When a song takes on a life of its own in a way that ‘Wild Horses’ by The Rolling Stones has done over the last half a century, it’s easy to understand how Keith Richards and Mick Jagger could have developed contrasting feelings about the track.
In truth, it’s understandable how the two bandmates share a completely different idea on what the abstractly titled ‘Wild Horses’ is even about, and part of its beauty is that the song has a different meaning for any listener. Interestingly, the way the song even came to exist is living proof of the professional relationship between the Glimmer Twins, one that has continued to work in weirdly unorthodox ways.
Despite having differing perspectives on the track’s meaning, they brought their brains together to create an eternal piece of music. It all started with the line, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away”, which was written by Richards. From there, Jagger felt an instant connection, one that inspired him to re-imagine the song in his mould.
The line came to Richards as he prepared to head back out on tour, leaving his family behind shortly after the birth of his son, Marlon. Despite Jagger not being in a relatable position, something about those six words tugged on his heartstrings, which made him point the microscope at his own life, and his love interests.
In Richards’ autobiography, Life, he said: “‘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.”
Speaking about the chorus, he added: “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.”
During that time, the band even allowed their friend, Gram Parsons, to record and release his own version of the track before The Stones’ effort came to light. However, recalling his version of the writing process in the liner notes for The Stones’ 1993 compilation album, Jump Back, Jagger said: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours.”
Adding: “Everyone always says this was written about Marianne (Faithfull) but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally. This is very personal, evocative, and sad. It all sounds rather doomy now, but it was quite a heavy time.”
Jagger doesn’t completely deny that the song wasn’t about Marianne, but, for him, it was a track about a love that had fallen to the wayside, which was a completely different kind of muse to the one Richards initially used to generate the song’s chorus.
When The Rolling Stones play ‘Wild Horses’ live, different feelings may conjure inside the two musicians who come together as The Glimmer Twins, but once Richards strikes that first chord, nothing else in the world matters.