Who did The Rolling Stones write ‘Wild Horses’ about?

The Rolling Stones

Even with 422 tracks in their discography, “Wild Horses” is still one of The Rolling Stones most well-known songs. “Fans acclaim it as an emotional tearjerker that reveals the sincerity beneath the band’s sentiment. This dispels the misconception that ‘it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.'”

Long-standing belief holds that the ballad “Wild Horses” is about Marianne Faithfull. However, the anthem’s creative background is more nuanced. The song was well-known when it was first released by the band in 1971 as a part of their iconic album Sticky Fingers. It had been heard by the world before.

Coincidentally, The Flying Burrito brothers—pioneers of “Cosmic American Music”—released a version of the classic song in 1970. Mick Jagger introduced the band, who were close friends of The Rolling Stones and were led by former Byrds member Gramme Parsons, to the song.

Jagger stated: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gramme Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours” in the liner notes to the Rolling Stones compilation Jump Back. People always attribute this to Marianne, but I don’t think so because everything had already passed by then.

However, he says, “But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally,” in his conclusion.

Although the source of David Crosby’s claim is dubious, the counterculture icon acknowledges Parsons as the song’s author. Rumors suggest that handwritten versions of the lyrics surfaced in Parsons’ notebook and in a letter addressed to his sister Avis. Parsons reportedly felt guilty for leaving his sister at home while he followed his musical career and felt personally responsible for her after their parents passed away.

Following his brief tenure with folk-rock icons The Byrds, Parsons first crossed paths with The Rolling Stones in 1968. According to a Rolling Stone article from 1972, Jagger penned the song “for and about” Parsons. The article from 2021 further stated that Jagger introduced “Wild Horses” to Parsons after playing him a demo of it. According to rumours, Jagger asked Parsons to add some of his renowned steel guitar to the master recording after sending it to him.

At the time, Parsons stated: “And we entered the Record Plant. and something weird. Like some kind of dust, entered the room, and everything went crazy. The engineer lost his bearings, among other things. They decided not to use that song. So, I asked Mick if we could include it on our mixed album instead of releasing it as a single. After giving it some thought, he said okay. Given his belief that Parsons may be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer ever, Keith Richards likely agreed too.

Richards, having a major role in its writing, would have had a voice in the issue too. In December 1969, the Stones recorded their iconic rendition of “Wild Horses” at Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama. Guitarist Keith Richards said in his candid autobiography Life that “Wild Horses” “almost wrote itself.” It had a lot to do with tinkering with the tunings once more. I discovered these chords, which initially gave the song its character and sound. Especially when I played it on a twelve-string guitar.

Richards elaborated on the song’s inspiration, saying: “Once you’ve got the vision of wild horses in your head, I mean, what’s the next phrase you’re going to use? Couldn’t pull me away, that must be. As a result, it appears that he wrote the majority of the composition without considering a true protagonist. Just some quirky tuning and poetic language.

Fans also like to tell the song’s well-known line to Jagger, saying it was the last thing Faithfull said to him before their breakup, having just woken him from a drug-induced coma. But a lot of the relevant parties contest this assertion. “Even those involved find the origin of the story a mystery, considering that the song dates back to the 1960s. This is due to a multitude of stories that don’t appear to paint a clear picture.” It is rarely refuted, despite the long-standing belief that Faithfull was the subject of the “graceless lady” line.

Ultimately, it appears as though a number of factors combined to create “Wild Horses.” According to Jagger and Richards’ differing accounts, the song was most likely influenced by Gramme Parsons and Marianne Faithfull, if only slightly. Parsons might have even taken a chord or two from another song. However, Richards wrote the majority of the song, and Jagger added his own parts and deleted some of Richards’. A timeless story from The Rolling Stones’ catalogue.

Regarding their thoughts, well, it was pretty much the same as when writing any other song. As Richards has stated, songwriting is all about feeling and emotion. So, when writing a song as equivocal as “Wild Horses,” you don’t just sit down and write it while focusing on the details.

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