When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow (2x)
In the window there's a face you know.
Don't the nights pass slow? (2x)
The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind.
Just another mad mad day on the road.
I am just living to be dying by your side
But I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road.
Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes.
Gonna warm my bones. (2x)
I got silence on my radio.
Let the air waves flow. (2x)
Oh I am sleeping under strange strange skies.
Just another mad mad day on the road.
My dream is fading down the railway line.
I'm just about a moonlight mile down the road.
I'm pining sister and I'm dreaming.
I'm riding down your moonlight mile. (2x)
I'm riding down you moonlight mile.
Yeah, I'm coming home!
'Cause, I'm just about a moonlight mile
On down the road (3x)
Sticky Fingers was the third album that the Rolling Stones released after their psychedelic album Satanic Majesties Request. It was also their first album in the 1970s. Like the two albums preceding it, there wasn’t much that one could call psychedelic on Sticky Fingers, except for the album's last cut, Moonlight Mile. Here, instead of the usual blues or rock & roll structure that had been their stock in trade for most of their post-psychedelic work, the Stones used what Keith Richards called a “Japanese” phrasing guitar riff that disguised and mellowed the blues lyrics. Instead of the usual strutting and macho stance, usually with sexual lyrics and a good deal of misogyny, we have a lonesome lament from the road which was actually recorded in a mobile recording studio. Many commentators of the song have pointed out the sincerity of Jagger’s singing style in Moonlight Mile, an unusual occurrence during a time when the group was writing music that would hold up as overblown theater for stadium performances.
For the first time in the recording history of the Rolling Stones, Jagger is credited with playing guitar; he plays the acoustic “Japanese” theme while it is the new Stone, Mick Taylor, who plays the lead electric guitar rather than Keith Richards. Richards did not participate in the recording. Jagger double-tracked his voice, singing the same notes instead of providing harmonies. Quite unusual for a Stones album at the time was the inclusion of orchestration. Arranged by Paul Buckmaster, the orchestration gives the song a dramatic lift especially in the approach to the coda. Paul Buckmaster is best known for his orchestral arrangements on the early albums by Elton John.
Moonlight Mile’s lyrics start off fairly early with “a head full of snow”—generally understood, even at the time, as being a reference to snorting cocaine. Cocaine generally was not a drug that produced the aural refinements of psychedelic music. The impatience of a cocaine rush tended to provide heightened energy and volume while at the same time depriving a performance of attention to subtle nuances of sound. Joe Boyd, record producer for the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake, among others, wrote in his book White Bicycles (p. 266): “I listened in the studio control room as musicians’ modes of consciousness-alteration proceeded from grass, hash and acid to heroin & cocaine by the 1970s. All but the latter could, on occasion, provide benefits, at least to the music. I never knew cocaine to improve anything. When the white lines came out, it was time to call it a night—the music could only get worse. If I joined in, the next day’s playback would provide clear evidence of deterioration of both the performances and of my critical ability to judge them. I suspect the surge in cocaine’s popularity explains—at least in part—why so many great 60s artists made such bad records in the following decade.” Surely Moonlight Mile is an exception to Boyd’s rule; but then, of course, Jagger might have been singing about using coke without actually using it during the recording. The song does express a weariness that coming down from cocaine can bring, and that I usually associate with the boring tunes that come out of the experience (like Eric Clapton’s Cocaine). But there is such a great amount of attention to detail by all performers in Moonlight Mile (witness Charlie Watt’s spot-on drum phrasing and Jagger’s improvisations leading into the coda), that I’m tempted to believe this is a reproduction of an experience (like Sister Morphine on the same album) without actually being under the influence.