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This started as a song for Keith Richard's 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.
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 favourite 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 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 Hell's 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" 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.
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. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2)
The Sundays covered this song. Their version appears on the soundtrack to Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (thanks, Daisy - Ikast, Denmark)
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, fucking 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." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Brad Smith of Blind Melon
The Blind Melon bassist/songwriter tells the story of "No Rain," which he wrote before the band was formed.
Reverend Horton Heat
The Reverend rants on psychobilly and the egghead academics he bashes in one of his more popular songs.
The Murderdolls frontman on how growing up with horror movies led to a life of shock rock.
Jon Anderson of Yes
From the lake in "Roundabout" to Sister Bluebird in "Starship Trooper," Jon talks about how nature and spirituality play into his lyrics for Yes.