Mick Jagger on the Meaning and Inspiration Behind “Moonlight Mile”

The Rolling Stones are now performing the ‘Moonlight Mile’ on their North American tour, a song that was reportedly inspired by being on the road and yearning for home.

This is the first time in a good while that the Stones have been performing the song. This is part of a 15-city North American Zip Code concert tour.

The song was written by Mick Jagger in 1970 and appeared at the end of the band’s Sticky Fingers album released in 1971. The album has just been released by Universal as a re-mastered two-CD set with extra bonus material.

This might be one reason for Moonlight Mile appearing on the tour. Another could be the nature of the concert which has then on the road for some while.

Fans have speculated on the real meaning behind the song for some time. Lyrics include ‘a head full of snow’ and ‘moonlight mile’ and one theory was that these were code for cocaine.

MJ dismisses these claims however and puts forward an alternative narrative behind the creation of the song.
Instead, he says that the song was written about loneliness and was penned during another large tour during the summer of 1970. It also spoke of his joy returning home.

The following excerpt comes from an interview, where Mick recounted his memories of the song’s inception:

“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. That’s not really a very good thing to do when you’re writing lyrics, you know? 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.”

The original studio recording for the track featured only Jagger, drummer Charlie Watts and guitarist Mick Taylor. The other instruments – guitars, piano, bass and strings – were overdubbed at a later date.

“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 suggests that the reason for the misinterpretation of his lyrics came down to the somewhat abstract nature of his descriptions. By being purposefully ambiguous, the song allowed people to apply their own meanings.

In the full interview, Mick goes on to explain the creation and recording of the song in even more depth and explains the choice of particular instruments.

He opines that what made the song special was that everything came together so well on the day:

“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 6 a.m. The sun was coming up.”

If you want to hear the new live reimagining of Moonlight Mile, then be sure to catch the Stones on their latest tour. And with a little more backstory, you may find you gain a new appreciation for the tune!