Sound studio

How the Stones Made Exile On Main Street So Sleazy

This is something Richards disputed in his autobiography. The Stones, he writes, rarely refer to drugs in their songs. “They only appeared in songs as they did in life, here and there,” he wrote. “There were always rumors and folklore about the songs, who they were written for, what they were really about… Whatever you write, someone is going to interpret it in another way, see the codes buried in the words.”

Torn and Frayed is the darkest of the Stones. It’s amazing to think that only four years ago they were writing pretty fancy songs like She’s a Rainbow.


All was not catastrophic. In Nellcôte, the Stones recorded from late afternoon until dawn, after which they often jumped into Richards’ boat, called “Mandrax” (another name for the calming drug Quaalude), and went down the Riviera for breakfast by car. Monte Carlo or even Italy. Along the way, they listened to takes and played them to people they met. (Despite this alluring lifestyle, bassist Bill Wyman still missed home comforts like Branston’s pickle. He also lamented the French milk in his tea).

The song Happy, also released as a single, featured Richards on lead vocals. The upbeat track, with its distinctive upward guitar lick, came to him one afternoon when no one else was around. (Jagger was often absent after he married heavily pregnant Nicaraguan-born model Bianca Pérez Morena de Macías—they settled in Paris.) So Richards asked producer Miller to play drums. With Keys on baritone sax, the basic track was cut in four hours. Happy was something of a love song for Pallenberg: its refrain “I need a love to keep me happy” sounds like “Anita’s love will keep me happy”.

Richards regularly sings the song live. “It’s a strange song, because if you play it, you become really happy, even in the worst circumstances,” he said.

Everything on the line

While recording Exile, Andy Johns, who was in charge of the mixing desk, became exasperated with the album’s unusual sound. He told Jagger he “can’t f––––– say what it’s gonna be like” on the radio. So Jagger, taking the bull by the horns, said, “Well, let’s get somebody on the radio.” According to Johns, Jagger rented a Cadillac limo with a phone and Johns, Jagger, Watts, and Richards piled in.