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Music

Mick Jagger on the most difficult album of The Rolling Stones' career

@josephtaysom

Throughout a long and prolific career, The Rolling Stones have endlessly fought against adversity. Repeatedly thrown into unwanted circumstances, Mick Jagger and his bandmates have demonstrated a unique knack to come out of any situation smelling of roses.

The creation of Exile on Main St., an album that The Stones released in 1972, proved to be yet another fork in the road – but once again a situation that the band expertly dealt with. By listening to the record alone, you’d never guess that the band were going through a period of disarray, and the material still stands up against anything else from their back catalogue.

Exile is a long and winding 18-track-journey that, admittedly, is significantly light on hit singles. However, when the Stones come together as one collective piece, something glorious occurs. The record was made during a precarious time when each member of the group were living as UK tax-exiles. As a result, they recorded sections of the LP in different – but always luxurious – locations across the world, including at Richards’ rented French property, Villa Nellcôte.

For the entirety of the recording process, Richards was operating on his own timezone, and it was very much an album in his mould rather than that of Mick Jagger. Richards brought an array of musicians into the fold in a bid to help with the expansive sound he was reaching for, and it proved challenging to get everybody on an identical wavelength — or even in the same room.

“We still carried on working if Keith wasn’t there,” Jagger remembered about the experience to GQ. “That’s what Keith says anyway. I heard an interview with him the other day and he said, ‘I used to wake up and I heard that they were playing and I used to say, ‘blimey, they’ve been playing without me all night’.

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“The thing about Exile is there’s a lot of musicians,” he continued. “You’ve got two piano players, you’ve got two horn players, Jimmy Miller playing drums sometimes. You’ve got all kinds of combinations going on – Mick Taylor playing bass if Bill wasn’t there. I mean, the thing about records is, you can make records with two people. So it doesn’t really matter if everyone’s not there.”

It took almost three years to create Exile, and nothing about the process was straightforward. While he was content with the final product, it was a journey that Jagger didn’t wish to replicate ever again.

He added: “I was very reticent about having to do all this work on Exile. I don’t mind doing it. I’m not sure if I’d ever want to do it again though. I think it’s all fascinating and I think Exile was like an interesting time and everything, but it’s very difficult to try and explain to people”.

Divulging more on the problems they were up against, Jagger added: “I’m obviously not there on some of them, though I come in halfway through. Or Mick Taylor’s not there. And on the tracks we recorded in Olympic, Keith’s not there,” he said. “It was all rather chaotic. And we made it more difficult for ourselves by making it a double album. That’s just doubled your workload”.

Thankfully all the work that The Rolling Stones poured into Exile paid off magnificently, and their buckets of sweat were nothing compared with the reward of the final result. It was an experimental period that could have gone disastrously, but now it looks like perhaps their finest stroke of genius.

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