Recorded during the blazing summer of 1971 at Nellcôte, Keith Richards’s seaside mansion in southern France, Exile on Main St. has been hailed as one of the Rolling Stones’ best albums, and one of the greatest rock records of all time. Yet its improbable creation was difficult, torturous, and at times nothing short of dangerous.
In self-imposed exile, the Stones—along with wives, girlfriends, and a crew of hangers-on unrivaled in the history of rock—spent their days smoking, snorting, and drinking whatever they could get their hands on. At night, the band descended like miners into the villa’s dank basement to lay down tracks.
All the while, a variety of celebrities including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Gram Parsons stumbled through the villa’s never-ending party, as did the local drug dealers, known to one and all as les cowboys. Nellcôte became the crucible in which creative strife, outsize egos, and all the usual byproducts of the Stones’ legendary hedonistic excess fused into something potent, volatile, and enduring.
This according to Exile on Main St.: A season in hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (Cambridge: Da capo. 2006). Above, Richards at Nellcôte with Parsons and Anita Pallenberg; Below, the complete album for your contemplation.
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