Moonlight Mile

Composers: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recording date: October 1970
Recording location: Rolling Stones Mobile Unit, Mick Jagger's home, Newbury & Olympic Sound Studios, London, England
Producer: Jimmy Miller        Chief engineers: Glyn Johns & Andy Johns
Performed onstage: 1999, 2015

Probable line-up:

Drums: Charlie Watts
Bass: Bill Wyman
Acoustic guitar: Mick Jagger
Electric guitar (incl. slide): Mick Taylor
Vocals: Mick Jagger
Piano: Jim Price
Strings: (unknown musicians)

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow, with a head full of snow
In the window, there's a face you know
Don't the night pass slow? Don't the nights pass slow?

The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind

Just another mad, mad day on the road
I am just living to be lying by your side
But I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road

Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes

Going to warm my bones, going to warm my bones
I've got silence on my radio
Let the air waves flow, let the air waves flow
For 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 on down the road
Yeah, yeah

I'm hiding, sister, and I'm dreaming

I'm riding down your moonlight mile
I'm hiding, baby, but I'm dreaming
I'm riding down your moonlight mile
I'm riding down your moonlight mile
Let it go now
Come on up, baby

Yeah, let it go now

Flow now, baby
Yeah, come on now, yeah


Yeah I'm coming home
Cause I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road
On down the road, on down the road

Yeah, yeah baby

Moonlight Mile was all Mick's. As far as I can remember, Mick came in with the whole idea of that, and the band just figured out how to play it.
- Keith Richards, Life (2010)

The music quite often comes ahead of the words. That annoys me. It's very hard to write lyrics to the track. It's much easier to have it done before but... I always try to write the lyrics to the songs. Like that thing with strings on Moonlight Mile, the lyrics weren't written to that before we cut the track. That was very extemporized. We didn't THINK of having strings or anything. It just comes.
- Mick Jagger, 1971

I wrote it in London in my house.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

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 don’t recall. I know I didn’t want to literalize how I was feeling... 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. I also came up with an Oriental-Indian riff on my acoustic guitar. At some point during the tour I played it for 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.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

I don't know how much I'd really writtten of this before I started doing it. It's obviously really worked out and not a jam. It's got this vaguely Oriental guitar line. I don't really know what I'm doing sometimes on the guitar, so I do things that are different because I don't know what I should be doing. I started picking it out on acoustic guitar and Mick (Taylor) followed me.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

(W)e recorded it in my house in the country, Stargroves. And we recorded a lot of stuff (there): Bitch, stuff from Exile on Main Street... I remember Mick Taylor playing that song. Real dreamy kind of semi-Middle Eastern piece. Yeah, that's a real pretty song - and a nice string arrangement.
- Mick Jagger, 1995

At Stargroves, we had the Stones' 16-track mobile recording unit outside, and, inside, we played in this huge room with a gallery and great acoustics. That's where Moonlight Mile came from. But Mick first sang it to me in a first-class railway compartment on the way from London to Bristol. Then he had the idea of embellishing it with strings. I contributed the riff that Paul Buckmaster's strings are based on - that ethereal, unresolved ending. Moonlight Mile, I Got the Blues and Sister Morphine are probablay my favourite songs on the whole album.
- Mick Taylor, 2011

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.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

At some point during the evening, I think Keith left to go home, and Bill for some reason wasn’t there. After Keith left, just Charlie, myself and Mick (Taylor) were in the room. I finished doodling pretty late, probably around midnight, and we started playing the song to see how it sounded. I’d already come up with the guitar riff, so I started playing it and singing. I was playing my guitar when Mick added something and then Charlie started playing. That’s when I realized it was more than doodling, that this was a real song we could record as we fooled around with it. The instrumentation was really interesting and created this really interesting mood. Several hours later, we decided to record. At the house, there was a big living room when you walked in, sort of a big double-height imitation-gothic hall. It had a nice high ceiling, so we recorded most everything in there. Mick and I were both familiar with the song’s melody lines. But then you get someone like Charlie playing the drums and you find you’re building an atmosphere... I think the three of us finished recording the basic track around 6 a.m. The sun was coming up.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

(A)s far as the (Stones songs) I played on, I like Sway - and Moonlight Mile because I sort of had a hand in co-writing that, in a way. Or at least I wrote the riff the string part is based on.
- Mick Taylor, 2012
Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking about whether the song’s opening would be Japanese or Indian. Obviously, the tones or scales I used gave it an Oriental flavor, which is echoed later in the string writing. Most of the song is more Indian to me. I listened to a lot of Indian music then, and little bits rubbed off on me. These things were hinted at when the song goes into the B section, where the beat comes in [sings]: Oh I’m sleeping under strange, strange skies - when it goes into that. Then it’s kind of left behind and it goes into something else. The verses are also slightly Indian in their inception.

Charlie’s use of the mallets was remarkable and let him dispense with the big offbeat. So you get this rhythmic subtlety that goes along with the guitar lines. It’s so moody. But nothing was planned. It was all spur of the moment, which is the beauty of the song. Of course, some of the things we added later were there to enhance the mood we had come up with - like overdubbed guitars by Keith and Mick, Bill’s bass, Jimmy Price’s piano and Paul Buckmaster’s strings. It was a question of building the song and then bringing down the dynamic and how you use the instrumentation to do that.

Later, I added a bit of double-tracking to fill out my vocal, but not much. I actually do that quite a lot on recordings. Sometimes you don’t hear it or you’re not even aware of it. On Moonlight Mile, I double-tracked the odd lines just for emphasis. On some records I’ll double-track the lead vocals and then do harmonies up and harmonies down to give them a stronger feel. In this case, we mixed the song so the double-track sound was just marginally there.

- Mick Jagger, 2015

Jim Price plays these strange timed piano lines which create atmosphere.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

The only thing in Sticky Fingers I don't have anything to do with is Moonlight Mile, 'cause I wasn't there when they did it. It was great to hear that because I was very out of it by the end of the album and it was like listening, really listening. It was really nice.
- Keith Richards, 1971

I thought I wasn't on Moonlight Mile but the last riff everybody gets into playing is a riff I'd been playing on earlier tapes before I dropped out.
- Keith Richards, 1971

It was my idea to use Paul (Buckmaster) to arrange the strings. I had used him before, on the end of Sway. For this piece, we thought it would be nice to build the song with strings and have those hinted quarter-tones Paul’s so good at. His orchestration echoes what I’m singing and builds into the coda, so it amplifies all the stuff you heard before in a rather subtle way. Then he has a really nice edit that mellows when I sing, Yeah, I’m coming home.
- Mick Jagger, 2015

(T)hat's a dream song. Those kinds of songs with kinds of dreamy sounds are fun to do, but not all the time - it's nice to come back to reality.
- Mick Jagger, 1978

I think it's about being lonesome on the road. And being on the road for too long makes you a bit sad and wistful and those things... There are a lot of different images jumbled in there that come across as one. But it’s definitely not about cocaine. There’s no hidden meaning in there about that. It’s feeling I’m finally home and thinking about the times when I was lonely on the road.

- Mick Jagger, 2015

What makes Moonlight Mile special is that it’s a song and a recording at once. 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?
- Mick Jagger, 2015

When I hear Moonlight Mile now, I really like it. I think it’s a good piece of music. It’s unusual, and it’s still accessible and delicate and has a climax and comes back down and ends quite well. I suppose I’ve also grown a little more accustomed to touring (laughs).
- Mick Jagger, 2015

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