Was The Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ Almost Accidentally Erased?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” was almost accidentally erased.

For whatever reason, few rock songs have had as many legends about it than the Rolling Stones’ classic song, “Wild Horses.”

In the past, I’ve discussed whether Mick Jagger really wrote it about Marianne Faithful.

In the past, I’ve discussed whether Gram Parsons secretly wrote the song for the Stones.

Now, however, we’re taking a look a surprising thing that happened that nearly caused us to lose one of the great rock songs of all-time!

At the amazing website, soundonsound, they had a big article on the recording of the Rolling Stones’ song, “Start Me Up,” specifically, but about the recording of the album, Sticky Fingers, in general. They had the following bit about Chris Kimsey (who later produced a few Rolling Stones albums and was an engineer or producer on a low of famous albums) and his work on the album and how he almost erased “Wild Horses!”

While assisting on the sessions for the Stones’ classic Sticky Fingers album at Olympic in 1971, Chris Kimsey didn’t work on the centrepiece song, ‘Wild Horses’; but he did nearly destroy it. Engineered on eight-track by Glyn Johns, the recording required more tracks and so Kimsey was assigned the straightforward task of making an eight-to-eight copy. With one 3M machine in Studio One and another at the opposite end of the building in what was then known as the reduction (mixdown) room, the trainee decided to make the copy immediately after the session ended, at about three in the morning, when no one else was around.

Accordingly, he put the master reel on one machine, loaded the virgin tape onto the other, checked all the connections, pressed Play on the master, ran the two-minute journey to the reduction room to make sure the correct signals were coming in, pressed Record, ran another two minutes back to the main control room, rewound the master, again pressed Play, and then returned to the other room to monitor the copy. So far, so good. However, after about a minute, the incoming sound slowed right down and ground to a halt. Trouble. Running as fast as he could to the Studio One control room, Kimsey duly discovered that the takeup spool was bent and stuck, causing the tape to wrap itself around the capstan motor until it stopped.

“The tape had wrapped itself neatly around the motor, but with creases every inch and a half,” he now recalls. “I was shitting myself. I started lifting it out, incredibly slowly and delicately, and hours went by before, at around six in the morning, [studio manager] Keith Grant came in for an early session. Well, he took one look at me in a big heap on the floor, and after asking what happened he got a big, heavyweight iron — obviously not hot — and helped me press out the creases. It took me hours, and then I had to sit there and play the tape for hours and hours and hours to get the creases completely out. To this day, none of the guys has ever been told about this.”

Now, obviously, they would have just re-recorded it, but who knows whether the re-recorded version would be the same?

Kimsey told another story about how he accidentally actually DID erase 30 seconds of a Small Faces song even earlier in his career. Learning from mistakes! 🙂

The legend is…

STATUS: True

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