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DVD Review: Stones In Exile

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The mythical status that has been afforded the Rolling Stones' landmark 1972 album Exile On Main Street over the years may be the stuff of legend. But it is also one of those strange sort of things that really comes down to a matter of personal taste.

Is it a great album? Without question. As to whether or not it is the Stones' single greatest achievement as a band — well, that is a matter left far more open to debate (my own vote there would probably go to 1969's Let it Bleed).

But whatever your opinion might be, there is little doubt that the recording of Exile is one of those great rock and roll stories that has continued to gather legend throughout the years, much like the proverbial moss said to grow on a Rolling Stone itself.

What has become clear over the years is that it is a miracle that Exile On Main Street even got made at all, given the ensuing chaos surrounding its creation.

Recorded as it was over a summer-long orgy of crazy drugs, decadence, and unprecedented rock and roll debauchery at the Villa Nellcote mansion rented out by British rock and roll tax exiles (hence, the album title) Keith Richards and then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, the stories behind the making of Exile have long since gone on to become some of the most legendary tales of rock and roll excess ever recorded.

As a singular document, Robert Greenfield's book Exile On Main St: A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones probably remains the best historical marker — replete as it is with its intricate details of all the sex, drugs and rock and roll that surrounded the making of this landmark album. Eagle Rock's sixty-minute documentary film Stones In Exile is more like a quicker, more sanitized version of these events.

To its credit, Stones In Exile does contain a surprising amount of actual footage from those heady days at Villa Nellcote. But it also leaves out many of those more juicier details that anyone familiar with the story already knows to be fact.

Despite the promise of including scenes from the legendarily lurid Cocksucker Blues film, whatever footage from that account that does show up here, is pretty tame stuff. You wont find any hypodermic needles hanging from Keith's arms here.

That said, the vintage footage from the actual recording sessions captured here is priceless stuff, and does provide an accurate picture of the controlled chaos surrounding all that was involved in what went on to become this classic rock and roll record.

This film puts you right there in that basement at Villa Nellcotte, as the horn players jockeyed for position on the stairs in the midst of all the madness surrounding them from every direction. As much as Stones In Exile may gloss over the more decadent details, it does capture much of the musical spirit in the making of Exile.

As a standalone film, Stones in Exile is also very short. In fact, the extras included on the DVD run longer than the film itself.

These include extended current-day interviews with then-members of the Stones themselves, as well as future members like Ronnie Wood, and the present-day return of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts to the original scene of the crime. Of the latter, the funniest thing to be said is the way the memories of these original protagonists differ on some of the finer points.

But the most revealing points here include bassist Bill Wyman's recollections of how then new guitarist Mick Taylor seemed rather stiff on stage, and Wyman's own admission of how he had no room to talk ("In thirty years with the Stones, I might have moved three steps"). Wyman also admits that as a musician, Mick Taylor was probably superior to any of the band members at the time.

Speaking of Taylor, in his own interviews here, the most apparent thing is that he has aged terribly (ditto for the rest of the Stones, and especially for one-time rock-fox Anita Pallenberg, who looks more like a haggard old witch here).

Rounding out this DVD are perspectives on the making of Exile from such latter-day fans as modern rockers like Caleb Followill (Kings Of Leon), Sheryl Crow, Jack White, and Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. Of these, producer Don Was' thoughts are probably the most enlightening.

Released to coincide with the recently expanded and remastered version of Exile, this film is a nicely, if somewhat sanitized counterpart to that classic album.

The thing is, much of Exile's original appeal remains its original dirtiness. As for me, I'm sticking to the vinyl, and to the memories.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • ~T

    You know I’m a fan of the old stuff. Tell Me (You’re coming back), Out of Time, Ride On, Baby–but that’s now.

    Exile was a little (lot) too early for me. My first Stones ever was Some Girls. My parents put it up on their ‘no-touch’ shelf, but I used to sneak it down and listen when they were at work. Still carries a special place in my heart. I’ve never tired of it.

    Robert Greenfield’s book was, and is, an absolute treasure–can’t imagine condensing it down to an hour.