Sweet Virginia" and "Torn and Frayed," tap his deep affection for American roots music. It also included "Happy," which at the time was virtually unprecedented in featuring the tight-lipped guitarist taking on a lead vocal.

Despite well-chronicled clashes between Jagger and Richards over the years, the creative chemistry that's allowed the team to endure for nearly half a century was undeniable to those who witnessed it in action."During the recording of 'Exile on Main Street,' I was given unlimited access by the Stones," photographer Jim Marshall wrote in a recollection of the L.A. sessions on his website before he died in March. "I had just photographed them for Life magazine and knew Keith and Mick pretty well.

"Jagger could be in the control room and start to say something to Keith," Marshall noted, "and before the words even came out of his mouth, Keith was doing it on the guitar. I've been to a lot of sessions, but I've never seen two guys work in sync this way before."

Said Was: "I'll go with that, absolutely. Whoever coined that term, 'the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world,' they really are."

This is from someone who's followed them closely since the beginning," Was said. "In many ways, they are better than anyone."


Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Rolling Stones: Mick and Keith remember making 'Exile on Main St.'
1969: Stones, Fans Spend the Night Together
1975: Are the Stones Gathering Moss?

1978: Mellowed Stones Roll into Atlanta
1981: Jumping Jagger Flash: Stones Open Tour

1989: Still the Greatest
1994: Stones Do the 'Voodoo' They Do So Well
1997: Age Against the Machine

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