“1971: the Year That Music Changed Everything” is streaming now on Apple TV+ and it covers a wide array of events that somehow all happened in or around 1971, including some of the most turbulent times in the Rolling Stones’ career as a band.
The Stones are one of the most prominently featured bands throughout the “1971” docuseries, which is eight episodes long. The docuseries dives deep into their history, including the band’s jet-setting lifestyle around the world as they became the targets of various governments, and covers the band’s descent into battles with drug addiction.
Here are a few of the Stones’ most outrageous (or alarming) stories that “1971” brings up.
Going broke and leaving Britain to avoid taxes
“1971” picks up in the spring of that year with the Rolling Stones when they arrived in the South of France as exiles from Britain. Beginning in 1971, Britain had enacted a vicious 93% tax rate on high earners and celebrities like the Stones.
“In 1971 the band was not in a very good way,” Stones frontman Mick Jagger says in the docuseries. “We’d been living this very stoned lifestyle, not taking care of the business end of it and now we have absolutely no money and we owe the Inland Revenue money. So for tax reasons, we realized we had to leave the country.”
The band left England quickly right after the release of their album “Sticky Fingers” to avoid paying a fortune in taxes, partly because they weren’t making enough money to cover the fees. “It was a weird time. ‘Sticky Fingers,’ which was recorded years before, came out just as we’d left England,” Jagger said. “It was a pretty bittersweet thing.”
That time heroin dealers stole instruments to settle a debt
Stones guitarist Keith Richards and other members of the Rolling Stones and their entourage got heavily into heroin use while they lived in Provence, France. In “1971” Stones recording engineer Andy Johns points out that they lived “just down the road” from the port city of Marseille, which has long engaged in a profitable drug trade and inspired the thriller “The French Connection.”
Toward the end of their time in France, the Stones racked up quite a debt to drug dealers.
By this time Richards had developed a rampant addiction to heroin. His ex-partner Anita Pallenberg says in “1971” that “eventually, we got the word we had to leave because we were going to be arrested. Everything disintegrated when we got heavily into drugs.”
“Heroin was very prevalent. Keith seemed to get easily immersed into it, he and Anita both,” Rolling Stones Records president Marshall Chess said in the docuseries.
Eventually the laid-back attitude and willingness to nod off on drugs backfired on the band and they lost a slew of valuable equipment.
“Keith and all the entourage were watching TV and they just left all the doors open,” Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman said. “People just walked in and stole eight guitars, a bass guitar, keys, saxophone, and no one even noticed.”
Rolling Stone magazine writer Robert Greenfield, who followed the Stones around during this time, elaborated: “It was getting progressively more messed up. Richards’ guitars were stolen by drug dealers from Marseille as recompense for all the heroin that had not been paid for. They weren’t buying an ounce of heroin, this was big deals and these were some really bad people.”
Fleeing France after drug charges
In typical Rolling Stones fashion, the band never stayed in one place for long. But French police caught on to them and eventually raided their home after they spent several months doing tons of heroin and other drugs in the South of France while crashing at a villa rented by Richards.
Dealers who had been arrested flipped on Richards and told police the Rolling Stones were living lavish in the French seaside in a villa full of illegal drugs; this led to a warrant for Richards’ arrest.
“After the dealers had stolen the guitars they ratted out Keith to the police,” Johns said in the series.
Fearing Richards (who by that point was very dependent on heroin) would go into severe withdrawal while in jail awaiting trial in French courts, the band decided to leave.
“We were down in the South of France and it was getting a bit hot there, especially for Keith,” Jagger said in Episode 6. “These guys that were supplying a lot of drugs got busted and were all completely loose cannons… It was a lot of trouble.”
Once more they packed up and decided to move on, this time to California to finish recording and mixing what would become “Exile on Main Street,” one of the most renowned rock records of all time.
Fears of a Hells Angels bounty on Mick Jagger
The Rolling Stones’ infamous 1969 free concert at Altamont Speedway — where they hired the Hells Angels motorcycle gang as security, and a Black man named Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by an Angel near the stage — haunted them even decades later when they returned to the U.S. They had quickly left Altamont after the incident without paying their bills, which included settling the tab with the bikers.
Since the incident the band rarely talks about it. But in “1971” it’s revealed that the Stones were so paranoid of further confrontations with the Hells Angels after returning to the U.S. that they all bought and carried guns (legally).
“When we started working at Sunset Studios, there was a concern about Hells Angels because of Altamont,” Chess said. “Rumors were there was a contract on Mick for Hells Angels to shoot him. In L.A. you could buy guns with your driver’s license. So I carried — and Keith and I think Mick — pistols. We had a bodyguard too, we were worried leaving the studio. Mick had a paranoia.”
Fortunately, the Hells Angels contract on Jagger — if it ever existed — never was fulfilled and the band didn’t have any future interactions with the biker gang.
Critical reception of “Exile on Main Street”
While it’s now considered one of the greatest 500 albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and regarded as a classic, the Stones revealed in “1971” that “Exile on Main Street” wasn’t initially loved by critics.
Ironically, when the album was released in 1972, Rolling Stone critic Lenny Kaye called the album “the Rolling Stones at their most dense and impenetrable.”
Even Jagger said at the time “Exile” was recorded he felt it was a bit directionless, but added, “that was the f—–g point” and noted that “I didn’t think there was a direction in the mainstream of our culture.”
“When it came out, there was a lack of understanding about what ‘Exile’ was,” Greenfield said in the series. “The reviews were very mixed; they thought it was too much; it wasn’t coherent; it wasn’t of a piece. But by then the Stones were critic-proof, and people were going to buy the album one way or another.”
“1971: the Year That Music Changed Everything” is streaming on Apple TV+.