The Rolling Stones

Moonlight Mile

Composed by Mick Jagger / Keith Richards

Song Review by

It seems as "Moonlight Mile" may be one of the rare songs that does not include the presence of Keith Richards. The initial guitar part of the song was apparently written by him and put down on tape but left incomplete (working title: "Japanese Thing") until an uncredited Mick Taylor developed it into a full song. Richards believes that some of his original idea may have survived on the end of the recording. Making up the dominant theme of the song is a beautiful acoustic guitar riff -- played by Mick Jagger -- that has a vaguely Asian feel. The variation on the lick that Richards referred to gets picked up by the lush Paul Buckmaster string ensemble, building the song into a dramatic climax before drifting away quietly in a beautiful atmospheric outro section, featuring the lovely piano of Jim Price -- mostly known as a trumpet player -- finally concluding with a regal string flourish. It is a quintessential album closer. Letting down his mask a little here, Jagger displays a yearning to get back home from the road and, more generally, to a domestic life: "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 another moonlight mile down the road." Though the song still referenced drugs ("a head full of snow...") and the road life of a pop-music celebrity, it really is a rare example of Jagger letting go of his public persona ("...In the window, there's a face you know/Don't the nights pass slow?"), offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the weariness that accompanies the pressures of keeping up appearances as a sex-drugs-and-rock & roll star. Jagger lets down his guard a little and thus lets us in on the hoax; there really is a man behind the curtain. There is no dramatizing or whining; the lyric just presents a side that was theretofore scarce in pop music. "Moonlight Mile" did mark a change of direction and thus a growth spurt for the Stones, stretching out a little more from the blues, country, and R&B-based roots music they had returned to after flirting -- with mixed results -- in the late '60s with psychedelia and other genres. For one thing, the Stones had been producing layered but streamlined electric guitar-based records at this time. In relation, "Moonlight Mile" was an epic production, not only with the sweeping strings, but other studio techniques like doubling Jagger's lead vocal -- a technique he rarely employed, seeming to prefer two-part harmony. Alvin "Youngblood" Hart demonstrated that the song, at its essence, really did not stray that far from the blues after all, on his mostly acoustic, country blues recording, part of the tribute to the Stones by contemporary blues artists Paint It Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones (1997).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sticky Fingers 1971 Virgin 5:57
Moonlight Mile 2002
Original Soundtrack
Sony Music Distribution 5:56
LP Sleeve Box Set 2005 Toshiba EMI
The Rolling Stones Box Set 2009 Promotone 5:57
December's Children (And Everybody's)/Sticky Fingers CD Maximum