About The Rolling Stones’ song ‘Moonlight Mile’…
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Also known as: The Japanese Thing
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Rolling Stones Mobile, Stargroves, Newbury and Olympic Sounds Studios, London, England, March-May 1970
Guest musicians: Jim Price (piano), Paul Buckmaster (strings)
This was the result of an all-night recording session at Stargroves, The Stones’ mobile recording studio. A moonlight mile is a night time cocaine session.
Keith Richards was not at the recording session because he a bit “out of it” by the end of the Sticky Fingers recording session. Richard likes the song, though.
With Richards gone, Mick Taylor did all the guitar work on the recording.
The working title was “The Japanese Thing.”
Jim Price, who usually arranged horns and played trumpet, played the piano.
Paul Buckmaster, known for his work with Elton John, arranged the strings.
Mick Jagger, 1978: “That’s a dream song. Those kinds of songs with kinds of dreamy sounds are fun to do, but not all the time – it’s nice to come back to reality.”
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers, Jagger explained the creation of the song: “I also came up with an Oriental-Indian riff on my acoustic guitar. At some point during the tour I played it for Mick Taylor, because I thought he would like it. At that point, I really hadn’t intended on recording the song. Sometimes you don’t want to record what you’re writing. You think, ‘This isn’t worth recording, this is just my doodling.’
“When we finished our European tour in October 1970, we were at Stargroves… We were sitting around one night and I started working on what I had initially written. I felt great. I was in my house again and it was very relaxing. So the song became about that – looking forward to returning from a foreign place while looking out the window of a train and the images of the railway line going by in the moonlight.”
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
There are various accounts concerning the genesis of the lyrics to this song.
Keith has described “Moonlight Mile” as being entirely Mick Jagger’s
work: “As far as I can remember, Mick came in with the whole idea of that,
and the band just figured out how to play it. In an interview given to Marc
Myers of the Wall Street Journal of May 28, 2015, the Stones singer had the
following to say about the writing of the song: “I wrote some of the early
lyrics to ‘Moonlight Mile’ in a songbook I carried around when we were on
tour in the summer of 1970. I was growing road-weary and homesick then.
I’m sure the idea for the song first came to me one night while we were on a
train and the moon was out.” This differs markedly from what he told Tom
Donahue in 1971: “I always like to write lyrics to a song before we got into
the studio, but the lyrics for ‘Moonlight Mile’ were not written before we
cut the track, it was extemporised.”
These lyrics are some of the most poetic the Stones singer has ever
written. In them he expresses the solitude felt by a passenger, in all
likelihood some kind of performing artist (perhaps a rock star named
Jagger?) on a train. The absence of the woman he loves is subtly
symbolized by the moonlight, untouchable but enabling him to see more
clearly, and the loneliness felt by the narrator is barely eased by the
thoughts in which he seeks to take refuge in order to make his nights seem
less long. Some people have interpreted the phrase With a head full of snow
as a reference to narcotics, more specifically cocaine, but there is no
guarantee that this is what was intended.
From a musical point of view, “Moonlight Mile” reveals Mick Jagger’s
desire to explore new avenues: “I also came up with an Oriental-Indian riff
on my acoustic guitar. At some point during the tour I played it for Mick
Taylor, because I thought he would like it.”85 Mick Taylor confirms that he
[Taylor] came up with the riff at the end of the song from which Paul
Buckmaster got his inspiration for the string arrangement, and that Mick
Jagger “first sang [the song] to me in a first-class railway compartment on
the way from London to Bristol.”
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