Rolling Stones – Wild Horses

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.

Wild Horses was said to be 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’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. 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.

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.” Jim Dickinson played piano on this song. The Stones regular pianist Ian Stewart didn’t want to play it because he hated playing minor chords.

Jim Dickinson went on to be a producer with Aretha Franklin, Big Star and the Replacements, and did a lot of movie soundtrack music with Ry Cooder.

The song was on what is arguably their best album in Sticky Fingers. One year prior to its release on Sticky Fingers, Gram Parsons convinced Jagger and Richards to allow him to record “Wild Horses” with his band The Flying Burrito Brothers. He had become good friends with Richards and helped with the arrangement of “Country Honk” as it appeared on the album Let It Bleed. The song was included on the album Burrito Deluxe released in 1970.

Wild Horses by the Stones peaked at #28 in the Billboard 100 and #11 in Canada in 1971.

Keith Richards: “‘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 Songfacs

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.)

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.)

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.

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.

Wild Horses

Childhood living is easy to do
The things you wanted I bought them for you
Graceless lady you know who I am
You know I can’t let you slide through my hands

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses couldn’t drag me away

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you’ve decided to show me the same
No sweeping exit or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses couldn’t drag me away
I know I’ve dreamed you a sin and a lie
I have my freedom but I don’t have much time
Faith has been broken tears must be cried
Let’s do some living after we die

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses we’ll ride them some day
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses we’ll ride them some day

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

31 thoughts on “Rolling Stones – Wild Horses”

  1. Dead Flowers we used to jam in the bars back in the day. Wild Horses is a great Stones track. Still remember seeing Guns N Roses back in 92 doing this tune and it went on for 10 minutes at least. ok, make it 15 minutes! lol For a Guns show it killed the pace of the set.

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  2. The Gram Parsons Flying Burrito Brothers version is nice, but I enjoy the Stones better. Richards was in a loving relationship with Pallenberg and they had their first child which they named Marlon, but the Stones had already agreed to do their first United States concert tour in a number of years, so only a few months after the birth of his son, Richards had to leave his longtime girlfriend and newborn son to go to America and he regretted that.

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  3. Gorgeous song. There’s a wonderful video of the Tribute to Gram Parsons Concert, Los Angeles (2004) with Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and many others. For the encore, Keith Richards comes out and they do Wild Horses. Amazing! It gave me chills to see Keith Richards getting chills during the performance. You must see it, if you haven’t already.

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  4. Man, what a killer single! “Wild Horses” is great. And how ‘about the B-side “Dead Flowers?” Even better! While one could argue a country tune isn’t very typical for the Stones, it’s one of my favorites – in fact, on some days I’d go as far as calling it their best song!

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    1. It’s really a double A side! Yea it could be their best song.
      I saw the Stones in Church Hill Downs in Kentucky in 2006 and them playing Dead Flowers singing of Kentucky Derby Day was pretty cool.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea for me also…the cool thing is Christian is as soon as I got home the next day…I got on a newsgroup and found an excellent bootleg of the concert. I still have it. It’s ok quality also. Now that is normal and bands sell them of the concert you just saw but back then they didn’t…so it was cool.

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  5. One of my favorite songs by the Stones. I have the album “Made in the Shade” that this song is on. I didn’t know it was recorded earlier by The Flying Burrito Brothers, but then, I never followed nor knew much about them.

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    1. They are interesting…I’m not a big country fan especially modern but they had what is probably my favorite country song. It’s a country song like this one…not a Nashville sounding one…stupid name though it’s called Hot Burrito #1….probably the reason the thing didn’t hit.

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  6. The FBB version got to me knowing how Parsons passed. A lonely soul trying to find his place in the world 😦 The Rolling Stones are one of my all-time favorite groups and this is one of their best songs. Glad you chose to highlight it today, Max.

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    1. This could be one of their best songs. I do like the Stones a lot. They are part of my Holy Trinity of Rock! Beatles, Who, Stones….I also fit the Kinks in there so maybe I should expand the Trinity to Quadruplet of Rock? lol

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