The Rolling Stones song “Wild Horses” (from the band’s 1971 album “Sticky Fingers”) has ranked No. 3 on RollingStone.com’s poll “The Best Ballads of All Time.” The website conducted the poll among its readers in May 2011.
“Wild Horses” was recorded in 1969, and it features Mick Jagger on lead vocals, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor on guitars, and session musician Jim Dickinson on piano. Jagger and Richards wrote the song, which reached No. 28 on the U.S. singles chart. In Richards’ 2010 memoir “Life,” he said that Dickinson remembered that “Wild Horses” was recorded in just two takes. Several other artists have recorded their versions of the song.
“Wild Horses” was said to be inspired by singer/actress Marianne Faithfull, who dated Jagger during the latter half of the 1960s. In 1969, Faithfull attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills, and she went into a coma. When she woke up from the coma, Faithfull supposedly said to Jagger, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”
However, Jagger and Richards dispute the claim that Faithfull inspired “Wild Horses.” In the liner notes to the 1993 Rolling Stones compilation “Jump Back: The Best of the Rolling Stones,” Jagger says about the song: “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 says in his memoir “Life” that “Wild Horses” was a song that “almost wrote itself …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.’ That’s the great thing about songwriting; it’s not an intellectual experience … I’m not sure [what ‘Wild Horses’ was about]. I never thought of songwriting as writing a diary, although sometimes in retrospect you realize that some of it is like that.”
Faithfull is still sticking to her version of the story, by saying that she was the main inspiration for “Wild Horses,” according to a March 2011 interview that she gave to the Daily Telegraph.
Before he died in 2009, Dickinson gave an interview for “Life,” in which he recalled: “Keith had written ‘Wild Horses’ as a lullaby. It was about [Richards’ son] Marlon, about not wanting to leave home because he’d just had a son. And Jagger rewrote it and it’s, perceptibly, about Marianne Faithfull, and Jagger was like a high school kid about it and he wrote the song about her.”
Here are the rankings of RollingStone.com’s poll “The Best Ballads of All Time”:
- Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”
- The Beatles, “Something”
- The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
- Guns N’Roses, “November Rain”
- The Beatles, “Let It Be”
- Prince, “Purple Rain”
- Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”
- Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On”
- Pearl Jam, “Black”
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Freebird”
- The Beatles, “Hey Jude”
- U2, “With or Without You”