‘Wild Horses’ is one of the most beautiful tracks that The Rolling Stones have ever made and it doesn’t matter how many times that you listen to it, the material remains a spine-tingling experience that still hits like the first time you pressed play all those years ago. Perhaps, the only thing greater than the original is this acoustic alternative that is utterly sublime.
The track was one that The Stones fought tooth and nail to release after legal difficulties with their then-manager who, at the time, put ‘Wild Horses’ on the backburner as it had to sit on the shelf for two years after it was recorded in 1969. They allowed their friend Gram Parsons to release his version of the track with his Flying Burrito Brothers in 1970 even before they got round to releasing the original. Gram’s version is undoubtedly great, but Jagger’s vocals on The Rolling Stones version are heartwrenching, which is even more prevalent on the acoustic version.
The Sticky Fingers number was born out of failure after Keith Richards wrote lyrics about the regret her felt after he was forced to leave his family behind to go on tour shortly after his newborn son Marlon was born in 1969. Richards’ lyrics wouldn’t end up making it onto the final release of the song, however, with Jagger deciding instead to build an entirely new track but around his bandmate’s beautiful line ‘wild horses couldn’t drag me away’.
That line is one that is left open to interpretation, allowing the listener to expound in their own way, associating the words to their own life which is, incidentally, exactly what Jagger did when he transformed the words that were initially about Keith’s newborn child into an anthem allegedly about his wavering relationship with Marrianne Faithfull that was falling apart.
Jagger, however, later denied that the words were about Faithfull in the liner notes for to the 1993 compilation album Jump Back, stating, “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.”
Faithfull herself said that “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 several theories as to Mick’s muse for this song, with even Jagger’s former girlfriend Jerry Hall saying in 2007, “‘Wild Horses’ is my favourite Stones song. It’s so beautiful. I don’t mind that it was written for Bianca.” She may have been together with Jagger for decades but the fact that he didn’t meet Bianca until 1970 must have passed Jerry by.
“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.”
This acoustic version of the song is different from the electric number, one which Mick Taylor’s Nashville sound is replaced by an acoustic, of course. Keith’s electric solo is given the chop from the song and replaced with a replicated with a gorgeous original acoustic version of the riff which is symbiotic with the track.
There’s something about the phrase, as Richards points out, is an instant classic from the first time you hear it as it does take your mind instantly to a place that very few songs have the ability to do. Take a few minutes out of your day to listen to this acoustic version of the Sticky Fingers classic.