Why Keith Richards Gave Away A Rolling Stones Classic

Keith Richards / Youtube

In the vibrant history of The Rolling Stones’ music, “Wild Horses” shines as a prime example of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ incredible talent. This timeless gem from 1971, with its unforgettable line “wild horses couldn’t drag me away,” has become a cherished part of music history.

But what most people aren’t aware of is the fascinating journey this song underwent before becoming a beloved classic by The Rolling Stones.

Originally conceived in 1969 as a tribute to Richards’ newborn son, Marlon, the song reflected the guitarist’s struggles with leaving his family behind for tours. However, the lyrics were later reworked by Jagger, drawing from his own experiences with the disintegration of his relationship with Marianne Faithfull.

Richards, in his autobiography “Life,” recounted the organic genesis of “Wild Horses”:

“‘Wild Horses’ almost wrote itself. It was really a lot to do with, once again, messing around with the tunings.”

Richards’ experimentation with a twelve-string guitar led to the creation of a forlorn sound, capturing the song’s emotional depth.


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What makes “Wild Horses” even more remarkable is that Richards initially gave it away.

His friendship with Gram Parsons, the pioneer of ‘Cosmic American Music,’ led him to offer the song to Parsons’ band, The Flying Burrito Brothers. They released it in 1970 before The Rolling Stones later decided to record it for their 1971 album “Sticky Fingers.”

In the liner notes to the 1993 compilation “Jump Back,” Jagger revealed the song’s emotional resonance:

“I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons… 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.”

Richards echoed the sentiment, calling it the quintessential product of their collaboration.

“Wild Horses” reflected the universal struggle of not wanting to be on the road, being far from where one desires to be, a sentiment both he and Jagger deeply understood.

In the 2004 documentary “Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel,” Pamela des Barres, a close friend of Parsons, revealed his pride in receiving the song from The Rolling Stones. She emphasized how unusual it was for the band to give away a song, making “Wild Horses” a unique gem in the Stones’ repertoire.

In the end, “Wild Horses” not only became a cherished part of The Rolling Stones’ legacy but also highlighted the bond between artists, showcasing the generosity and camaraderie that exist even in the competitive world of music. The song’s journey from a heartfelt tribute to a collaborative masterpiece stands as a testament to the enduring power of music and friendship.