Five stories you never imagined from ‘Exile On Main St.’ of the Rolling Stones

Blog: Mariano Muniesa


May 12, 2022 12:56 p.m.
Posted by Redaction –

In his day we tell you in this blog of Mariano Muniesa how was the history of making, rehearsals and recording which is considered by many of the group’s fans to be their best and roundest work, ‘Exile On Main St.’. Today, as the date for the 50th anniversary of its release approaches, the same author rewinds and, now apart from the more or less official history, brings you five stories about that excellent double album and the circumstances in which it was recorded that sure you didn’t know.

1. The Rolling Stones went into tax exile in France… on the advice of an English tax inspector!

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1972. Photo: Larry Rogers

The basic and fundamental reason why the Stones went to live in France and why ‘Exile On Main Street’ was recorded in the basement of the Nellcotte Manor who rented Keith Richards in the south of France in 1971, it was because, in a clear example of negligence and disregard for the management of their profits, they never knew that their mafia manager Allen Klein had been evading the payment of taxes since 1967 and diverting those amounts to businesses and activities that were very unclear and of which the group was never aware. When Allen Klein and the Stones broke up in the summer of 1970, Klein, making his own that famous phrase of Woody Allen from “take the money and run”emptied the accounts of the Rolling Stones and left for the United States, leaving the group in debt to the British treasury of many thousands, almost millions of pounds.

When the group’s new team of lawyers and management came across this ballot, they obviously met with qualified officials from the UK Treasury Department, and an intelligent yet down-to-earth chief inspector of the British Treasury, whose name never got to know -everything indicates that at his request- suggested to Mick jagger the next: “Look, if they stay in the country, with the IRS taking over all their income, they can spend ten years getting a penny and with a lot of luck, two or three shillings for every pound they earn. If, on the other hand, they go to work in a country whose currency has a favorable convertibility to their situation with the pound sterling, they can settle the debt, given the potential of their activity, and benefiting from a flexible negotiation with the Ministry, to two, three years at most. What do you think of France?

The rest of the story is already known…

2. Keith Richards rented a millionaire mansion for 36 months to live and record ‘Exile On Main Street’… for the current equivalent of 100 euros a month!

The first intention of the group when they decided to settle in the south of France was to settle in Nice, but the price of housing there, thinking that they would have to save in order to pay off the debt with the British treasury, led them to look for other cheaper alternatives. A real estate agent told Keith that there was a large beachfront mansion in the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer called Nellcotte, on two floors with many rooms and bedrooms, a terrace overlooking the sea and a jetty plus a large basement, which had not been rented for 20 years and in a very deteriorated state, in which no one wanted to live because during the Nazi occupation of France it had been used as a detention and interrogation center for members of the Resistance. For this reason, his price was ridiculous, so Keith accepted and installed the Stones’ headquarters there during his residence in the Gallic country.

It is said that during the two years that Keith Richards and his wife, Anita Pallenberglived in Nellcotte, a contract was never signed with the French authorities to have electricity: the electricity supply was made thanks to the fact that Bobby Keys, the saxophonist of the Stones and a great friend of Keith’s, made a connection of cables from a pole adjoining the house to the main electricity box of the mansion. Let us therefore thank the French contributors of the early 1970s for his contribution to the recording of this masterpiece.

3. Did the Stones create the radical poetic avant-garde “flarf” 30 years before its invention? The lyrics of “Casino Boogie” were written by randomly mixing phrases from newspaper articles

It’s not one of the best-known songs on ‘Exile On Main Street’, despite its undeniable quality, but it’s a favorite of many of its fans, among whom I count myself, and it’s one of those that gives that extra quality so special and indefinable that ‘Exile On Main Street’ possesses for the Stone world. The most curious thing about the case is that musically it was one of the last songs that Mick and Keith composed for this album because after four months between the spring and summer of 1971 writing songs almost non-stop day after day, there came a time when Already, especially at the level of lyrics, according to Mick Jagger, they were beginning to repeat themselves, not being able to create original stories.

In the vicinity of Villefranche Sur-Mer, on the French Mediterranean Riviera where Keith had settled and where, with the invaluable help of the famous “MightyMobile”the mobile recording unit that the Stones had acquired in 1970, they were recording ‘Exile…’, there were many gambling halls and casinos, to which several members of the group went frequently, which is where the title of the song came from. song and the idea to make a letter… but not much more.

Keith Richards, in his autobiography ‘Life’: “There came a time when we ran out of inspiration. “Boogie Casino” came when we were already exhausted, and then I remembered the old ploy of William Burroughs: We cut out a few random newspaper headlines and book fragments and mixed it all up on the floor to see what came out. And it worked for “Casino Boogie”. I’m surprised we didn’t use it again, honestly, but at the time it was pure desperation.”

Thirty years later, it emerged with immense force, picking up the mark of the artistic avant-gardes of the 1920s in the literary world -ultraism, Dadaism, etc.-, what is now known as the “flarf”a groundbreaking literary current that creates poems based on the first results of Internet searches on the most different topics, in the style of what was in the plastic arts the creation by picasso Y Duchamp of pictorial collage at the beginning of the 20th century or in literature, the poems of the most experimental stage of the Spanish Nobel Prize Juan Ramon Jimenez. Intentionally or not, the Rolling Stones have always been at the forefront of cultural advancements.

4. “Happy” was recorded in just four hours

Keith Richards has stated on many occasions that just as he has in his archives of hundreds of recordings and rehearsals songs that have been waiting for 35 or 40 years to find the chords, the bridge, the change, in short, the key that tells him: “OK, I got it, this song is finished, finally!”, there are others that, as he often points out Elton John, they come flying through the ether and in a matter of minutes they are already finished songs if they catch you sitting in front of the piano or with the guitar in your hand. One of them, one of the most emblematic and characteristic of this era of the Stones, is the “Happy” sung by Keith Richards. Let him explain himself how it was created.

“It had to be the end of July, more or less. I remember it was really hot, so when I woke up I went down to the beach to take a dip, and I got back to Nellcotte at about three o’clock in the afternoon and went down to the basement to see if anyone was around, because we had arranged to have the final shot to things that we had been recording the night before. I sat there with the guitar and soon they were arriving Jimmy MillerBobby Keys charlie watts, and while we waited for the others, I said: “Hey, I have this idea! Shall we try it?” and then we rehearsed it two or three times, everyone loved it and we said, “Come on, let’s record it and see what everyone else thinks”. I tried slide and a five-string guitar, and by the third take, we already had “Happy”. As for the lyrics, I improvised it, the words came pouring out of my lips, and the truth is that I don’t know where I got them from. Well, that thing about “I never had a dollar left at nightfall” and that’s why I was looking for a love that would make me happy, I had experienced it once. The truth is that when the others arrived, around eight in the evening, the song had already been made and even recorded. I just had to add my recording of the bass and some guitar parts to the final version, already in early 1972 in Los Angeles.

5. The cover of ‘Exile On Main Street’ inspired the punk-rock aesthetic five years later

“The general tone of the time was one of anarchy,” explains the designer and figure of the pop-art of the 60s John Van Hamersveld. “Drug dealers, violent hippies, fanatics and crazies left over from the ’60s, all defiant, distorted and finding their place in a decade they no longer fit in. Until they got to Nellcotte.”

Hamersveld is today known worldwide without a doubt for the poster he produced for the promotion of the 1966 surf documentary ‘The Endless Summer’. In connection with this story, the designer was already working on a project with the Stones in Los Angeles in January 1972 when he and the prominent Swiss photographer Robert Frank signed on as a creative team for their next album.

Although the cover of ‘Exile On Main Street’ is generally assumed to be a collage, the main shot was actually a photo of the wall of a Route 66 tattoo parlor, taken by Robert Frank as he passed by in 1950. To underscore the key point – that the Stones’ disreputable, drug-addicted, tax-exiled band were as foreign to the rest of the world as circus fans – the reverse of the cover had shots of the band members gathered in a like collage effect.

When the manager of the Rolling Stones Records, marshall chessasked Van Hamersveld to select a cover image for promotional purposes, there was an obvious choice. “I said, ‘Why don’t we take the guy with the balls in his mouth?'”recalls the designer. “That is the most incredible photo I have ever seen”. It seems that the Stones liked the cover of ‘Exile…’ since they hired Robert Frank to film their 1972 US tour, although the resulting film, ‘Cocksucker Blues’greatly displeased the group, who refused its commercial exhibition for many years and came to be in court with Frank.

However, the next generation that embraced anarchism and put the aggressive sound of punk rock as its soundtrack, although it disowned the Stones, did make the concept and idea that surrounded the final art of the ‘ Exile On Main Street’. He said in 1984 johnny rotten: “The aesthetic of ‘Exile…’ whether we like it or not, established many elements of the punk rock image.” The same year he collaborated with Van Hamersveld on his band’s album cover PiL, ‘This Is What You Want…This Is What You’.

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