There is something dazzling about hearing a song when it has been stripped back to its core. Suddenly, the level of poignancy increases ten-fold. Few acoustic versions are more goosebump-inducing than The Rolling Stones’ tender ‘Wild Horses’, a track that is even more remarkable than the original.
The band first recorded the number in 1969, but legal difficulties with their former manager would force The Stones to keep it as a secret among themselves for two years before sharing it with the world. By the time they released it, close friend Gram Parsons had already shared his cover version of ‘Wild Horses’, although the original was yet to be heard by the public.
The initial lyrics were close to Keith Richards’ heart, and the sentiment behind ‘Wild Horses’ is one of the most personal throughout his glittering career. Following the birth of his son, Marlon, in 1969, Richards was saddened when he had to leave his family behind to go on tour, and one of the lines he wrote while in this emotional state was the effervescent line, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away”.
Jagger heard this line and ran with the message that oozed out of those six words. The singer felt a shot of inspiration and resonated profoundly with that one line, which he then built a whole new track around.
That line is one that universally everybody connects with on a certain level, just like Jagger did. When the frontman stumbled across his bandmate’s lyrics, he was in an emotional place following his relationship with Marrianne Faithfull falling apart, and the song just slipped out of him.
Jagger, recalling the writing process in the liner notes for the 1993 compilation album Jump Back, said: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.”
“It was one of those magical moments when things come together,” Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography Life about the song’s creation. “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.”
Whatever was going on in Jagger’s personal life when writing the track is irrelevant on the grand scale of things. However, we’re forever grateful for how he turned that inner turmoil into the beautiful behemoth, ‘Wild Horses’.
In the acoustic version, Jagger allows himself to travel back to the place of anguish he was in 1969 when he wrote the track. The frontman delivers each line like his life was dependent on it. As a listener, hearing Jagger pour everything he’s got into ‘Wild Horses’ still hits the spot like when you first heard it and feeling just as emotional as Jagger.