The Rolling Stones – Moonlight Mile (1971)

I discovered this more obscure Rolling Stones song, the closing track to 1971’s Sticky Fingers, only a few years ago and it has since become one of my faves by the band. As part of their excellent series about the backstory to great rock and roll songs, the WSJ has a new entry on “Mick Jagger and ‘Moonlight Mile’“:

Fans have long speculated about the song’s meaning, with many assuming that lyrics such as “a head full of snow” and “moonlight mile” were code for cocaine. Mr. Jagger dismissed such suggestions last week, saying the song was written about his loneliness during a rigorous European tour in the summer of 1970 and his elation upon returning home… The feeling I had at that moment was how difficult it was to be touring and how I wasn’t looking forward to going out and doing it again. It’s a very lonely thing, and my lyrics reflected that.

Mick Jagger: 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. 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…

I also came up with an Oriental-Indian riff on my acoustic guitar. At some point during the tour I played it for [Stones guitarist] Mick Taylor, because I thought he would like it. At that point, I really hadn’t intended on recording the song. Sometimes you don’t want to record what you’re writing. You think, “This isn’t worth recording, this is just my doodling.”

When we finished our European tour in October 1970, we were at Stargroves, my country house in England. We were sitting around one night and I started working on what I had initially written. I felt great. I was in my house again and it was very relaxing. So the song became about that—looking forward to returning from a foreign place while looking out the window of a train and the images of the railway line going by in the moonlight.

But the lyrics I wrote didn’t come across like that, because they weren’t so on the nose. They were more imaginative and wistful than if I had written them straight, like, “I’m tired of the road,” you know? The feeling I wanted was the image of elongated space that you’re traveling through to get home: “Oh I am sleeping under strange, strange skies / Just another mad, mad day on the road / My dreams is fading down the railway line / I’m just about a moonlight mile down the road.” It was about the difficulty I was going through of being away.

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