Song 38: The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses” (1971)Posted: February 7, 2013
Like all of us, I know the Rolling Stones’ hits fairly well. Turn on a radio and flip through the dial, and you’re bound to hit one or two of them; they’re like wallpaper. So in recent years, I’ve enjoyed getting into their albums, hearing those hits in their natural contexts. I can’t imagine what it was like to unwrap a Stones record like Sticky Fingers and not know what it would sound like, to not know that “Brown Sugar” was about to come out of your speakers. What a thrill it must have been.
“Wild Horses” is by far my favorite Rolling Stones song, and it’s hard to explain why. I do know that I think it’s gorgeous, that the twelve-string guitar provides a dreamlike quality, that the song, in true Stones fashion, is a little ramshackle and unstable. It fits beautifully on Sticky Fingers, nestled between the boozy, criminally underappreciated “Sway” and the slow burner “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” It takes balls to put amazing songs like those, plus “Brown Sugar” and “You Gotta Move,” on side one of an album. The Rolling Stones in 1971: it doesn’t get much better.
Now, I’m cheating a little here, because the below clip isn’t the version of “Wild Horses” that you know and love, it’s the version from the incredible documentary Gimme Shelter (“Wild Horses” starts 45 seconds in). This scene is a perfect representation of artists who know exactly how good they are. They’re not being arrogant about it, they just know they can make beautiful things. I love how Keith Richards doesn’t know the words, but he sings along anyway, and I love it when Charlie Watts stares into the camera as if to say, “Yeah, I know. We are the best band on earth.” And then Mick Jagger makes that “poof” motion with his hands, does a silly little clap, and it’s back to business. The tragic Altamont concert, of course, was right around the corner, but as far as the Stones knew, they would own the world forever.