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Rolling Stones songs: Wild Horses
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I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie/ I have my freedom but I don’t have much time…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Muscle Shoals, Alabama, USA, Dec. 1-4 1969; Olympic Sound Studios, London, England, Dec. 15 1969-Feb. 17 1970
Guest musicians: Jim Dickinson (piano)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
This started as a song for Keith Richards’ newborn son Marlon. It was 1969 and Keith regretted that he had to leave his son to go on tour. Mick Jagger rewrote Keith’s lyrics, keeping only the line “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” His rewrite was based on his relationship with Marianne Faithfull, which was disintegrating.
This was first released by Gram Parsons’ Flying Burrito Brothers in 1970. The Stones’ version was written in 1969, but had to wait for Sticky Fingers in 1971.
Parsons was good friends with Keith Richards, and the musicians often cited each other as an influence. Said Parsons: “I picked up some rock and roll from Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger knows an awful lot about country music. I learned a lot about singing from Mick.”
Regarding “Wild Horses,” he said it was “a logical combination between their music and our music. It’s something that Mick Jagger can accept, and it’s something I can accept. And my way of doing it is not necessarily where it’s at, but it’s certainly the way I feel it.” (Quotes from Bud Scoppa’s liner notes in the Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels collection.)
Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, the singer Marianne Faithfull, claims “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away” was the first thing she said to Mick after she pulled out of a drug-induced coma in 1969. There are other theories as to Mick’s muse for this song, however. Jagger’s longtime girlfriend Jerry Hall in The Observer Magazine April 29, 2007, said: “‘Wild Horses’ is my favorite Stones song. It’s so beautiful. I don’t mind that it was written for Bianca.” (Not likely, since Jagger didn’t meet his future wife Bianca until 1970, which was after the song was recorded.)
The Stones recorded this during a three-day session at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama from December 2-4, 1969. It was the last of three songs done at these sessions, after “Brown Sugar” and “You Gotta Move.”
Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (actually located in Sheffield, Alabama) opened in May 1969 when Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records (The Stones’ label) loaned money to four of the musicians at nearby FAME studios so they could start their own company and install 8-track recording equipment (FAME was on 4-track). Wexler sent many of Atlantic’s acts to Muscle Shoals, since the musicians were fantastic and it was a dry county with nothing to do, which meant the artists were more likely to stay focused. The studio also had a distinctive sound that can be heard on this track, especially on Jagger’s vocals – you can hear a slight distortion that was caused by the console.
When The Stones left the Shoals, they headed for Altamont, California, where they gave a free concert on December 6, 1969 – a disastrous show where a fan was stabbed to death by a Hells Angels security guard. In the documentary Gimme Shelter, which chronicles the concert, there is a scene where the band is listening to playback on “Wild Horses” at Muscle Shoals Sound.
The Sticky Fingers album had very elaborate packaging. Designed by Andy Warhol, the cover photo was a close up of a man’s jeans with a real zipper on it. It was also the first time the tongue logo was used.
Ian Stewart, who usually played piano for The Stones, refused to play on this because he hated minor chords, which is how this starts. He left the session and Jim Dickinson was brought in to play piano. After playing with The Stones, Dickinson worked as a musician and a producer with Aretha Franklin, Big Star and the Replacements, and did a lot of movie soundtrack music with Ry Cooder. He died on August 15, 2009 at age 67.
Stones guitarist Mick Taylor played acoustic guitar on this song in what’s known as “Nashville tuning,” in which you use all first and second strings and you tune them in octaves.
The Chinese rock star Cui Jian sang this with Mick Jagger when The Rolling Stones played a concert in Shanghai on April 8, 2006. Jian was supposed to open for The Stones in 2003, but their Chinese tour was canceled because of S.A.R.S.
The Sundays covered this song. Their version appears on the soundtrack to Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
To coincide with the release of Britain’s Got Talent star Susan Boyle’s cover of this song, Universal/Polydor re-released The Rolling Stones’ original as part of a special digital bundle featuring three versions of the track. The other two being a recording backstage during the band’s Voodoo Lounge tour in 1995, which was included on the Stripped live album and a video of a live performance of the song recorded at Knebworth in 1976.
Keith Richards wrote in his autobiography Life (2010): “‘Wild Horses’ almost wrote itself. It was really a lot to do with, once again, f—ing around with the tunings. I found these chords, especially doing it on a twelve-string to start with, which gave the song this character and sound. There’s a certain forlornness that can come out of a twelve-string. I started off, I think, on a regular six-string open E, and it sounded very nice, but sometimes you just get these ideas. What if I open tuned a twelve-string? All it meant was translate what Mississippi Fred McDowell was doing – twelve-string slide – into five-string mode, which meant a ten-string guitar.”
From the Rolling Stones – All the Songs, The Story Behind Every Track book:
“If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and the chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses,” explains Keith Richards in the booklet that accompanies the compilation Jump Back, released in 1993. He would later add: “It’s like ‘Satisfaction.’ You just dream it, and suddenly it’s all in your hands. Once you’ve got the vision in your mind of wild horses, I mean, what’s the next phrase you’re going to use? It’s got to be ‘couldn’t drag me away.’ That’s one of the great things about songwriting; it’s not an intellectual experience. One might have to apply the brain here and there, but basically it’s capturing moments.”
Originally, Keith wrote “Wild Horses” as a simple lullaby for his son, finding it more and more difficult to part from Marlon to go on tour. Under Mick’s pen, however, the song took on a different complexion. Marianne Faithfull has revealed that “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away” were the first words she uttered to Mick in the hospital when she came out of a six-day coma
caused by an overdose of sleeping pills at the beginning of the summer of 1969. For the Stones singer, however, “Wild Horses” has nothing to do with Marianne Faithfull. Although it is about the breakup of a relationship, this should probably be seen in general, rather than in personal, terms: I watched you suffer a dull aching pain/Now you decided to show me the same.
Musically, “Wild Horses” is a little masterpiece—a song that “almost wrote itself,” writes Keith in Life. The chords came to him on the 12-string acoustic, which gives the song its forlorn mood. He then played it again using a different tuning, open G, with a blues by Blind Willie McTell in mind. More or less all that remained to do was to record it. Released as a single in the United States on June 12, 1971, “Wild Horses” would reach number 23 on Billboard July 24 and would remain on the chart for eight
Categories: Can You Hear the Music?