Eagle Rock Entertainment recently released, with great fanfare – including a nearly complete re-broadcast on the Jimmy Fallon show with Mick Jagger guesting – a video chronicle of the Rolling Stones recording of Exile On Main Street. To critics, Exile is generally regarded as the Stones’ high-water mark, featuring some of their most spirited and bluesy playing (particularly the rich interplay between guitarists Keith Richards and Mick Taylor). Stones in Exile presents an excellent opportunity for fans of the record to revisit its making as the Stones and several other talking heads assemble to comment on the recording and impact of that album.
Stones in Exile is more than just a simple recounting of the making of a classic album. Stones in Exile provides a window into the Stone’s creative process and shows how songs and albums get made. It is interesting to learn that pieces that began in London’s Olympic Studios were embellished in France and overdubbed in Los Angeles. That’s the journey of “Tumblin’ Dice” and several others from Main Street. This technical musical element and peeking into the process was, at least for me, the best part of the documentary.
There was also a cultural “time capsule” component of Stones in Exile. Those early seventies years were tumultuous times for the Stones (and everyone else). This is the whole “if you remember it, you weren’t there!” sentiment. Seriously, hanging out in a mansion in the south of France with Keith Richards had to be pretty freaking wild – and this film captures some of that. People were walking out the front door, stealing heavy equipment right in front of everyone. It was even too much for Mick, who left mid-album to marry Bianca!
Hardcore Stones fans are already familiar with this era courtesy of footage (some reused here) from the widely bootlegged documentary C*cksucker Blues. There was a lot of debauchery going on at that time and Stones in Exile does not shy away from showing some of this. Fortunately, the documentary, directed by Stephen Kijak, doesn’t focus entirely on this element and provides a more balanced assessment of Exile on Main Street.
I am personally not an Exile fan. I prefer Let it Bleed, Some Girls, and Sticky Fingers as superior, all having better songs, and being more representative in understanding the Stones as a counter to the Beatles. Exile on Main Street always seemed sloppy and unfocused. Stones in Exile shows that this assessment has a grounding in reality. Those were chaotic times. Mick himself seems a bit baffled by the popularity of the album.
What is essential to take away from this review is that none of that matters when evaluating the documentary. Irrespective of where Exile on Main Street sits in music history, Stones in Exile is a fascinating and a must-watch/own for any classic rock music fan. There is nothing quite like it, except maybe the Beatles Let it Be, which captures a similar music-making process in all it’s ambiguity and nuance. Until the recent release of Let it Be from the vaults with an incredible 8 hour cut by Peter Jackson, Stones in Exile might have been the best documentary of that magical time in music where it all came together. Music mattered, people had incredible talent, and everyone was beautiful on top of it all.