he general tone of the time was one of anarchy -- drug dealers and freaks and crazy people left over from the Sixties, all defiant and distorted," says John Van Hamersveld, designer of the cover of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. The album's chaotic, slipshod look captures the time perfectly.
Van Hamersveld was working on a songbook with the Stones at a Los Angeles mansion where they were staying when legendary photographer Robert Frank walked in the room; he was quickly recruited for the cover of the band's upcoming album.
The cover shot, assorted pictures of circus freaks, is not a collage but a photo Frank took in 1950 of the wall of a tattoo parlor somewhere on Route 66. The comparison to the notorious Stones -- jet-setting tax exiles, cocaine-fueled satyrs and perpetual outsiders -- is clear. To drive the point home, an identical layout on the back cover features Frank's photos of the Stones themselves, shot on L.A.'s seedy Main Street. (Frank's 1972 film documentary of the Stones, the unreleased Cocksucker Blues, would explicitly portray them as freaks.) The inner sleeves were even more casually slapped together, with titles and credits hand-lettered by Jagger himself. The layout perfectly complements the sprawling, ramshackle sound of Exile itself.
Perhaps the most memorable photograph on the cover is one of a guy holding three balls in his mouth. Marshall Chess, who was then the Stones' manager, needed an image for billboards and other advertising; Van Hamersveld had a great idea. "Lookit," he said, "why don't we take the guy with the balls in his mouth. That is the most amazing photograph I've ever seen. And doesn't it look like Charlie!"
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