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Mick Jagger Reveals the Inspiration for Rolling Stones Classic ‘Moonlight Mile’

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With the Rolling Stones bringing the Sticky Fingers classic “Moonlight Mile” back into their setlist for this year’s tour, the Wall Street Journal reached out to singer Mick Jagger for his thoughts on the writing and recording of the song.

Dismissing decades of speculation that the song’s lyrics contain references to cocaine, Jagger says now that “Moonlight Mile” was actually inspired by nothing more than the boredom and loneliness he felt traveling from gig to gig on tour. “I wrote some of the early lyrics to ‘Moonlight Mile’ in a songbook I carried around when we were on tour in the summer of 1970. I was growing road-weary and homesick then,” he recalled. “I’m sure the idea for the song first came to me one night while we were on a train and the moon was out.”

While the title may have been inspired by actual moonlight, Jagger says he resisted getting too literal with his lyrics — and in fact, didn’t even entertain thoughts of recording the song for quite awhile. “Sometimes you don’t want to record what you’re writing,” he pointed out. “You think, ‘This isn’t worth recording, this is just my doodling.'”

“Moonlight Mile” finally came together during a loose session held at his Stargroves estate in the fall of 1970. Appropriately, recording didn’t begin until after midnight, at which point Jagger says guitarist Keith Richards had already gone home, and bassist Bill Wyman wasn’t present, leaving him to flesh out the arrangement with guitarist Mick Taylor and drummer Charlie Watts.

“What makes ‘Moonlight Mile’ special is that it’s a song and a recording at once,” mused Jagger. “All these things — the strange plinking piano, the tom-tommy mallets on the drums, the different guitars — they all came together to produce a feeling of vulnerability and loneliness, you know what I mean? I think the three of us finished recording the basic track around 6AM. The sun was coming up.”

Jagger’s “Moonlight Mile” recollections, which are well worth reading in full at the Wall Street Journal, are part of an overall Sticky Fingers celebration unfolding this year, including an upcoming expanded reissue that’s due June 9. Check out one of the new set’s previously unreleased tracks, an alternate version of “Dead Flowers,” below.

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